- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2015

In the high-stakes battle between advertisers at this year’s Super Bowl, top corporate brands such as Budweiser, Doritos and Pepsi are once again spending record amounts for precious time during Sunday’s big game.

But some researchers and advertising veterans say a more low-key guerrilla marketing campaign might be a better option for companies who want to piggyback on the Super Bowl’s shoulder pads without breaking their ad budgets for the rest of the decade.

Out of 26 brands known to be advertising during the Super Bowl, 12 — Doritos, Dove, GoDaddy, BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, Paramount Pictures’ film “Jurassic World,” Pepsi, Skittles, Snickers, WeatherTech and Toyota — are expected to garner brand awareness, according to Brand Keys 13 Annual Super Bowl Ad Engagement Survey.

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But eyeing a television audience expected to top last year’s record 111.5 million, a number of hopeful smaller players are taking a flier by putting down a reported $4.5 million on a single 30-second spot, including the trade board for Mexican avocado growers, Web developer Wix.com and Jublia, a toenail fungus medicine. Some are even taking an even cheaper route by buying ad time on a regional basis, including Newcastle Brown Ale and the Ecuador tourism board.

A study conducted last year by Communicus, an Arizona-based advertising research firm, found that only one in five Super Bowl commercials leads directly to a sale. And compared to other high-profile events, Super Bowl ad spots rate considerably lower in both brand association and brand recognition effectiveness.

The research firm came to its conclusions in a survey of over 1,000 consumers conducted before and after they were exposed to Super Bowl ads in the 2012 and 2013 games. Many marketers now bank on the postgame buzz that an edgy or memorable spot can generate.

“The advertisers really dial up the entertainment quotient to pop to the top of the USA Today rankings and such,” said Communicus CEO Jeri Smith. “But we find the brand association with Super Bowl commercials is much lower than you’d get with a typical buy.”

Amit Joshi, professor and marketing and advertising researcher at the University of Central Florida, argues that sales and short-term profits do not have to increase for the Super Bowl ads to be effective. What matters is for the ad to be noticeable enough to create brand equity. So long as the ad faces limited competition from similar companies and is creative, the record shows that a Super Bowl spot will likely boost stock prices, he said.

“Irrespective of what is happening to your sales or your profits, or the absolute numbers, just on an intangible level, seeing ads for a brand will increase the brand equity from an investment perspective, which will also drive up your stock prices,” Mr. Joshi said.

George Parker — a veteran advertiser and author of the book “Confessions of a Mad Man,” — is skeptical of the ability of Super Bowl ads to push product or create new customers. The only accurate way to measure the selling power of an ad, whether crafted for the Super Bowl or not, Mr. Parker said, is through the use of tried-and-true direct marketing — targeted marketing toward individual consumers.

Direct marketing “is not glamorous, nor does it get much publicity. But the Super Bowl is all about publicity, so it gets all the glamour,” he said.

Mr. Parker said some nimble companies can get their brand into the conversation even without shelling out the money for a Super Bowl ad.

The makers of Oreo cookies took advantage of a power outage at the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans’ Superdome by tweeting a message that fans “can still dunk in the dark” while they waited for play to resume. The message was retweeted thousands of times.

And already for Super Bowl XLIX, Krispy Kreme pounced on the controversy surrounding deflated footballs with a new line of football-shaped doughnuts. The North Carolina-based company tweeted a picture of the new offering Wednesday morning with the tag line, “Ours are fully filled.”

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