It took 48 wings drenched in Blazin’ sauce, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and some reconfigured GoPro cameras for Buffalo Wild Wings to create its Super Bowl ad.
The company did not buy TV time for the spot during the game. Instead, the restaurant chain, based in Golden Valley, posted the video Thursday on Facebook — shot in a 360-degree format — and, with mentions of it on websites from USA Today to GQ and Fox Sports, it was well on its way Friday to viral status.
The Big Game has always been the largest stage to test creative ideas as companies and their agencies vie for the most water cooler-worthy ads. In the past decade, they have expanded the Super Bowl campaigns by releasing ads early online. Now, much of the ingenuity comes in the form of online complements to TV commercials or purely digital campaigns — some that will happen in real time during the game.
“Brands are doing really fascinating things both on social media and other digital platforms that lead up to the Super Bowl, [including] what’s happening in real time as their spot is airing and what’s the follow-up or the engagement afterward,” said Mike Caguin, chief creative officer at local ad shop Colle+McVoy.
Many Twin Cities agencies have responded to the growth in digital work by expanding their offerings and adding staff with digital expertise.
Advertising has always been a large part of the Big Game. In the Super Bowl’s first 50 years, a total of $4.5 billion has been spent on ads. TV ads during this Sunday’s broadcast, which is expected to reach 189 million U.S. viewers, are estimated to cost a record $377 million, according to Ad Age Datacenter.
“It’s like a Christmas for advertisers,” Caguin said. “It’s the only time of year where people are looking forward to seeing commercials.”
Yet most companies that can afford the cost for a TV ad during the broadcast are adding a digital component to their campaign.
Colle+McVoy helped Associated Bank and energy brand Cenex develop regional Super Bowl ads that will be seen locally by those who tune in Sunday. The agency also developed online ads and social media outreach for the bank’s campaign.
Minneapolis-based ad agency Fallon is the only announced shop in town this year to develop a national Super Bowl TV ad for a client. The 60-second spot for Quicken Loans promotes the lender’s Rocket Mortgage online mortgage service.
The campaign also includes digital components, including an online sweepstakes giving away hundreds of items inspired by the commercial.
“Since it’s an entirely digital experience it makes sense for [Rocket Mortgage] to be advertised in a digital manner,” said David Sigel, Fallon’s managing director of strategic growth who runs the account.
Not all companies can afford the $5 million asking price for a 30-second national ad, and, like Quicken Loans, even the ones that can want to get the most bang for their buck by extending the ad’s reach with film-like teasers, giveaways and other ways to interact with consumers, local ad executives said.
A chance to experiment
Companies also are more likely to try new technology and methods in their digital campaigns, said Greg Swan, vice president of public relations and emerging media at Minneapolis digital ad agency Space150.
“In digital, you have more flexibility to experiment and to consider what else you can do that would capture your consumer or target’s attention without necessarily spending millions of dollars,” Swan said.
Buffalo Wild Wings, for example, enlisted Space150 to help with its Gronkowski ad. Live sporting events are a big deal for the restaurant chain, which last year sold around 11 million chicken wings on Super Bowl Sunday.
The agency used a GoPro rig so the video was 360 degrees, meaning viewers can use their mouse to change the angle of the video or use a viewer for a more immersive experience. The premise: Gronkowski, his brothers and a super fan partake in a wings challenge. In fewer than 24 hours, the video featuring Gronkowski had more than a half-million views on Facebook.
“We’re constantly looking at new and emerging technologies that will allow us to bring our fans closer to our brand,” said Bob Ruhland, vice president of marketing for Buffalo Wild Wings.
Minneapolis-based ad agency Olson did not develop the TV ad that Skittles will run during the Super Bowl. The firm, however, is heading up the candy maker’s efforts to have people post on Twitter if they see a rainbow during the game to win a bag of the colorful bite-sized candy.
“I think the expectation is that it’s not enough to just be on TV,” said Jeremy Mullman, senior vice president at the firm’s PR and social media arm Olson Engage.
Super Bowl fever also has spread to ancillary events like Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl.
Another Olson client, vacuum cleaner company Bissell, is a sponsor of the fluffy and wet-nosed version of the Super Bowl that is broadcast hours before the Big Game.
In a special online feature that was taped in a Minneapolis soundstage, several puppies will be slopping their way through champagne glasses full of gravy, huge plates of spaghetti and other messy props only to have Bissell products clean up the muck at the end. The company will be engaging on social media with posts from viewers under the hashtag #PetHappens resulting in donations to help pets.
Live televised events like the Super Bowl and the Oscars have become “larger than life marketing events” with advertisers trying to engage with viewers on multiple screens, said Steve Wehrenberg, an advertising professor at the University of Minnesota and a former industry executive.
According to 2015 data from Experian Marketing Services, more than half of adults at least somewhat often surf the web on a computer or text while watching television.
This year Super Bowl advertisers have a lot of new digital marketing tools to pick from, especially in the real-time arena with messaging app Snapchat selling ads for its NFL Live Story, Facebook launching its Sports Stadium to let users follow the game together and Google showcasing ads in real-time on YouTube and in display ads in response to micro-moments on TV.
“You can almost beta test programs and ideas and things like in the social and digital space and see if they have any lift and you can scale them,” Wehrenberg said.