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Super Bowl commercials get their own commercials

Oreo's Twitter ad was released soon after some of the power went out in the Superdome during the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl is still more than a week away, but try telling that to the advertisers. Not content to wait for the big game, they’re rolling out teaser ads online and on TV. Yes, essentially ads promoting the ads.

Take this Toyota teaser on YouTube. Actor and former football player Terry Crews drives down a dusty road and encounters a seemingly abandoned painted bus.

“Anybody need help?” he calls. 

It looks pretty much like a movie trailer, which makes sense because there is a tie-in with the new Muppets movie coming out in March. But this trailer is promoting Toyota’s Super Bowl ad, coming out in the second quarter of the game.

“We want to build as much engagement before the game,” says Russ Koble, advertising manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA, “where people are talking about it with friends and family, and hopefully people are keeping their eye open for our ad specifically.” 

Ah, the magic word of marketing in the age of social media: engagement. This isn’t the first time advertisers have teased their Super Bowl spots – or even released the ads themselves days in advance, hoping to generate buzz on Twitter and Facebook. But the pre-game frenzy seems to have reached a new level.

“This year, we’re seeing more elaborate campaigns in advance of the Super Bowl than we have ever seen before,” says Tim Calkins, professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

He points to Bud Light. It’s running six different teasers, on the Web and on TV.

“I suspect when everything’s done, Bud Light would have spent as much on the teaser spots as they would have spent on the actual Super Bowl, or perhaps even more,” he says 

All told, a Super Bowl campaign can run around $10 million these days, says Justin Osborne, general manager of advertising and marketing communications at Volkswagen of America.

But that can buy a lot of attention. 

“Now all of a sudden for this two week period, everyone in America is actually interested in advertising and actually wants to watch it, and so it’s a great way for us to extend the actual spot itself,” he says. 

The strategy has paid off for Volkswagen in the past. The company’s Super Bowl ad for the Passat three years ago, featuring a young boy dressed as Darth Vader, went viral after it was released several days before the game. To date the ad has attracted nearly 59 million views on YouTube.

Volkswagen unveiled a teaser for this year’s spot this week, poking fun at the advertising mania. (Let’s just say the car is the least memorable part.) Osborne says the company will release the spot itself sometime next week.

Some companies still prefer the surprise attack. For several years Chrysler has kept mum about its plans for the big game -- and then made a big splash.

Amy Beamer with the ad-tracking website Spotbowl.com recalls last year’s “God Made a Farmer” ad for the Dodge Ram, featuring a speech by the late broadcaster Paul Harvey.

“It was a surprise, people were engaged” she says. “All that stuff was just tied up in a very neat bow and they got a lot of traction there.” 

Because -- teaser or no teaser -- more than 100 million viewers tune in to watch the Super Bowl, and Beamer says as many as half of them are there just for the ads. 

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.
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