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NFL Superbowl Ads - Kill the Goose, Kill the Golden Egg

The ad '1984' which introduced the Macintosh computer, ran only once nationally, during a break in the third quarter of the Superbowl, on January 22, 1984.

It took all of us by surprise and it is still considered by many to be the Greatest Superbowl ad of all time. Kudos to Chiat/Day, Fairbanks Films and Director Ridley Scott and to social media which in those days happened over a water cooler at the office or bevies in a bar. The chatter exploded and with it came global media coverage.

In many ways, the sledgehammer that smashed Big Brother also smashed the walls that separated 'game time' from 'commercial time'. The NFL and the Broadcast networks, the marketers and advertisers quickly came to the conclusion that both were not only magnetic but by working together they could draw an even larger audience. What used to be a great place to advertise became the place to play your new ad. Think back to all of your favourites - Coke and Mean Joe Green, McDonald's Showdown where Magic Johnson and Larry Bird compete for an increasingly absurd shooting contest, Darth Vader and Volkswagon, Monsters when I grow up, The E-Trade Baby, Cindy Crawford introducing the new Pepsi Can, Budweiser Frogs and last years Puppy Love and so many more.

Like the West Coast Offence firing 8 yard passes after 8-yard passes to shred the defence the element of surprise and delight continued to work and in fact, it was so magnetic it repelled new technologies like PVRs, pause buttons and streaming. You replenished your Tostitos during a time out and not during the commercial time.

In fact, the Superbowl became the last bastion, other than a crisis, for reaching a massive 100 million-plus engaged, captive and co-gender audience. Research study after research study pointed to the power of the advertising - not just the content but the fact it was the first time they were being staged as one of the reasons for tuning in. In fact, many people said they liked them as much if not more than the game. The proof was in the price tag, this year's real estate was priced at up to $4.5 million dollars for a 30-second ad, and $8 million for 60 seconds talent and production not included.

My belief is that these days might be coming to an end.

This Golden Goose which has produced billions of dollars of revenues is slowly being killed and the NFL and NBC must act now to prevent it from happening. The reason is simple - the surprise and delight factor of the reveal has been replaced by marketers eager to amplify and validate their advertising through social media and mass media. In social media, we are seeing a wide array of tactics - from teasers to full out releases and in mass media, NBC seems to be adding a big sweetener to their Superbowl package - with your Superbowl Buy you get a gift with purchase', the opportunity to launch your ad prior to the game, in on one of their 'news/entertainment or late-night programs.

I don't blame the Marketers for trying to get a bigger bang for their buck with social media. There is nothing more exciting or addictive than watching free eyeballs tally up on YouTube. I know because I have been there. When we created Bridezilla - the Bride cutting off her hair before her wedding, I felt like a pinball wizard on an amazing run as 100's of viewers turned into 1000'a turned into millions. I also don't blame NBC for maintaining the $4.5 million price point by offering Marketers a sweetener that costs them little or nothing to execute and ads great content to Conan's show.

I do however believe in the law of scarcity: Objects including Superbowl Advertising time can increase in value if they have unique properties or are exceptionally difficult to replicate.

The opposite holds true when the uniqueness disappears. The Superbowl stage is crumbling because of the itch it created, the surprise and delight of seeing something for the first time are quickly disappearing. And how can you continue to justify the spiralling production and talent costs when instead of watching the ad during the excitement of the game, dancing across your home theatre with pimped-up sound you see it for the first time on your smartphone, tablet, computer?

This death from a thousand penknives isn't a good thing for an advertising or media agency that is trying to persuade their client, in a tough price-driven marketplace, to take a risk with the Superbowl buy. A risk that demands big creativity, big talent, big production values and a big media check.

So what would I do if I was the NFL and NBC, who owned or leased an asset like the Superbowl? I would create scarcity. I would convince at least ten Marketers and their agencies to hold their powder until game time. As an incentive, I would give them the best ten slots in the game, offer them promotional billboards. I would even create a Voters Choice prime time special the week following the Superbowl featuring behind-the-scenes footage, their talent and brands. (Think Victoria Secret and their fashion show or Red Bull Media and their Extreme Sports). I would do all that I could to save my Golden Goose where eggs are priced at $4.5 million each.

I would do all that I could to once again convince Marketers that there is only one game in town, one stage to put your best foot forward in front of 110 million engaged and excited consumers who are as interested in the content as they are in your unmatched, unwatched advertising.

A lesson for all who find themselves with the immense attraction of scarcity, possibly through a unique brand or promotional offering, their own Golden Goose, and for some cause or overexpose it or even worse kill it for short term gain.


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