This Sunday the NFL shares the spotlight almost equally with advertisers who spend as much as $3 million for 30 seconds of airtime. That’s up 11% from last year. And production costs almost have no limit. You’ll see 2.5 minutes of 3-D commercials. You’ll see big stars like Conan O’Brien and Yo-Yo Ma and Pittsburgh Steelers player Troy Polamalu. You’ll even see commercials for commercials — special ads telling viewers to stay tuned for the 3-D spots just before halftime.
The fact is that Super Bowl commercials are luxury items, especially during this economy. FedEx and GM decided to skip this year. And Miller Brewing Company, rather creatively, somehow negotiated a 1 second ad with NBC. But there appears to be an emerging trend to create Super Bowl ads that are never intended to air. I think the trend started with Go Daddy’s 2005 steamy car wash ad — which actually was intended to air but was denied (even though it was really tame). Some smart marketers are capitalizing on the Super Bowl’s self-imposed puritanical code. They’ve figured out that they can create a “controversial” ad and run it on their website — and get free press.
In this PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) spot sexy girls get-it-on with veggies. Before we go too far, let’s be honest. PETA often gets in the way of their own messages quite a bit with a lot of boneheaded stunts. (And personally, I do enjoy a fresh salad — before my steak tartare with a fresh egg yolk on top.) However, this marketing move was smart. It speaks directly to the audience they want to reach: young high school and college students. And here’s the most intriguing part: it was done for a fraction of the cost of creating a real Super Bowl ad. Don’t think for a second that they ever expected it to be approved — I doubt PETA even has $3 million to spend on a spot.
Creating buzz around something doesn’t have to involve anything controversial — though that is the easier route. It just needs to be creative and topical enough for the press (and the public) to want to generate publicity about it. PETA could have released this ad at any time of the year, but by using the Super Bowl as a backdrop — and getting denied airtime by NBC with a perfect letter — they’ve given it more momentum. And that’s the key.