DIY ads break into Super Bowl lineup


NEW YORK -- The average Joe may never get a chance to play in the Super Bowl, but this year some ordinary folks can participate in what many consider the most entertaining part of the country's biggest football extravaganza: its television commercials.

Building on the popularity of so-called user-generated content -- like the homemade videos and blogs that rule the Internet -- a handful of marketers decided to allow their customers to create advertisements for Super Bowl XLI, which airs on CBS on February 4.

"User-generated content is the hottest concept in marketing today," said Fran Kelly, president of ad agency Arnold Worldwide. "Trying an idea that people are going to talk about and look forward to seeing during the game is using the Super Bowl the right way."

Chevrolet and Doritos will be among those trying to win over the anticipated 90 million viewers with ads developed by average consumers.

In another twist, one man is hoping to use 15 seconds of a marketer's Super Bowl time slot to propose to his girlfriend. The groom-to-be says on his site that "a deal seems like it's in the works."

Even the National Football League is getting into the user-generated act, sponsoring a "Best NFL Super Bowl Commercial Ever" contest that gives fans a chance to create a spot and have it broadcast during the game.

For many, these commercials and others will be the highlight of Super Bowl XLI in South Florida. So far, marketers have paid up to $2.6 million for a 30-second spot, slightly more than last year, when the game aired on ABC.

John Bogusz, executive vp of sports sales and marketing for CBS Corp. declined to say exactly how much of the commercial time had been sold so far.

"We're pacing similar to where we were in the past," he said, noting that most of the remaining inventory was available in the fourth quarter of the game.

Top buyers so far have included Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc., which has purchased 10 30-second spots, General Motors Corp. and PepsiCo Inc..

"As you go into a Super Bowl spot, you have to think about it as much more than just that 30-second advertisement," said Andrew Burke, vice president, marketing at Diamond Foods Inc. "It's about water-cooler talk the next day; it's about chatter on the Internet before and after the game."

Diamond purchased a 30-second spot in the third quarter for about $2 million to promote its Emerald nuts snacks featuring entertainer Robert Goulet.

Burke said the company decided to buy the time after last year's commercial gave an immediate lift to sales. Since Diamond has a specific marketing strategy based around its Super Bowl ad, Burke said, it never considered turning its commercial time over to customers.

But some executives believe it can be worth the risk of handing over some control of a $2.5 million commercial in hopes that it leads to an original and buzz-worthy spot.

"You're trying to get people engaged and it's hard to argue that they're not engaged if they're actively involved in the making of the commercial," said John Condon, chief creative officer of ad agency Leo Burnett USA.

Doritos, owned by the Frito-Lay division of PepsiCo, is among those marketers banking on a user-generated commercial. In September, it invited customers to shoot their own ad for the Super Bowl. After narrowing the entries to five finalists, Doritos opened its Web site to voting by the public.

Another consumer-generated commercial scheduled to premier during Super Bowl XLI comes from GM's Chevy, which launched a competition for college students to submit proposals for one of the carmaker's gametime ads.

Alka-Seltzer also opened its advertising to customers, asking them to come up with a new jingle for the product, using the familiar "Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz -- Oh What a Relief It Is" in at least one of the verses. The winning submission will be aired in the Super Bowl pregame show.

"If the spots are great, that creates a lot of buzz in one direction," said Arnold's Kelly. "If the spots are terrible, it creates lots of talk another way. I don't think you can lose."
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