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Super Bowl Advertiser Search Trends

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With 90 million fans expected to tune in for Super Bowl XLII this Sunday, advertisers have a huge opportunity to get viewers to engage with their brands. In past years, the savviest advertisers have augmented their Super Bowl spots with a tight online strategy, using search marketing to point people to special landing pages on their sites, and deepening the brand experience related to the commercial. Last year, more than half of all Super Bowl advertisers purchased keywords related to their brands, and 25% bought Super Bowl-related terms.

What Makes Super Bowl 2008 Different

This year, the stakes are even higher. The downturn of network ratings, thanks to the writers' strike, means advertisers have had a hard time reaching TV audiences this season. Airtime that would have been available right up until the week before the big game was almost all gone by November of last year, with companies reportedly spending in excess of $2.7 million for each 30-second spot.

At the same time, the writers' strike has also made more viewers accustomed to turning online for entertainment, so advertisers have a better shot at drawing people to their sites. While almost 20% of last year's Super Bowl audience went online for more information about the ads, it's a good bet that number will go up this year.

Search, Social Media, and the Super Bowl

Perhaps the biggest change in the market over the last few years has been the explosive growth in traffic to social media sites. Social media has emerged as a platform for people to virally share information that they find interesting – including Super Bowl ads. Social media sites are also dominating reply pages on the search engines, increasingly making them an essential part of SEO.

As a result, the winners in 2008's Super Bowl ad game will continue to use search, but they'll also need to have a well-integrated social media strategy that takes advantage of these highly trafficked online venues. Pizza Hut did this well last year, by using paid search to drive users to a branded YouTube channel, containing several versions of its popular ad featuring Jessica Simpson.

Though several advertisers used pre-game social media strategies to build buzz last year, big mistakes kept them from fully leveraging that attention post-game. Doritos, for instance, promoted a contest called Crash the Super Bowl, in which user-submitted commercials competed for the right to have their ad aired during the Super Bowl. While the winning ad drew huge numbers to Doritos' MySpace page after the game, the link from Doritos.com was broken and the brand was nowhere to be found in search. By neglecting these two channels the night of the game, Doritos missed out on further amplifying its campaign.

2008 Contenders: Still Not Getting It

This year, both MySpace and YouTube are offering free promotional space to Super Bowl advertisers, but only a handful have taken advantage of this opportunity. A quick scan of MySpace and YouTube reveals that some companies don't even own their brand names on these sites. MySpace URLs for Gatorade, Pepsi's AMP energy drink, Coca Cola, and Sony movie "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" are occupied by squatters.

What's worse, some companies are being placed in very compromising situations by virtue of their absence. For example, the YouTube channel that claims to be owned by Dell Computer contains some... shall we say... questionable content. And Firestone, which is running two 30-second spots during the game, has no official presence on Facebook to counteract an active "Stop Firestone" group.

Very few advertisers seem to be getting it right. But of those that are trying, Saturn is ahead with comprehensive, well-designed Facebook and YouTube pages with high numbers of fans and views, as is GMC. And GoDaddy.com's YouTube channel features sneak peeks and teasers of banned ads, a strategy that yielded the company nearly half a million views for their banned ad last year. For the rest of the pack, pre-game traffic is mostly lost, but there's still some time to spruce up these social media profiles to capture post-game interest.

In Conclusion

After the Super Bowl, the Internet acts as an echo chamber, amplifying the best commercials as users head online to engage with the brands and products that got their attention. Advertisers that recognize and understand this dynamic stand to gain a lot from an integrated, cross-channel marketing campaign, in which the TV ads compel viewers to go online, where search and social media reinforce the messages broadcast during the game. This year, the smartest advertisers will use their TV ads to direct people to the Internet and they'll use search to help users find their way to social media pages.

Peter Hershberg is a founder and managing partner at Reprise Media. He is responsible for overseeing the technology, sales, client services, media, and product marketing of the entire organization. Prior to founding Reprise Media in 2003, Peter spent over ten years in the interactive space in a series of consulting and management roles, including as a VP at Ask Jeeves.

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