I’ve watched the Super Bowl for as long as I can remember. I have many vivid memories surrounding the game.
Growing up, my dad hosted famous chili parties. They were originally at our home, but eventually developed into huge extravaganzas with a 12-foot theater screen set up in a church rental hall, where hundreds would come to watch the game and eat chili served from the largest pots I’d ever seen. I remember going early to help set up, and then watching movies on the big screen before kick off. I was always in charge of drawing the signs with freehand drawn pictures of the team helmets. (I always rooted for the teams with the easy-to-draw logos in the playoffs. Lucky for me this was during the Cowboys reign, so odds were good at least one of the drawings would be simple.)
After college I took a young alumni cruise with fellow Michigan State Spartans. I remember sitting atop the ship, poolside, watching the playoff games to determine who would play in the Super Bowl that year. I couldn’t have cared less who won (and I don’t remember who was playing), but I’ll always remember the feeling of standing on deck and singing the National Anthem with hundreds of strangers, after which the ship captain announced that if we looked to the side we’d see Cuba. That struck me – the freedom of the seas and the love for country we were enjoying, so close to the island country known for its lack of freedom.
I’ve always loved the commercials, like everyone. But it was in graduate school that I really came to appreciate the game for the marketing machine it is. Studying public relations, it was natural that we’d discuss the commercials, what worked and what didn’t, the budget and decision process in their creation. The big commercial that year, from our cohort’s perspective, was the “Imported from Detroit” commercial. Being from Michigan, this hit home for all of us.
A lot has changed in Super Bowl marketing tactics since I was a kid. Budweiser still reigns as king, in my book. When I was young, watching commercials on the theater screen, there were the Bud-Weis-Er frogs. Now they rule with their adorable puppy commercials. But aside from these marketing giants, things are different. There will be many “new kids” advertising during the game for the first time, while GM is not advertising at all this year because they believe the price tag of a 30 second spot is too high.
On one hand, I have to agree. Paying millions of dollars is absurd for a commercial. Especially when you can pull off a major marketing coup without any ads at all. My strongest memory of recent Super Bowl marketing? Oreo’s quick “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet that went viral when the lights went out during the game. Second place? “The lights are on at Downton Abbey” – seen on Facebook during the same game. On the other hand, without those commercials, I probably wouldn’t pay much attention to the game at all, and I’d argue that Americans wouldn’t watch en masse like they do. Those commercials are part of what makes this game so uniquely American.
So this year, I’ll be watching the game. But I’ll be watching on three screens. The television will be playing the game, naturally. And I’ll watch the commercials. But during the game action, I’ll likely be watching Twitter and Facebook on my phone and tablet, seeing what companies have done the most with their marketing and monitoring power, using social media to the fullest to bring Americans together in a way that never would have been imaginable twenty years ago when three frogs in a swamp wanted a beer.