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Today marks the 50th anniversary of the “Big Football Game that happens once a year and is a big spectacle” (of which I will not use the actual name for fear of the NFL smackdown) and has been an event the NFL has been looking forward to for years. They are opening a brand new stadium in Santa Clara, welcoming 1 (or maybe) 2 teams back to the West Coast, and again the nation’s attention is on the game.

Or is it…

There is a significant lack of storylines surrounding this game, which allows the ads to take center stage.

“Big Game” storylines

The storylines that are surrounding this game are obviously manufactured hot buttons that were generated to provide fodder to what has the strong potential of being a snoozer of a game. Take manufactured story #1…. Steroids use amongst one of the sport’s aging legends.  At least when this happened in baseball, it was after their aging legend broke one of the most untouchable records in sports, not coming off statistically one of the worst seasons in history.

Manufactured story #2… the race of the league MVP. With #blacklivesmatter and other social movements surrounding race as hot as ever, what is a way to stir up conversation? Race. Unfortunately, Cam’s demeanor and lack of bulletin board commentary failed to have this story gain much steam, except on the media outlets who are pushing this issue hard.

Here are the realities that are harming the potential ‘sexiness’ of this “Big Game:”

  • This will surely be a defensive game with little scoring, not exactly what satisfies the primary “Big Game” audience, the casual viewer.
  • This has the very, very strong potential of being an absolute blow out, similar to the last time the aging legend was a part of a “Big Game.” A blow out would be detrimental to all, including advertisers.

Advertisers: This is your 2-minute drill:

The reality is that with such little attention being spent on the actual teams, this allows the ads to take center stage and dominate the attention, and hopefully the water cooler tomorrow.

With the very public exodus of some prominent “Big Game” advertisers and the continued growth of streaming for the game, the Spanish telecast owned by another network, other live events garnering more interest, and the increasing consumer attention being thrust into our devices, the allure of advertising on the “Big Game” appears to becoming a fleeting advertising endeavor, or one ripe for new entrants to restore interest.

Historically, the “Big Game” was time for the advertising agencies of beer companies, car companies, and insurance companies to prove their worth; not by selling cars, policies, or beers, but by generating buzz and attention. Success is measured less by consumer conversions, but more by journalistic conversions, in the form of being in the top 10 lists associated with the games.

But the onset of digital marketing and measurable advertising have forced many advertisers to realize they are able to enjoy similar success, without having to allocate significant percentages of their marketing budget to the game (see Loctite from 2015’s game who bet the house on the “Big Game” and are not back for 2016).

This has focused the attention away from being the most memorable ads, but to being the ads that actually drive consumer adoption, interest, and most of all dollars. This tectonic shift has been happening over the past half decade, but needed a low football interest “Big Game” to make its debut… SB50, marks that day. However, you might want to tell the advertisers that.

Big Game Advertisers have fumbled in 2016

There has been little pre-game hype in the form of ad series, sneak peaks, etc. and most advertisers are taking the lazy way out and just releasing their ads in their entirety, weeks prior to the game. So much for build up… unless the goal is that journalistic conversion of yesteryear.

The big winner of the “Big Game” pre-hype so far has been Ritz, a NON-Big Game advertiser. Last year, the winner of the “Big Game” hype was Newcastle, another NON-Big Game advertiser.

TL;DR Version / Summary

In a year where the actual play on the field has less luster than a tarnished Big Game ring, the stage was set for advertisers to make that goal-line interception, steal the attention, and score big on measurable results.

The reality is those who invested a sizable portion of their marketing budget to reach the mass “Big Game” audience have fallen prey to the faults of their elders. Focusing more on journalistic attention and back pats, and less on conversions and understanding pre-game hype.

The reality is those who invested a sizable portion of their marketing budget to reach the mass “Big Game” audience have fallen prey to the faults of their elders. Focusing more on journalistic attention and back pats, and less on conversions and understanding pre-game hype.

First time advertisers should listen to Wanamaker and the rest of the Advertising Folklore as it pertains to that whole frequency thing… They satisfied the reach, hitting the biggest audience of the year, but miss the important frequency aspect, with the whole ‘one and done’ mentality. Pre-game hype, sneak peaks, contests, user generated activity, etc. press that frequency button, get more mileage out of your investment and keep your brand in front of the consumer more often leading up to the game. This allows your “Big Game” ad to be the climactic ending to your story and one that hopefully garners the consumer interest needed for sustained, measurable growth. Unfortunately, your ‘ad leak’ 3 weeks before the game does not satisfy frequency, it increases your chances at Cannes.

Let’s remember that the audience will be on 2 devices the whole night and create immersive experiences, not consumption plays in which you hope that the consumer is watching, interested, not on their device, and most of all able to recall your brand 20 seconds after your ad airs, when the next hail mary ad from the next advertiser is shown.

It is not about football or advertising

The “Big Game” event has less to do with the game and more to do with the experience. The experience of getting together with friends and family, enjoying wonderful edible delights, potentially adult beverages, but most of all laughter, TV yelling, and consumption. Why can’t we as marketers and advertisers do better. We invest huge budgets in an event that we probably perform the worst at. It is like us being the starting QB in the “Big Game” and going out drinking the entire week prior.

Consumers deserve better. Marketers deserve better. Let’s be better.