Did NBC's pitch play hit promo paydirt?

Experts say the results on Super Bowl ads were mixed

NBC unveiled a flurry of midseason promos during its presentation of Sunday's mega-rated Super Bowl XLIII, a mix of ads that tried to get noticed amid the most lavish marketing efforts Madison Avenue had to offer.

The network launched the first commercial for its new Amy Poehler comedy (also revealing the show's title, "Parks and Recreation"), a teaser for Jay Leno moving to 10 p.m. and a special effects-filled ad that combined "Heroes" and football.

"I thought they did an excellent job of promoting 'Chuck' and 'Heroes,' " media analyst Jack Myers said. "The ads driving immediate tune-in worked; the ads driving overall brand awareness, while well-produced and interesting and attractive, I don't think will change anything."

Adam Stotsky, NBC's president of entertainment marketing, said the network's strategy was to embrace high-concept ideas that could compete visually with regular ads.

"The mission was: How do we make our promos Super Bowl-worthy?" he said. "The work has to stand toe-to-toe with the best advertising in the world."

The stakes could not have been higher for NBC, which has struggled this season to gain ratings momentum, and the opportunity granted by the Super Bowl could not have been greater (the host network is allowed five minutes during the game to promote itself).

NBC focused most of its in-game firepower on promoting its Monday lineup. "Chuck" aired its 3-D episode this week, which also featured the return of "Heroes" and "Medium." Rolling a sports audience into series programming proved difficult in the fall after NBC's presentation of the Beijing Olympics.

In one spot, characters from all three Monday shows sang. In one "Heroes" piece, the show's characters used their superpowers to play football.

"It was interesting because they put most of their eggs into the Monday basket," said Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University professor of popular culture. "They made the assumption the public has a short memory, or they don't have a lot of confidence in the rest of their schedule." He added, though, that "some of the NBC ads were clever and among the better ads that aired during the game."

Spots promoting NBC's midseason series did not score as high with media experts.

"In terms of new programs, I can't even tell you what they promoted," Myers said.

Poehler's "Parks" and the John Wells-produced cop drama "Southland," set to launch in April, were promoted during the pregame.

Also failing to make the cut during the main attraction was the royal drama "Kings," whose March premiere recently was downgraded to a less-visible time slot in favor of "Southland." Despite being the network's first new scripted series to debut this year, "Kings" was hyped only during the pregame.

"There was a real debate internally about where to focus our energy," Stotsky said. " 'Kings' did get some exposure, just not in the game."

NBC also ran a teaser promoting Leno moving his late-night talk show to 10 p.m. The spot showed the host driving a sports car marked with the number "10," its license plate reading, "Fall."

"We had the opportunity to highlight one of the biggest news events of the year while attaching it to Jay's personality and appreciation of vintage cars," Stotsky said.

Not all of NBC's house ads were for the broadcast network.

A spot for cable offshoot USA Network received a high-visibility berth right after the game ended. The ad featured characters from the network's dramas, including "Burn Notice" and "In Plain Sight," mingling with regular people. Critics said it might have confused viewers less familiar with USA's programming.

"It was one of my favorite commercials of the night because I know all those shows," Thompson said. "But for the 90 million viewers who don't, it was incomprehensible."

Thompson said the ad reflected one Super Bowl advertising style, though: Often, spots that air during the big game play more like short, cryptic films.

"We debated how to do it: Do we promote one show or take a big shot across the bow?" USA executive vp marketing Chris McCumber said. "We decided to showcase seven shows and 10 characters in a way that was linear and entertaining."
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