5 Top Trends for 2013 Super Bowl Commercials

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The cost of advertising in the Super Bowl is rising, running an average of $4 million for a 30-second spot—up from $3.5 million last year and just $42,000 back in 1967. To justify the expense, advertisers aim to present fans with something more than just another entertaining but ultimately forgettable commercial.

How do they plan on doing it? Here are a few of the ways:

Longer Commercials
The most talked-about ad from last year’s Super Bowl was Chrysler‘s “It’s Halftime in America” featuring Clint Eastwood. The ad stretched on for a full two minutes, which is an epic length compared to the usual 30-second TV spot. More XXL commercials are expected during this year’s Super Bowl. According to data cited by the Los Angeles Times, nearly 20% of this year’s ads will go on for one minute or longer, compared to 10% during the 2011 Super Bowl.

(MORE: The Best and Worst Super Bowl Commercials of 2012)

Online Teasers
One of the reason’s the Clint Eastwood ad was such a hit is that it was a surprise; no one had gotten a “sneak peek” of it in advance on YouTube or Chrysler’s website, and news of the spot hadn’t spread ahead of time on Twitter or Facebook. That’s rare nowadays for Super Bowl ads, as AdAge explained:

When an advertiser shells out between $3.5 million and $4.5 million for a Super Bowl ad, using social media to get added exposure isn’t just an afterthought. It helps amortize the cost of the commercial by generating millions of dollars in free publicity.

For advertisers, the Super Bowl isn’t merely a day, but the highpoint of an entire season for marketers hoping that their clients can become part of the national conversation before, during, and after the game. Most advertisers aren’t satisfied just with getting the attention of millions of TV viewers on Super Bowl Sunday. They want their attention for weeks beforehand as well, which is why, for example, Volkswagen released the video of the dogs barking the “Star Wars” theme online. Roughly 50 of last year’s Super Bowl ads could be watched, in some format, before kickoff.

(MORE: Online Video Marketing: This Time, It’s Personal)

This year, expect more of the same. While some ads will be a surprise on the big day, many will be shown online in advance. To have it both ways—to build excitement and interest in the brand in advance, while also maintaining a sense of surprise—many advertisers are showing “teasers” of their commercials online. Unsurprisingly, an ad featuring swimsuit model Kate Upton washing a new Mercedes — which is a teaser in more ways than one — has been on the most popular Super Bowl commercials viewed online before the game. Another example is an ad from Skechers, which is known for exaggerating the effects of its sneakers. The company has released a teaser of its 2013 Super Bowl ad showing a Skechers-wearing man racing a cheetah, which could possibly be another exaggeration.

Real People
Lincoln has been asking drivers to Tweet the details of their craziest-ever road trips. Football fans (or just aspiring directors) have been uploading videos of themselves uttering the words “Hut! Hut! Hut!” in self-produced commercials to Pizza Hut’s Facebook page. With Doritos Crash the Super Bowl campaign, voters are weighing in as to which fan-made commercial will wind up being shown on Super Bowl Sunday. Toyota has launched a campaign in which consumers are submitting photos of themselves on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #wishgranted. Some of this user-generated content will ultimately be shown in Super Bowl commercials, but advertisers aren’t employing the strategies just because the content is free. USA Today recently explained why advertisers are increasingly featuring real people as opposed to polished professionals:

Advertisers are trying to coax consumers into getting more involved with their brands.

“If you have an emotional attachment to a commercial, you’re more likely to sit through it,” says Jason Therrien, president of Thunder Tech, a social-media marketing agency.

Funny People
Humor is generally a bit hit with Super Bowl viewers, and ads with funny famous people tend to be bigger hits still. Following in the footsteps of memorable Super Bowl ads featuring the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and David Letterman, Best Buy and Kraft Foods MiO Fit sports drink are turning to two Saturday Night Live veterans—Amy Poehler and Tracy Morgan, respectively—to bring the funny. (Interestingly, both of their current shows are on NBC, while the Super Bowl this year is on CBS.)

A commercial for Lincoln, meanwhile, is expected to hit on several trend cylinders all at once: It’ll feature the Tweets of real people (see above); it’ll be a longer-than-usual one minute spot (see above); and, as the Detroit Free Press reported, it’ll incorporate a funny celebrity (Jimmy Fallon—who is writing the ad and has been soliciting Tweets).

(MORE: Ha! Ads That Make You Laugh Don’t Really Make You Buy)

Appeal to Multi-Screen Viewers
While many viewers tune into the Super Bowl for the game, many others are drawn in primarily for the commercials. In either case, at any given time there’s a good chance that a large portion of viewers aren’t staring at the TV, but at their smartphone or tablet instead.

For advertisers, this scenario sniffs of opportunity, which is why Coca-Cola is running a CokeChase.com campaign, in which viewers go online to vote before or during the game for the ending they’d like to see in its 60-second commercial featuring a three-team race chasing a giant bottle of Coke. Target isn’t advertising during the Super Bowl. But it hopes to generate fan interest anyway with the release of a Snack Bowl mobile app in which users flick foods—DiGiorno pizza, M&Ms, Ritz crackers, Ore-Ida French fries—into the mouths of characters moving on the screen in a virtual living room. Sorta like the real-life American living room on Super Bowl Sunday.