Trash talk: Super Bowl vs. Social Media (vs. ZooPals)

Dumb question: what’s better for your brand? Buying a Super Bowl ad or investing in social media?

Believe it or not, sick that was the essential question asked on Friday in AdAge’s CMO blog by academic marketing heavyweights Tim Calkins and Derek Rucker. Read it here: Will Social Media Slay the Super Bowl? Beg to Differ would have given it a different title: “Will Apples-to-Oranges Comparisons Lead to Poor Sales of Garbage-Bag-Branded Children’s Dishes?”

What the heck are you talking about?!?

Calkins and Rucker start by saying that many big brands, like Ford, are abandoning Super Bowl advertising in favour of a broader mix of media, including the spectrum of social media tools. They quote Jim Farley, Ford’s global marketing chief, as saying:

“Social media is a better investment for known and established brands. Farley explained in a recent interview: “Customers are spending as much time with the mobile smartphone or online as they are watching TV now, so our advertising dollars have to flow to where the people are.”
Then after stating that they think the Super Bowl is still important for big brands, they start to dissect social media.
“Unfortunately, social media fails to guarantee that brands will reach a large number of consumers. A look at the social-media presence of many well-known brands makes the point. The Hefty brand waste bags’ Facebook page has only 66,000 fans. Windex has fewer than 3,000 fans and the Hampton Inn page has less than 2,000 fans on Facebook.”

So yeah, if you play the “reach” numbers game, those numbers seem pretty paltry when you compare them to the estimated 100 Million or more viewers who are said to watch the Super Bowl every year in the States – and the fact that the ads are now no longer on the sidelines on Super Sunday, but have taken centre field. So point made: if your company can afford to play in the “big leagues” the Super Bowl is a venue you should consider.  But can you justify a decision to sit this one out as Ford did?

Let’s talk Hefty

Look again at the statement above: “The Hefty brand waste bags’ Facebook page has only 66,000 fans.” (emphasis mine).
Now think about that for a moment. The social media people at Hefty got enough people to fill a decent sized little city (and its landfill site) to respond to a call to action to publicly become fans OF A GARBAGE BAG BRAND!!!! And not only did 66,000 people say yes I want to be a fan,” they said “yes, I want my friends to see that I am the bitch of the Hefty brand.”

Heck, the team at Hefty even got more than 26,000 people to “Like” what I consider to be the  one of the worst cross-branding initiatives since Colgate Shaving Cream in a toothpaste tube, the Hefty ZooPals: That’s right, your kids can now enjoy their dinner from Garbage Bag branded dishes with happy smiling animals… would you like a twist tie with that?

Compare that to all those multi-million dollar Super Bowl ads that are completely forgettable (yeah. I’m looking at you BMW diesel-bashing ad) tone-dead and offensive (ahem Groupon) or hugely expensive but hampered by a brain-dead concept, a dumb brand name, and lob-ball attempts at buzz generation (hey – ever hear of – none of which ever got enough actual real-world response to fill a Ziploc sandwich baggy.

There’s an enormous difference between an eyeball on Super Sunday and a mouse-click every other day of the year. One is passive; one is active. One is an abstract “viewer”; the other is a human being who has made a small decision in your favour. Neither is a customer mind you, but one is a heck of a lot more likely to become one.

Which brings us back to the question

The biggest problem with Calkins and Rucker is that while they pay some lip service to social media, they’re showing up to a modern game in a leather helmet. They see the world backwards. They advise advertisers to first “capitalize on the power of PR” (by which they mean the traditional “engage the (old) media” kind). Then think about creative. And only lastly do they refer to social media as a as a “flanking strategy”.

But what Ford and other advertisers are realizing, is that social media has crossed the threshold from being the last thing you think about to being the FIRST thing you need to consider, and to build any old-media campaigns around the response you want to generate.

That’s why the biggest advertising winner on Super Sunday, VW released its ad on YouTube with a well-coordinated campaign well before Super Sunday and already had 7 million clicks before game-time. Or why companies like Network Solutions released Web-only video campaigns to attempt to steal the thunder of established Super Bowl ad hawkers like GoDaddy who in turn try to drive traffic to specific Web-only content that lets them continue the conversation on their own home field.

What do you think? Are Calkin’s and Rucker still trying to win one for the Gipper (when it’s too late), or is Beg to Differ dreaming of football-shooting jetpacks rather than hitting the gridiron?

4 thoughts on “Trash talk: Super Bowl vs. Social Media (vs. ZooPals)”

  1. +1 for “neither is a customer mind you”

    “Reach” metrics in brand measurement are not unlike page views and unique visitors in web analytics: the wrong stats to pay attention to if you want to measure *success*

    Raw volume tells you nothing about what people are thinking, about how they react.

  2. Seems to me that it’s institutional thinking, Dennis, that keeps the Fords of the world looking at the social web in terms of likes, fans, and friends. It’s a broadcast mindset that’s not easily undone when ensconced in a model that you’re heavily vested in. They need it to remain the status quo.

  3. Another point in the Super Bowl vs Soc Media Debate is that although x million people may have their TV’s turned on, how many of those people are actually watching the ad?

    There is currently no guarantee any TV advertiser is reaching any more than one viewer with their ad.

    Until someone is able to create a bot that clicks ads, soc media guarantees engagement of each person in their audience.

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