The Super Bowl is the biggest advertising event of the year in the United States. Here in Canada, it's the day when viewers revive their annual grousing about missing out on the flashy, funny and conspicuously expensive American commercials. Canada's Super Bowl broadcaster wants to change that.
In June, CTV announced a contest, in partnership with the Canadian Marketing Association, to encourage advertisers in Canada to invest in extra-creative commercials that are meant to debut during the Big Game on Feb. 1 – the way advertisers do in the U.S.
The winner of the Super Bowl Canadian Ad Challenge would receive airtime for free in both the pregame show and during the game, and would run on Bell Media's digital properties. The value of all that free media, plus a trip for two to the Super Bowl, was pegged at $207,000.
That's quite a prize: In a world of seemingly endless media options, it's a rare event that sees millions of people sitting down to watch the same TV broadcast, live. (An average of 8 million people tuned in on CTV and RDS last year.) With PVR and on-demand technology, it's even rarer for them to sit through the commercials.
But few Canadian advertisers stepped up for the opportunity. Less than 10 companies and their agencies opted to compete.
"There was a lot of interest, and we were hoping for a lot of entries," said Lucy Collin, vice-president of marketing and innovation in integrated sales at Bell Media. "We were thinking, there's great Canadian creative in our marketplace as well. Wouldn't it be great if we could rally our partners and challenge them to make [Super Bowl] creative as good as what we see in the U.S. market?"
Some U.S. advertisers spend the little bit extra to run their Big Game ads on the CTV feed as well. (To protect the broadcast rights Canadian broadcasters pay for, cable and satellite providers substitute their signals over American channels showing the same programs at the same time, which is why even those tuning into NBC on their dial miss most of the U.S. ads.) Doritos, for example, will be running its ads in both the U.S. and Canada for the second year in a row.
It's a good deal, even considering the different viewership sizes: 30 seconds in the U.S. broadcast cost as much as $4.5-million (U.S.) this year. The same amount of time on CTV has cost between $170,000 to $200,000, according to sources.
Super Bowl ads created for the Canadian market are still relatively rare. In recent years, Anheuser-Busch InBev SA's Budweiser has created Super Bowl ads specifically tailored to the broadcast here. Hyundai and McDonald's are other examples of multinational brands that did so. But many choose to air commercials that Canadian viewers have already seen.
This is partly because production budgets are so much smaller in Canada. The money it takes to hire Arnold Schwarzenegger to play table tennis with a Bud Light drinker would be unheard of here. Proportionally, the budgets allotted to market to a population of 35.5 million are going to be roughly an order of magnitude less than that of a market of 320 million people.
But that hasn't stopped Budweiser from getting creative. Its 2012 Canadian big game ad – which surprised a rec league hockey team with a stadium full of fans and all the trappings of a pro game – has been viewed more than 4 million times on YouTube. During the Super Bowl in 2013, when it advertised its Red Light that could be programmed to go off when a favourite hockey team scores a goal, they sold out within an hour.
CTV was hoping to encourage more of that made-in-Canada advertising hype around what is still a big event, even in a hockey-mad country.
The opportunity is clear: In the United States, a poll last year found that more than three-quarters of Super Bowl viewers actually look forward to watching the commercials. One-quarter of those surveyed said they are more interested in buying a product they've seen advertised during the game.
And if ads do not catch Canadian viewers' attention, they may tune out, or go online to watch the U.S. ads, which are posted to YouTube in real time.
"It's a fantastic initiative to encourage marketers to invest in the Super Bowl and see it as the property it is," said Andrew Simon, chief creative officer at ad agency Cundari, which won the contest with its ad for the Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.
The commercial features a dancing puppet, who does the hustle under a disco ball to emphasize the seventies vibe of a couple's kitchen, and advises them not to "get hustled" during the renovation process. (CTV gave the agency the option to run the ad nationwide, as the prize stipulates. It will run in Ontario only.)
Cundari and its client intended to create the campaign anyway to run this spring, and decided to submit it. Mr. Simon speculates that the rules may have held some agencies back: To compete, ads had to debut during the Super Bowl. CTV may lift that rule – if it runs the contest again next year.
"We were asking a lot. We know production costs are pretty significant around those types of ads," Ms. Collin said.
Considering the slim budgets so many Canadian advertisers work with, even those who pay for time during the Super Bowl here may have priorities that don't allow for new ads tailored to that event.
"Everybody wants to have an impact. With the dollars that we have, where can we best spend our money? It's certainly not a lack of ideas or a lack of initiative," Mr. Simon said. "Having worked in both markets, I feel that doing more with less is a good problem to have. You're really cognizant that you have to make sure that every communication works a little harder."