Last year, Pepsi did something it hadn’t done in 23 years. It chose not to run a Super Bowl spot. Instead, it took the $20 million that it spent on the previous year’s game and spent it on a social media-driven contest. With a blend of philanthropy, guerrilla branding, and PR, the Pepsi Refresh contest invited people to submit their ideas and compete for votes to win grants ranging from $5,000 to $250,000.
Was it successful? Did it help increase sales? “The Pepsi Refresh Project was not a sales driven program,” said Shiv Singh, head of digital for PepsiCo beverages America. “It was designed to build brand awareness…cultivate a long term relationship with consumers…[and] build brand health. We look at brand equity, brand health and sales—and we have seen movement in all of them.” For Pepsi’s agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day, the decision to skip the Super Bowl and use the money for the project acknowledged the consumer shift toward social media and the need to reach the millennial generation with something that allowed them to participate in a meaningful way. The fact that The New York Times was writing about it a year later might support the case that Pepsi’s decision was a smart one. Does that mean $3 million for a 30-second spot isn’t worth it?
If your spot rates high on the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter, and gets additional free exposure on a couple dozen Monday morning news shows, and then goes viral on the Internet, I’d say it was worth it. If it doesn’t, then maybe not. What’s interesting from a marketing and business standpoint is that, in a world that’s all about apps, tweets, and analytics, the answer to the three-million-dollar question may come down to something as old as time—creativity.
When half the people say they watch the Super Bowl mostly for the commercials, the value of a smart, creative spot should not be underestimated. Yet, unlike those millions of others, I’m not sure I’ll even be watching on Sunday for the commercials. Why? Because for every great Super Bowl spot there’s about seven lame ones. Maybe eight. You’d think that, being the Super Bowl, it’d be different, but it’s not. So, rather than sit through dozens of long, boring, stupid spots just to catch a few good ones, I’ll just watch them Monday online. I doubt I’ll be the only one. Will others be willing to sit through (and actually watch and digest) commercial after commercial after commercial, especially if they’re partying with family or friends? I doubt it. That’s why the true test and value of a Super Bowl spot is its post-game hang time.
Since that hang time is a fickle, unpredictable, thing–as it will always be–I can’t see the networks continuing to demand higher rates the way they have in the past, especially with the evolving online media landscape. With more and more companies like Pepsi exploring alternative media channels, the challenge for the networks is how to provide added value for the fees they’re asking.
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