The Super Bowl — the most TV-centric event every year in this country — is unequivocally experiential. Or in other words, despite the awareness-centricity of the advertising that goes around it, at the heart of the Super Bowl lies the unrequited brand desire to connect one-on-one with a consumer.
In experiential speak, this is called "engagement." And while most modern marketers and planners put greater value on it than awareness, for years the Super Bowl has been erroneously seen as an awareness play — the job for advertisers and their agencies is to get the message out to as wide an audience as possible.
But the Super Bowl is as consumer-engaging as it gets. We often forget the brand largesse that exists outside the price tag of a 30-second spot — even though marketers are shelling out $170,000 per second for a piece of the TV audience, many more are spending heavily to connect with people experientially.
For months leading up to the big game, brands use their Super Bowl sponsorships to drive engagement with promotions, giveaways, meet-n-greets, hospitality suites and other one-on-one approaches for consumer involvement. And you need to pay to play: AB InBev’s six-year sponsorship with the NFL, signed in 2010, is valued at about $1.2 billion. That’s a whole lot of dough to pay just for the right to experientially activate a sports property.
Some of the country’s biggest brands are activating their sponsorships experientially in a big way this year. Just check out the list of branded experiences and their brand-centric titles:
Super Bowl City presented by Verizon. A free fan village that will close down San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza for eight days before the game.
Fan Energy Zone powered by SAP. A branded experience featuring interactive, motion-capture games developed through a partnership with Britelite Immersive and Helios Interactive. It utilizes SAP's design-led approach and leverages the SAP Hana Cloud Platform.
The City Stage presented by Levi’s. Thirty-five free-to-the-public musical performances between Jan. 30 and Feb. 7 featuring Alicia Keys, Aloe Blacc, OneRepublic, The Band Perry, Matt Nathanson, Chris Isaak and more.
The NFL Experience driven by Hyundai. Located in Moscone Park, this paid interactive theme park includes games and opportunities to meet players.
Hyundai also sponsored the 2015 NFL Kickoff, a series of concerts and festivities that launched five months before the Super Bowl. Along with four spots in the big game, the car brand also plans a slew of more experiential activations like Hyundai sending out more than 400 vehicles into the Bay Area, including 10 gold-wrapped Tucson crossovers bearing the NFL logo. It will also have experiential presence at Super Bowl City and the GameDay Fan Plaza at the stadium.
The list of brands creating state-of-the-art experiential programs and environments at the Super Bowl is substantial. For instance, Pepsi is previewing its Kola House — the first experimental kola bar, restaurant, lounge and event space — in San Francisco before the big launch in New York for the flagship brand experience. The flagship Kola House will open this spring, and will serve as an event space for pop culture moments in music, art, style, film, sports and more.
Clearly, there is an increasing sense of "experientiality" for brands at the Super Bowl. And these are just the NFL-sanctioned ones; many more brands are relying on the more unsavory side of experiential marketing — namely, ambush marketing — to capitalize on the Super Bowl hype.
We also can’t discount the experiential nature of watching the commercials themselves. Each commercial break from the game is truly an experience — and without being too tautological — consequently experiential. As a collective national audience (all 115 million of us), we have truly visceral reactions to pieces of commercial creative work that we then debate, defend or detract with our immediate watchers or on our social networks. This, too, is wholly experiential. There is a physiological reaction to Super Bowl ads that we normally don’t exhibit for advertising directed at us for the other 364 days.
And therein may be the reason that the Super Bowl may one day be known more for its experiential components than its TV-centric ones: TV ads alone just don’t cut it anymore, even if they are the best of the best.
According to a study conducted by research firm Communicus using more than 1,000 interviews conducted after the 2012 and 2013 Super Bowls, "viewers remembered Super Bowl ads better than those during regular programming. But 80% of Super Bowl commercials had no effect on consumers’ decision to buy products or services — as opposed to 60% for non-Super Bowl commercials."
Perhaps experience adds more impact to the exposure. Hence the mad rush by brands to leverage and extend the Super Bowl experience. So if the premise of experiential advertising is to create a closer bond between the consumer and the brand by immersing them in a fun and memorable experience, then how much more fun and memorable is each year’s Super Bowl?
Max Lenderman is co-founder of School, a purposeful creative shop based in Boulder, San Francisco and New York and part of the Project:WorldWide family of agencies.