On Friday, Coca-Cola sent out a small warning over Twitter: the bears are taking over, the company told its followers. "Don't be alarmed."
It's all part of Coke's bid to win the battle for eyeballs in the Super Bowl, but that battle has gone beyond TV. On Sunday, the bears sent out messages on Twitter and Facebook , inviting customers into an online Arctic cave to watch the game with them as they reacted to big plays and laughed at the funniest ads.
"What you're seeing now are people really trying to milk the duration of visibility of the ad," said Queen's University marketing professor Ken Wong. That means going beyond the TV broadcast.
"I don't think we'll ever see the day where somebody ... spends a million on production and shows it once."
TV still matters: in an age of fragmented audiences where advertisers can no longer reach a massive swath of the population in one commercial break, an event that attracts more than 100 million viewers in the U.S. is, for many, worth the $3.5-million (U.S.) price tag for 30 seconds of air time.
Beyond that, Coke executives have estimated that three out of five viewers this year would also be interacting with a second screen such as a tablet, laptop, or smartphone, to comment about the game on social media networks. Advertisers, realizing they cannot afford to ignore that audience, worked hard to capture some of that online attention. For the fifth year, popular video-sharing website YouTube.com ran the Super Bowl ads on a dedicated channel called AdBlitz, posting them online as soon as they aired on TV.
This year, Google Inc. (which owns YouTube) also struck a partnership with NBC Sports, which promoted the site on-air during the U.S. broadcast and encouraged viewers to visit YouTube after the game to vote on their favourite ads.
Doritos had its sixth annual "Crash the Super Bowl" contest, asking customers to make their own ads, and staging an online vote, with the winner to air during the TV broadcast. By kickoff time, nearly 500,000 people had voted.
Chevrolet created an application for mobile devices, offering trivia games and polls during the game – and encouraging users to share the experience with others in their social networks, giving away 20 cars as an incentive for those viewers to engage with the branded app.
And a long string of teasers and pre-released ads online in the past two weeks were also launched with social media in mind – ads or ad previews that went viral were the most useful tactic in generating social media conversation, as friends passed around links and discussed the commercials' concepts or likely outcomes.
"These commercials take on lives of their own," said Suzie Reider, head of industry development with Google's global video team. The search volume on Google for Super Bowl commercials surges each year, sparking social media activity as people share those videos online, she said.
"...You've got all this stuff that starts to happen in the week before, and tremendous query volume in the three or four weeks afterwards."
In a report last week, social media research firm General Sentiment estimated that Samsung was the most effective brand in turning social media buzz into real results for its products – in terms of pure revenue dollars generated per day as a result of social media chatter around its campaign mocking Apple Inc. customers. The firm traced its "Impact Media Value" at $18.7-million.
Next on the list in terms of effectiveness were Coca-Cola, American Honda Motor Co. Inc. (which got a lot of buzz for its Ferris Bueller-themed ad starring Matthew Broderick), Volkswagen AG (which won many best-of ratings last year with its Darth Vader ad and got a lot of views for a teaser with barking dogs in Star Wars costumes) and Toyota Motor Corp.
But Prof. Wong says all this investment in social media campaigns does not always produce actual results. While the importance of social media is on the rise, many brands are still struggling to know what really works in this new space.
"People have started to ask the question, 'How do we do this well?' " he said. "It's not enough just to be on the bandwagon."