Super Bowl Advertisers Turn To Social Media

From the annual Doritos contest to Coke's choose-your-own-adventure style ads, Super Bowl advertisers are trying to engage their audience through social media.

By Scott Ross
|  Wednesday, Jan 15, 2014  |  Updated 5:24 PM EDT
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Doritos is once again asking fans to "Crash the Super Bowl," by voting for their favorite homemade commercial to be shown during the big game.

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With a price tag as high as $3 million for a 30-second spot, companies that invest in Super Bowl commercials want to get plenty of bang for their buck. This year, many companies are trying a new approach, moving from YouTube to Facebook and Twitter.

In recent years, the trend in Super Bowl advertising was to release an ad into cyberspace a week or so before Super Bowl Sunday in an effort to create buzz, approaching the big game in much the same way film marketers often do with movies. Fewer companies are giving their ads much early play this year, though, and are opting instead to build excitement through interaction on social media.

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For the seventh year in a row, Doritos is letting people vote for one of the commercials that will air during the big game. A visit to Doritos' Crash the Super Bowl page on Facebook finds the five user-made ads that made it to the final round and an invitation to vote.

Though they continue to air their ads online, Doritos has leveraged the power of social media better than any other Super Bowl advertiser to date, according to Dean Crutchfield, an independent brand consultant based in New York.

"They've created commercials by inviting students, young people to actually create them. So they create a lot of buzz around that," Crutchfield said. "Last year they had another upstart director. I think that was bloody well played and has worked tremendously for them."

Coca-Cola is taking consumer interaction in a slightly different direction. At CokeChase.com, the company posted an intro spot featuring a bus full of showgirls, a group of cowboys and a gang of Mad Max-esque goons all racing across the dessert toward a giant bottle of Coke.

Voters will decide who ultimately wins, and can look at photo galleries and short bios of each team before making their decision. They can even go as far as to sabotage the other teams.

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Audi will be blending the approach taken by Coke and Doritos. The company will post a commercial at midnight Thursday on its YouTube page -- but it will feature three different endings. Fans can vote on which of the three they want to see air on Super Bowl Sunday.

The spot opens with a dateless guy heading to his prom in dad's Audi S6 sedan. Upon arriving at the school he wheels into the principal's parking spot, plants a kiss on the prom queen and then finds himself face-to-face with the prom king. What happens next is up to the voters.

Coke's mortal enemy, Pepsi, which at one time was a co-sponsor of Doritos' Crash the Super Bowl promotion, is putting together what it calls the "first ever crowd sourced half-time intro" in Super Bowl history. People can submit photos via twitter using the hashtag #PepsiHalftime. 

A few hundred of the photos will be used to put together a montage that leads into Beyonce's halftime show. No word on whether she'll actually be singing this time.

Similarly, Toyota in early January asked people to submit photos via Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #wishgranted. A winner will have his or her photo appear in a spot that features Kaley Cuoco of "The Big Bang Theory."

Though they're not making a straight social media play, the people at Wonderful Pistachios are tapping into the star of the most popular video in the history of the Internet. Korean pop star Psy, the genius behind "Gangnam Style," is starring in a Super Bowl commercial.

"Brilliant!" said Crutchfield. "I was wondering who would pick him up—if they play that right, it could be the best one, the most memorable. That would be a mighty achievement if they could pull that off."

While they've released some behind-the-scenes footage showing Psy sporting a pistachio-green tux, doing his signature dance and possibly flying, the spot has been kept under wraps so far, which Crutchfield says will help build buzz.

"I think it's great—there's nothing wrong with a stir, a little bit of information is a good thing," Crutchfield said. "What they're not doing is showing the whole thing. A little talk is part of the build up—look at us talking."

So why are fewer companies releasing the full commercials in advance? Crutchfield says some companies are afraid of pre-game backlash, and points to one early exception -- a  commercial that features Kate Upton washing a Mercedes-Benz CLA -- as an example.

Hours after the video was released on YouTube, groups like the Parents Television Council started bashing the commercial for reinforcing old stereotypes of women.

"If you look at what's going on now with the ad showing (Kate Upton) washing the Mercedes, there's a case for you—lots of complaints and criticisms regarding the commercial," Crutchfield said. "Everyone knows it's the easiest thing in the world to batter a brand."

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