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Winning the Super Bowl Advertising Contest Well Beyond the End of the Big Game

It is no secret that professional football is one of America’s favorite pastimes. As the center of attention for millions of fans each football season, the National Football League (NFL) has become an iconic and uber-valuable commercial brand. Despite the negative effects of ongoing player misconduct and this season’s ball-deflation controversy, the NFL will garner nearly 10 billion dollars in overall revenue this year. And while not the largest revenue source, advertising will account for about $3 billion of total annual revenue for the league. During this year’s Super Bowl alone advertisers will fork over more than $2 billion dollars to gain the attention of Super Bowl viewers. With more than 108 million viewers in play, the championship game is the most watched event in America allowing it to command nearly $4.5 million for a 30 second commercial spot.

In most advertising venues commercials are often considered interruptions and annoyances to the featured entertainment. But Super Bowl ads are different. While the majority of viewers of regular entertainment use commercial breaks to retrieve a snack, a cold beverage or just to take a comfort break, 98 percent of Super Bowl viewers stay with the program to view the commercials. In some past events, the commercial performance was judged more entertaining than the contest on the field. Still, research from advertising consulting company Communicus shows that most brands face huge odds in making their Super Bowl ads pay off. Four out of five Super Bowl commercials fail to persuade consumers to change their minds about the brands they favor or reach a particular target audience.

Regardless of the high risk, this year’s returning lineup of advertisers will include advertising veterans like;  Anheuser-Busch, BMW, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay, Unilever, GoDaddy, Kia and Toyota/Lexus. But after setting a spending record in 2014, most automotive brands will be sitting on the side lines during this year’s mega game.  Reasons not to advertise during the big game, according to automakers, were based on spending advertising dollars elsewhere, and timing of vehicle introductions. “Perhaps we’ve reached a breaking point. It’s like reaching a wall,” said Jon Swallen, Kantar Media North America chief research officer. “At some point, you top out, and the last few years have arguably been the top-out point.” There will be about 15 rookie advertisers in the 2015 game, including cruise line Carnival Corporation, the candy brand Skittles, and web development platform Wix.com.

Building anticipation for upcoming Super Bowl ads is essential for getting the most out of expensive air-time for game marketers. The strategy involves “leaking” a commercial in advance of the big game and is a strategy that has been used successfully in the past by PepsiCo’s (PEP) and Volkswagen. The practice is similar to that used by movie studios releasing a “movie trailer” in advance of a cinematic premier. The effort lowers the risk for advertisers, as the brands can gauge how their Super Bowl marketing strategy and messages are being received by consumers. Many marketers believe that pre-releasing their commercials increases the chance they will win the Super Bowl Advertising game well before the kick-off of the main event.

While the results of this year’s advertising game, as well as the winner of the sporting main event, will follow after the end of Super Bowl Sunday,  it is expected that the size of the audience and the impact of connecting a sponsors brand with more than 100 million viewers will most likely not diminish over past super events. And just like the players on the field who envy the chance to relive their best plays in video replay, advertisers relish the opportunity that their commercials will make the games highlight reel; many times over and well past the end of the game.