PR Predictions For This Year’s Super Bowl Matchup


This week’s “Golden Anniversary” of the Super Bowl is also predictable PR gold. The fans and the media have two great heroes to root for and the differences couldn’t be more stark. Cam Newton, the 26-year-old wunderkind for the Carolina Panthers in only its second Super Bowl outing will be up against beloved veteran Peyton Manning, who, at 39, leads the legendary Denver Broncos for what could be his last Super Bowl. Newton, only the sixth African-American QB in the league, faces Manning, part of an unmatched NFL player dynasty.
We aren’t predicting any PR winners here today. Instead, we’re counting the ways feature reporters on various beats will cover the rivalry.

The health angle. It may be vanilla, but the healthy aging story just writes itself. Peyton Manning is turning 40, which is remarkable for a quarterback. It’s also the age range featured in health and medical articles about ailments from arthritis to erectile dysfunction. February is Heart Month, so naturally writers can use Manning as a poster boy for stories targeted to the 40-plus set about healthy diet or prevention. Or not….apparently Newton’s “childish” eating habits (lots of sugary cereal) will make him the topic of health food “makeover” articles from Dr. Oz to Joy Bauer.

The fashion factor. The style showdown has already begun, and it may be hotter than the game itself. Cam recently appeared in jungle print courtesy of Versace, while Manning sported a conservative blue Zegna suit. The contrast alone is enough to send fashion bloggers into a frenzy of wondering who wore what better. Will the Newton zebra pants send the company into overdrive (a la Princess Kate and Michelle Obama), will it “break the internet” like Rhianna’s yellow Met Ball cape, or simply make HuffPo and GQ worst-dressed lists?

The business pitch.  A natural-born promoter, the $30-million-a-year Manning has sweet deals with huge sponsors like DirecTV, MasterCard, Gatorade, and Kraft. He’s also a savvy businessman who has invested in sports-related startups like Seat Geeks and Whistle Sports. While today it may look like Newton’s business investments run towards those $850 Versace pants, pundits will likely line up to advise him on where to park his millions. We bet on articles about sexy start-ups and sound stalwarts that fit the Newton “brand.”

A star is born.  Industry-watchers say Manning’s “second act” is acting due to his natural star quality. Whatever the outcome of Sunday’s game, there will be lots for marketing and entertainment press to ponder when it comes to his future, given the tradition of sports stars showing up on camera in other careers. Although it’s too soon to see whether Cam Newton has the star stuff, some would argue that his on-field antics predict a dramatic future.

We’ll be watching the game and counting the stories that result from this made-for-the-media matchup.

Marketers Tackle Super Bowl Blackout In PR Score

The first half of Super Bowl 2013 was a yawn, at least for football fans. For brand-watchers, the commercials were respectable, and a few even stood out. (My favorite was Amy Poehler at Best Buy.)

But the game changer on Sunday was the unprecedented 34-minute power failure that left the players frustrated, the announcers in the dark (and mostly silent), and the network in apology mode.

Like all crisis situations, the Blackout Bowl was a PR opportunity for brands nimble enough to call some new plays and run with it. A few smart marketing cookies jumped on the moment and scored points for social media savvy. Within minutes, Oreo, which had already aired a fun “Cookie or Crème” spot, cooked up an ad featuring a dimly lit Oreo with the tagline, “You can still dunk in the dark.” It was tweeted with the post, “Power out? No problem” and RT’d over 15,000 times. Sweet.

My favorite newsjacking was the most unexpected. PBS, which happened to be in the midst of a Downton Abbey fan chat on Twitter when the Superdome went dark, also seized the chance to join the conversation. Its post, which politely suggested “alternate programming” to the Unplugged Bowl, instantly went viral.

But the biggest off-the-field winner might be Twitter itself. According to Mashable, it was mentioned in half of the Super Bowl ads.

Well played.

To Preview Or Not to Preview: That Is The Super Bowl PR Question

While getting a head start on the competition is generally viewed as a smart strategy, does it translate into (PR) points for Super Bowl advertisers? Which method pays bigger dividends – previewing, or creating anticipation by waiting? Here are the two views.

The Upside: Maximum Exposure
By choosing to broadcast commercials or teasers, sponsors get a prime opportunity for buzz. Let’s face it, people love to share things via social media, and what better event to “tease” than America’s most-watched sporting event. And given that the unofficial motto for Super Bowl marketing is “go big or go home,” previews enable sponsors to get more yardage for their commercial investment. Considering the costs, earned media exposure can go a long way to maximize ROI.

The Downside: Ripples, Not Waves
While previews can give brands get a head start, it may not be the best strategy for those hoping to make a big splash. For example, for a new brand –or even a brand that hasn’t advertised in the Super Bowl before – arriving unannounced to the party can pay dividends, providing media with the unexpected “underdog” tale on advertising’s biggest stage and its noisiest annual story.

The Verdict
The decision sometimes comes down to practical matters like prep time. Often, agencies are working on Super Bowl spots up until the last minute, so an advance viewing strategy isn’t viable. Factors like brand profile, creative approach, and history are also worth considering.

Inventive content is likely to be shared, and the simple fact of the Super Bowl investment puts the advertiser in rarefied company. For a smaller brand, pre-promotion usually makes sense. It maximizes the spend and hedges the risk of getting lost in the clutter.

More established advertisers with strong track records, on the other hand, often have a built-in audience who may be waiting to see the latest creative spot. They may not choose to share the actual spot in advance, but pre-publicity to build anticipation is recommended.

The Super Bowl isn’t always a game-changer, but it’s a big hit for any advertiser, regardless of PR strategy. Not only are millions of people watching, but it may actually be the only time people want to see commercials. So, either approach can be a winner!

SodaStream Enjoys PR Pop Before Super Bowl

I swore I wouldn’t pay attention to so-called “banned” Super Bowl ads ever again. The rejected-ad ploy has grown tired, as well as transparent, and it’s often pulled by brands who could never muster the price of a Super Bowl spot. After extramarital dating site Ashley Madison tried a PR intercept by claiming Fox banned its spot because of its business model, I threw in the towel on bogus-ad PR. (AdAge’s Ken Wheaton warned that he would “ban bans” in his coverage of Super Bowl, and who am I to disagree?)

But this year, DIY soda company SodaStream has made a splash – legitimately. Apparently it submitted a broadcast ad that was rejected for this year’s Super Bowl by CBS because it tweaks Big Soda – the guys who spend plenty on game day.

Unlike other smaller companies, SodaStream isn’t just posturing. It’s poured a large portion of its budget into national advertising and will run a Super Bowl commercial, although not the spot it intended.

What’s more, it was created by ad legend Alex Bogusky and is similar to spots the soda giants themselves have run against one another.

Too close? You decide. But as SodaStream president Yonah Lloyd put it in a recent interview, it knows how to turn lemons into lemonade…or, maybe lemon soda. The Israeli upstart is running the banned spot on other networks, and, of course, it’s posted on YouTube, where it’s already been viewed over 2 million times.

That’s a lot of bubbles. Three days before kickoff, the beverage brouhaha has generated more coverage than the original commercial ever would have.

You have to hand it to SodaStream. For a smaller company to get attention, it has to make waves. The Super Bowl rejection may be a PR ploy, but it’s on-brand and easy to swallow. After the tired stunts of years past, I call that refreshing.

What The NFL Can Teach PR Pros

The Super Bowl is this Sunday, and football is on everyone’s mind.  Whether you’re a Patriots fan, Giants fan, or don’t even know what a field goal is, chances are you‘ll be watching this weekend.  Sports can teach us a lot about life in the PR world.  Here are just a few of the reasons why.
Study the Film

NFL teams spend an incredible amount of time studying their opponents, watching film and learning exactly what to expect in any situation.  This kind of competitor analysis is needed in PR as well.  Clients want to know where the competition is gaining exposure, and you need to know exactly what’s happening in that industry.

It Takes 53 Men to Win the Super Bowl

You can’t win a game with one player.  The quarterback needs a strong line blocking for him, reliable receivers, and an aggressive defense.  The same goes for a PR team.  Whether you’re the account supervisor, responsible for media relations, social media, or monitoring, every role is essential to getting the job done, and accountability is necessary.

Putting in the time

Tom Brady and Eli Manning didn’t just wake up one day and decide to become world class athletes.  It takes a life time of hard work, studying, and practice.  The same is necessary for PR pros (most won’t be able to successfully pitch The New York Times on their first day as an intern.)  Experience means everything in this industry and without putting the necessary time in you’ll never get the results you’re looking for.

Coaching is everything

Every office environment needs structure.  While the structure of a PR agency may not be as rigid as that of an NFL organization, the concept is similar.  It starts from the top with the head coach or CEO providing guidance and making personnel decisions, and trickles down, with everyone knowing their own responsibilities and where they fit in.
What other lessons could we learn from the NFL? And most importantly, who’s your pick for Sunday?

Super Bowl Advertisers Score PR Points By Getting “Banned”

Someone blogged recently that the Super Bowl’s like “American Idol” for advertisers…with a little football thrown in.

They called it right. And this year, with social media kicking in like never before, the Super Bowl is still a winning PR strategy for the brands that pay to play. Most are looking to extend their investment through the social Web. In fact, there are so many ads previewed before the Bowl that the event itself might be an anti-climax.

But, with so much noise out there, how do smaller brands get attention? Some are trying to pull an end-run before game day. If you’re not Pepsi, which scored PR points by sitting out the Super Bowl, or Focus on the Family, which will air the much-discussed-but-as-yet-unseen pro-life ad with college football player Tim Tebow, your best Super Bowl strategy may be to get thrown out of the game.

That’s what happened to gay dating site ManCrunch when it submitted its Super Bowl spot. CBS rejected the ManCrunch overture, questioned its creditworthiness, and basically called its ad a cheap PR ploy. Now, I’ve no idea if ManCrunch is actually good for the $2-3 million that it costs for 30 seconds on the Super Bowl. But, whatever its intentions, the controversy lit up the blogosphere, and the ManCrunch spot has racked up nearly half a million views on YouTube. Cost to ManCrunch? Zero.

But, most benched spots are from actual Super Bowl advertisers. GoDaddy, the grandfather of game-day ad controversy, is again out-of-bounds with one of its commercials. The spot, “Lola,” about a lingerie-designing football player, was deemed “inappropriate” for the telecast. Naturally, GoDaddy has put the ad on YouTube and is inviting viewers to catch it on its website.
But my favorite “banned” spot this year was created by kgb, a company that answers trivia questions by text message. It features two women whose golfer husbands are discussing global warming and don’t know what they’re talking about. The wives complain that the men have their heads up their…um, backsides, and that’s exactly what they look like. kgb’s Bruce Stewart claims they had no idea that the ad, which naturally is posted on YouTube, would be tossed.

Some say that, given the network’s extra-stringent decency standards for the Super Bowl, the kgb marketing people are probably talking out of their – well, you know. And, they’ll be running other commercials that have been deemed more acceptable – although having viewed the “banned” spots, I find the standards pretty mystifying.

Critics complain that the ejected spots don’t exactly raise the bar for creativity and originality, and it’s true that they’re less than, um, sophisticated. But, you can’t blame the advertisers for wanting a pre-Bowl PR warm-up, and I think the kgb spot is hilarious. The faux controversy is stretching those multimillion-dollar budgets and generating some buzz around both rookie and veteran brands. The ads may not be televised, but they will be in the game.

Pepsi Super Bowl Snub Scores PR Points, Changes Marketing Game

In recent years, the Super Bowl has become as much a brand PR vehicle as an advertising showcase. Companies can score big by announcing their participation in the adfest, and if they hit, their commercial will be replayed and discussed by pundits like Barbara Lippert and Donnie Deutsch throughout the post–game news cycle.

That’s why it’s ironic that Pepsi’s recent announcement that it won’t advertise in the 2010 Super Bowl has generated so much coverage. The reason is not only because the brand is breaking a  23-year marketing tradition. It’s also because Pepsi has said it will instead pour its budget into an ambitious campaign called Project Refresh that will be promoted through social media.

Project Refresh seems to blend philanthropy, community relations, and crowdsourcing, not to mention canny timing. Pepsi will invite the public to submit ideas on how it should spend a cool $20 million to “refresh” local communities. Starting February 1, people can vote for the projects they favor, and the ones that garner the most votes will be funded.

The brand’s decision to take a pass on the Super Bowl this year may not be as unexpected as it seems, however. With “Project Refresh” already in the works, they may have felt a big buy would send a mixed signal. It’s tough to talk philanthropy on the one hand, then get into the commercial huddle at a time when CBS is asking $2.5 or $3 million for a single spot. Maybe Pepsi’s marketers thought it wiser to let its other brands, like Gatorade, carry the ball when it comes to splashy ads.

But, Pepsi’s move is a game-changer when it comes to TV advertising. As a marketing leader, it’s a model for other advertisers. When a brand that’s spent $142 million over the decade changes direction, it’s a clear sign that the old rules are history.