On Sunday, millions of Canadians will break out the beer and nachos, turn on the television, and engage in an annual tradition: complaining about Super Bowl ads.
In the United States, advertisers blow their brains out on fat cheques to celebrities to appear in ads with big production budgets and to buy on-air time (it will cost roughly $4-million for 30 seconds on Fox this year.) Meanwhile, Canadians don't get to see many of those glitzy commercials, and are stuck with many of the same ones that are on TV any night of the week.
There is plenty of demand: CTV says it has sold out of ad time during its Super Bowl broadcast, for which it asked roughly $160,000 for 30 seconds, according to sources. But U.S. advertisers are often not the ones buying, meaning their big game spots do not run here. Many people blame the federal broadcast regulator, which allows networks who have paid for broadcast rights in Canada to ask cable and satellite providers to overlay their signals on American ones. That protects the rights that networks have paid for to be the broadcaster in Canada, and allows them to sell advertising that is their bread and butter.
But if Canadians are disappointed not to see the buzz-worthy commercials, they may want to think about why the U.S. advertisers such as Coca-Cola do not pay a comparative pittance to make their ads available here too. Is Canada simply an afterthought?
"We did consider it initially," Sean Cunningham, marketing manager for SodaStream in Canada, said of buying TV ad time here. The maker of the at-home soda water machine scored plenty of social media attention in the lead up to the big game when it announced that it had been asked by Fox to remove a line in its ad that mentioned Coke and Pepsi. There was also a controversy over the commercial's star, Scarlett Johansson. The actress was a global ambassador for Oxfam International, and critics said her endorsement of SodaStream was a conflict with that role. The Israeli company operates a factory adjacent to a settlement in the West Bank called Ma'ale Adumim. She resigned her role with Oxfam Thursday. That attention for the company was unwanted, but it welcomed buzz about its ad's "censorship." It is certainly courting publicity. So why not here?
"In Canada, the first reaction is to go right online to view the Super Bowl spots," Mr. Cunningham said. "For us, it's about having a one-on-one conversation. We figured it was the best use of our resources here to drive the conversation through our social channels."
Indeed, YouTube is taking advantage of the attention on social media around the Super Bowl. In an attempt to promote the video-sharing service, owner Google Inc., released a study this week that found more Canadians go online to watch Super Bowl ads than watch the game on TV. The caveat is that this is Google's own research. Its consumer survey of 7,743 people found that roughly one-quarter of Canadians intend to watch the game on TV (which would represent a ratings boost this year) while about one-third will seek out commercials online.
Cheerios is getting plenty of love that way. Its sweet ad featuring an interracial family had already been seen more than two million times on YouTube on Friday. Catherine Jackson of General Mills Canada explained that the company did not buy ad time because the commercial was the second instalment of an ad featuring the family, which never aired here.
"They really belong together," she said. "People see ads online so much."
Some are taking advantage, however. For the first time, Doritos will be showing the same ads here as in the United States – the winners of its annual "Crash the Super Bowl" contest, which solicits submissions for its big game ad and which was opened up to global competition for the first time this year.
"We want to give back to our fans who supported the program – the response has been incredible in this country," said Susan Irving, director of marketing for PepsiCo Foods Canada.
For the third year in a row, perennial Super Bowl advertiser Bud Light is taking a different approach: it has been spending big in the game, but on Canadian-specific commercials. Last year, Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd., introduced its "red lights" which customers can buy and program to go off every time their favourite hockey team scores a goal. The company will have commercials from Bud Light and Budweiser on CTV this year, and has a "surprise" for Red Light owners who turn on their lights during the big game, said Michaela Charette, brand director for Budweiser.
All over North America, the appeal in these big sports events is that they make viewers do something that has become much less common: tune into a television program live, and sit through the ads.
"It's still the most-watched show on television in North America," said Perry MacDonald, vice-president of conventional sales for CTV owner Bell Media. "It has massive reach, a huge audience. … It's brand-friendly."