The Super Bowl Has Morphed into an Entire Season—for Advertising

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Now that the New England Patriots and the New York Giants are set to play in Super Bowl XLVI, the hype for the “Super rematch” of the championship from four years ago can begin. (Where is David Tyree these days anyway?) The hype for the game, though, may pale in comparison to the noise being generated by companies advertising during the Super Bowl.

Each 30-second ad airing during this year’s Super Bowl will cost $3.5 million, on average. Understandably, the companies paying for air time are milking these pricey ad campaigns for all their worth.

Simply coming up with a nice commercial concept highlighting your product’s best features no longer does the trick. Waiting to unveil the ad on Super Bowl Sunday doesn’t seem to cut it either. Nowadays, to generate more buzz and keep products and brands on the minds of consumers for much longer than one day, companies are resorting to advertising contests and showing “teaser” commercials online and in movie theaters days or even weeks before the game.

Last week—two and a half weeks before the Super Bowl—Volkswagen introduced its Super Bowl ad, “The Bark Side,” featuring a group of dogs who are dressed as “Star Wars” characters and bark out a theme song from the movie series. The “teaser” commercial, posted online, generated more than 4 million views in 48 hours.

(MORE: Early Super Bowl Ad’s a Hit: Volkswagen’s ‘Canine Choir’ Barks ‘Star War’s Theme)

VW isn’t the only company using man’s best friend to sell product this year. “News” (that’s “news” with intentional air quotes) broke two weeks ago that a French bulldog was replacing Kim Kardashian in the Super Bowl ad for Skechers, the “toning” shoes that don’t tone the wearer up anymore than any other set of sneakers.

CNN Money reports that the bulldog, named Mr. Quiggly, will share the screen during the Skechers Super Bowl ad not with Miss Kardashian, but with another reality TV star, Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks who serves as one of the judges on ABC’s entrepreneur show “Shark Tank.”

The CNN Money link offers a sneak peek at a half-dozen of this year’s Super Bowl ads, a list that includes the domain-name site GoDaddy, as well as automakers including Lexus and Suzuki. Automakers always have a large presence in the Super Bowl ad game, and cars should be especially well represented this year—during the game, and for weeks beforehand.

(LIST: The Best and Worst Super Bowl 2011 Commercials)

The Los Angeles Times reports that Kia is unveiling its Super Bowl ad not online or on TV, but in movie theaters. A “teaser” for the one-minute commercial, which is called “Drive the Dream” and features ’80s hair band Motley Crue and Victoria’s Secret supermodel Adriana Lima, is expected to be shown in theaters starting a few days before the Super Bowl. Kia is supposedly the first company to launch a Super Bowl commercial at movie theaters, thereby taking Super Bowl advertising to some sort of next level. Executives tell the LA Times they’re anticipating major buzz:

“We are trying to continue to push the envelope,” said Michael Sprague, vice president of marketing for Kia Motors America. “Consumers at the movies will start tweeting about the ad, and that should help us build momentum and awareness.”

The product being advertised, by the way, is the Kia Optima, a midsize sedan starting at $21,000. How is a standard commuter car like this a match for an ultra-hot supermodel and a band that did sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll as good (bad?) as anyone? I guess we’ll all have to watch to find out.

Chevrolet, meanwhile, recently announced the winner of its Super Bowl Ad Contest. When you think about it, such a concept is truly brilliant. The company generates buzz and promotes the brand by allowing people to view multiple ads and vote for their favorites over a period of several months. Chevy says that the ads in the contest were viewed 32 million times between December 22 and January 14. That’s a lot of eyeballs on Chevy’s logo and products. There’s also the fact that the company doesn’t have to pay a professional advertising operation for its services. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune notes:

Nearly 40 finalist commercials out of more than 400 entries are currently available for viewing on the Internet at virtually no cost to the Detroit automaker. Should any of those entries go viral, it’s like money in the bank for the Chevy brand.

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The winner of the contest was “Chevy Happy Grad,” in which a new graduate (from high school, I assume?) gives a hilarious, over-the-top reaction when he thinks his parents have given him a Chevy Camaro as a graduation gift.

The contest-winning ad has already started airing on TV, which sorta seems like cheating. If a commercial is shown before the Super Bowl, is it really a Super Bowl commercial? Or just any old commercial that just happens to be airing during the Super Bowl?

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.