Super Bowl ad strategy opts for more surprises

Stephen Colbert pitches Wonderful Pistachios in a Super Stephen Colbert pitches Wonderful Pistachios in a Super Bowl ad teaser. Watch on Pop Cult Photo Credit: Wonderful Pistachois via Youtube.com

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In a reversal from years past, fewer advertisers are "pre-releasing" their Super Bowl commercials online this year, and instead opting for the element of surprise on Sunday night's telecast.

The pre-release of Super Bowl ads on YouTube has been part of a raging trend in recent years to build social media buzz. But this year, according to experts, more advertisers are teasing their ads with short online snippets, -- which have also aired on TV in some instances -- designed to promote their $4-million-per-30-second in-game investment.

In his online and TV tease for Wonderful Pistachios, Stephen Colbert says cryptically, "We'll be there , won't we girl?" -- and a bird, presumably "The Colbert Report" eagle mascot, squawks off-screen.

M&M's tease advises viewers to "find out what happened" to a dancing M&M candy knocked out by a dart. Bud Light's "Arnold Zipper" 17-second teaser -- with former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger saying "surprise" while a message cryptically reads, "whatever is coming" -- has been viewed 2 million times on YouTube. (It has also aired on TV.)

Teases, one of the oldest forms of marketing, have found renewed favor this year. "The tease is a clever way to get the consumer excited or interested without giving it away," said Derek Rucker, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, who also coordinates an annual survey of Super Bowl ad effectiveness for the university.

Theoretically, he added, the advertiser who holds back may be better poised to grab the social media gold ring that every advertiser now covets because teases help to "create the conversation" among viewers who "can talk about the commercial in real time."

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David Steinberg, chief of New York-based Internet marketing firm Zeta Interactive, said teases can promote a core goal for some advertisers because they can ideally prompt a storm of tweets and Facebook likes during the game. And those can lead to millions of YouTube views after: "To be in the Super Bowl is to spend $4 million, but to get it viewed another 20 or 30 million times costs nothing. You're then amortizing your investment across the entire ecosystem," Steinberg said.

While the content of dozens of commercials still remains mysteries, not everyone is playing the "tease" game. Among the 95-plus ads on Fox's telecast will be a Budweiser commercial starring a very cute puppy; one with Volkswagen engineers who sprout wings; and another with a biracial couple who sell love -- and Cheerios.

Squarespace, a fast-growing website builder and hosting service company, prereleased its first-ever Super Bowl ad -- a Fellini-esque spot about the clutter overwhelming the Internet. Anthony Casalena, who founded the company in 2003 after graduating from the University of Maryland, admitted that "The pre-release was a judgment call, [but] we felt that because this is a unique story and because this is our first ad, there were going to be a lot of people who have questions" about the company.

The pre-release, he said, should hopefully address those.

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