Colts and Bears and Kevin Federline
February 2, 2007
Colts and Bears and Kevin Federline By STUART ELLIOTT
If you think politics makes strange bedfellows, consider the advertising hookup that grabbed so much attention this week: Nationwide Insurance and Kevin Federline.
What's a nice advertiser like Nationwide doing with a semi-celebrity like Mr. Federline? After all, in most coverage of his tempestuous marriage to Britney Spears, he seemed like an accident waiting to happen - an odd choice to appear in ads for a blue-chip financial marketer.
You can attribute, or blame, the beginning of the beautiful friendship to the new rules of Super Bowl selling.
It has always been a big gamble to buy commercial time during the Super Bowl, a k a the annual midwinter American festival of football and commercialism. The spots are usually the most expensive of the year because the game is usually the most watched TV show of the year, drawing around 90 million viewers. On Sunday, for Super Bowl XLI, CBS is charging a record price, averaging an estimated $2.6 million for each 30-second spot, compared with $2.5 million last year.
For years, the commercials that appeared during each game were here and gone in seconds; blink, and you missed them. So while sponsors spent lavishly to woo viewers to watch the spots - stuffing the commercials with attention-getting devices like stars, special effects and surprise endings - the hoopla had an expiration date.
Now, thanks to the Internet, Super Bowl commercials are like gifts that Madison Avenue tries to keep on giving. As soon as the game ends, video clips of the spots are posted online, on the Web sites of sponsors like fedex.com; the networks that broadcast the game like cbs.sportsline.com; and Internet media companies, among them ifilm.com, msn.foxsports.com, sports.aol.com and youtube.com.
"The commercials live on, and continue to resonate," said Bart Cleveland, creative director at McKee Wallwork Cleveland, an agency that conducts an annual online commercial poll (adbowl.com).
As a result, the stakes have risen even higher for the two dozen or so marketers that decide to buy Super Bowl spots. Failure that once lasted a day or so now has an indefinite shelf life.
What the highly topical Mr. Federline brings to Nationwide is instant recognition, a first leg up before the opening kickoff. The idea was to capitalize on all the recent publicity surrounding Mr. Federline's relationship with Ms. Spears. (His recent experiences were considered a perfect way to illustrate the Nationwide ad theme, "Life comes at you fast" - and sell annuities "that could guarantee you income for life.")
So far, the plan seems to be working. In a Nielsen BuzzMetrics survey of Super Bowl spots, released Jan. 24, the Nationwide commercial finished first, with 26 percent of all blog discussions about the ads in the game. On one day, Jan. 17, according to the survey, the Federline spot accounted for 49 percent of all online conversations about Super Bowl ads.
In addition to surveys like the Ad Bowl, gauging opinions about the best and worst commercials, there are now data collectors like Nielsen BuzzMetrics and Nielsen/NetRatings that measure for days afterward how many - or how few - people are visiting Web sites to watch the spots or posting comments on blogs about ads they liked or hated.
Although there are not yet official national ratings for TV commercials, TiVo provides second-by-second data measuring how many households equipped with TiVo digital video recorders watched - or re-watched - Super Bowl commercials. (Most years, a commercial has been the most watched moment of the game rather than a play.)
One company, FKF Applied Research, is even teaming up with the Ahmanson Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, to gather brain-scan images that will measure emotional reaction to the commercials.
"The Super Bowl 'echo effect' has been dialed up dramatically," said Peter Blackshaw, chief marketing officer at Nielsen BuzzMetrics, part of the Nielsen Company. "It's the ultimate torture test."
That means the marketing hype machine is being cranked to 11, as the band from "This Is Spinal Tap" would say, with advertisers scrambling to supplement their Super Bowl marketing plans with a panoply of ploys, all meant to stimulate interest in the commercials after the game as well as before and during.
The elements include offering online previews of spots, as Nationwide started doing Monday on its Web site (nationwide.com); sponsoring contests for consumers to create Super Bowl ads, as the Frito-Lay division of PepsiCo is doing for its Doritos brand of snack chips; buying key words from search-engine Web sites, to entice computer users; producing alternate versions of commercials; and posting online behind-the-scenes video clips or "deleted" moments.
"In the past, a commercial was filmed and then we determined if there was a component that could be leveraged," said Andrew Burke, vice president for marketing at Diamond Foods, which is running a commercial in the third quarter for the Emerald brand that promotes nuts as an energy source. "Now, an expanded campaign was part of the upfront planning."
The Emerald Web site (emeraldnuts.com) is chockablock with content aiming to pique curiosity about the commercial, featuring the crooner Robert Goulet and created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, part of the Omnicom Group.
There are video clips with mock warnings about midday energy slumps; sound bites from Mr. Goulet in which he utters phrases like, "Click there, you know you want to"; and e-mail messages that can be sent to friends. After the Emerald commercial appears, the Web site will be freshened with new material.
Likewise, the candy maker Mars is adding bells and whistles, centered on a Snickers commercial in the game's first quarter by TBWA/Chiat/Day, part of the TBWA Worldwide division of Omnicom.
Through game time, visitors to a Web site (snickerssatisfies.com) can watch the first five seconds of the spot. After the commercial runs on TV, the online clip will be replaced with the full spot - and three alternative endings. The visitors can vote for their favorite, and the next time the spot runs it will conclude with the winning ending.
Steven R. Schreibman, vice president for advertising and brand management at Nationwide Financial, said the goal was for a Super Bowl commercial "to have a life outside the Super Bowl."
"The media landscape has changed so much," he said. "There are different expectations."
The Nationwide plans encapsulate that change. This year's efforts extend far beyond the Super Bowl efforts of just a year ago, Mr. Schreibman said, when the company ran a humorous commercial featuring the model Fabio. "We're trying to leverage it this time in as many ways as we can," he added.
First, the decision was made to feature Mr. Federline in the spot - created by TM Advertising, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies - rather than an established celebrity like Fabio. The Nationwide Web site, in addition to the preview of the spot, presents video clips from the making of the commercial; eight versions of Mr. Federline rapping the "Nationwide is on your side" jingle; an e-mail feature to send the commercial to friends; and a version of the music as an MP3 file.
Mr. Federline, who sings a mock rap song in the commercial, called "Rollin' V.I.P.," is even being incorporated into the "get a quote" feature of the Web site. A banner ad urges, "Let Nationwide keep you rollin' like a V.I.P." (Estimates are that Nationwide paid Mr. Federline $250,000 to $500,000 for the campaign.)
The initiatives extend beyond the Nationwide Web site. For instance, there are clips of Mr. Federline on YouTube and so-called leaked versions of the spot on Web sites like liveleak.com.
Nationwide also bought keywords from Google so that if you type "Super Bowl advertising" into the search box on the home page, a link to nationwide.com appears atop the sponsored links.
"They are checking off all the right boxes for maximizing 'buzz' leading up to the event," said Max Kalehoff, vice president for marketing at Nielsen BuzzMetrics.
During a spate of personal appearances to promote the spot, Mr. Federline said that "it's definitely been amazing to watch" the publicity build around his commercial. (He is to join Nationwide executives at the game in Miami, too.)
As for being the subject of still more publicity, "people talking about your work is a lot better than people talking about your personal life," Mr. Federline said, laughing. "I'm happy."
Will he and Nationwide be happy after the game? Stay tuned.