Super Bowl 2012: Marketing hype runs from beer and cars to condoms and cookies

February 1, 2012

It is Super Bowl week, so it is naturally time for Budweiser and Bud Light and Bud Light Platinum (huh?) to tout their wares. Coca-Cola will be there, so Pepsi has to be, too. Honda and Toyota, Best Buy and Bridgestone, M&M’s and MetLife, the usual characters filling the usual starring roles on the most important day in American marketing.

And then, this:

“Planning your Super Bowl party? How about cooking up a feast that includes N.Y. Giants Quarterback Eli Manning’s Lace Cookies?”

And this:

“Which QB do married women want in the sack?”

Not every company can afford $3.5 million for a 30-second commercial, the average price for a spot during Sunday’s game between the New York Giants and New England Patriots, according to the trade magazine Advertising Age. So the race to become attached to the Super Bowl — in ways both clever and crass — is a determined, at times desperate one.

“There’s an incredible diversity in Super Bowl advertisers,” said Tim Calkins, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “You have everybody from Budweiser to GoDaddy.com, or CareerBuilder or TaxAct — and some very small players in there, too. It makes for a really interesting mix. . . . It matters, whether you are an advertiser or you’re a brand that just wants to be part of all the hoopla around it.”

So, even if you’re the self-described “notorious extramarital affair service” Ashley Madison, you might as well conduct a survey that asks women their preference “in the sack,” Manning of the Giants or his counterpart, Tom Brady of the Patriots. Because, as chief executive and founder Noel Biderman said, “there has always been a strong link between professional sports and infidelity.” (Manning, incidentally, took 54 percent of the vote, beating Brady’s 46 percent in what the company hailed as a “surprising upset.”)

Or, if you’re at the other end of the spectrum — say, children’s book author Nick Katsoris — you might as well plug Manning’s cherished childhood cookie recipe (start with 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, 1 tablespoon flour, 2 cups white sugar) that’s included in the new release “Loukoumi’s Celebrity Cookbook.” It features not only Loukoumi the fluffy lamb but also Super Bowl-appropriate recipes from Beyonce, Jay Leno and others. (There is, disappointingly, no corresponding dish from Brady.)

Niche companies also resort to guerrilla tactics to gain visibility, passing out products on the streets or, in the case of the condom maker NuVo, sending a year’s supply to the NFL quarterback who is sacked most each week during the season. For the Super Bowl, this process starts with a barrage of news releases sent to media organizations large and small, hoping to land a preferred story line anywhere.

Even more prominent brands have updated their marketing strategy. For traditional heavyweight advertisers and those just breaking into the Super Bowl, shelling out millions for a commercial during the TV broadcast has become just part of the puzzle. Those commercials, in the week leading up to the game, now are made available for preview via YouTube.

So long before the end of the third quarter Sunday, when its ad is due to air, Honda created some buzz by unveiling “Matthew’s Day Off” — think Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller, but 26 years, and at least that many pounds, later — on the Web. Coca-Cola put this year’s version of its popular polar-bears ad online this week, and GoDaddy.com — which has attracted considerable attention in recent years with its racy commercials featuring Danica Patrick — has already presented its two 30-second Super Bowl spots online.

Fashion retailer H&M not only pushed the impending release of its line of “bodywear” endorsed by soccer star David Beckham by revealing a suggestive ad online, but it also is, over a two-week period ending Super Bowl weekend, unveiling a body-length image of Beckham modeling the new trunks on a massive outdoor space in midtown Manhattan.

“The Super Bowl has gone well beyond the 30-second spot,” said Steve Lubomski, director of marketing for H&M North America. “We can sort of use this week in advance to build traction.”

There is, too, the idea of attaching a company to an entity that’s already attached to the Super Bowl. Consider the party thrown annually by men’s magazine Maxim. The fervor on the streets of Indianapolis — “How can I get a ticket to the Maxim party?” — overlooks the actual name of the event, which is “Patron Tequila Presents: The Maxim Party Featuring the Coca-Cola Zero Countdown.” But the folks at Patron certainly don’t overlook it at all.

“It’s not so much the Super Bowl for us,” said Matt Carroll, the chief marketing officer at Patron. “It’s the Maxim party that we’re partnered with, and it happens to be at the Super Bowl. But everybody wants that ticket. It’s amazing the prices they get. . . . The press afterward and the good feedback, all the gossip columns and the bloggers, ‘so-and-so was seen at the Maxim party having a Patron,’ 99.9 percent of that’s all good.”

Which might roughly equal the percentage of positive feedback from being associated with the Super Bowl itself.

“It reaches an incredible number of people, and it’s a moment where people really pay attention to companies and to advertising,” Northwestern’s Calkins said.

So forgive a company such as TaTaToos — which, for the uninitiated, sells temporary tattoos designed for women’s breasts — for pitching its “touchdown” tattoos because they “let you cheer without saying a word.” And forgive NuVo, the condom maker, for sending a suggestive release that “Brady is going to need the extra protection especially when taking on the New York Giants.”

“We want to get the positive aspect of condom use out there — safe-sex awareness,” said Ben Isaacs, president of NuVo owner NV Healthcare. “What better stage than the Super Bowl?”

Barry Svrluga covers the Washington Redskins and golf.
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