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Creating buzz around the brand: Super Bowl ads evolve from exposure to experience

Successful commercials go digital and engage consumers, especially the coveted millenials


​​“The days of advertisers presenting a monologue and gauging reactions at the cash register are gone because commercials have evolved from exposure to experience,” said Johnny Sparks, an associate professor of advertising at Central Michigan University. “Advertising used to be about sharing information in one direction from the brand to the consumer, but consumers now expect to participate and experience a journey.”

Advances in technology have erased many of the boundaries separating content producers and consumers. In addition to engaging viewers in real-time interactive exchanges on social media, advertisers are building the brand-consumer relationship by challenging their audiences to create content. 

“Anyone with a mobile device is a potential advertising producer,” Sparks said. “The trend toward amateur content is based upon market researchers’ awareness of the values and motivations of ‘millenials’ — America’s largest, most diverse and coveted consumer audience — whose lives have been shaped by technology. Marketers know that millenials value community, family, self-expression and creativity.”

Doritos, for example, is sponsoring a “Crash the Super Bowl” contest inviting consumers to submit a 30-second Doritos commercial online that will air during the broadcast for Super Bowl XLIX. From 10 finalists, a grand-prize winner will be selected online by voters’ choice, and a first-prize winner will be selected by Doritos, awarded $1 million and offered a dream job at Universal Studios.

“The marketing gurus at Doritos could certainly produce a sophisticated advertisement on their own,” Sparks said. “But their challenge is to connect with millenials, who demand inclusion.”

User content promotions such as the contest sponsored by Doritos, build a huge following online, generate positive media attention and free press coverage around a brand.

“The buzz that comes with the ‘Crash the Super Bowl’ contest sends a message to the consumer — and most importantly, millenials — that Doritos is tech-savvy, engaged, compelling and novel with organic homegrown content,” Sparks said.

“Advertising now is about engaging audiences in the creative process as well as the final production. By inviting consumers to create content, brands are promoting positive perceptions of their product, engagement and social responsibility among their target audience.”

Among the most-watched sporting events in the world, the Super Bowl is just days away and more than 100 million people are expected to tune in. Many are already talking about the commercials that will be aired instead of the game that will be played between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks.

“The advertising sideshow of the Super Bowl represents a main attraction for many, if not most,” Sparks said. “Advertisements have long been the ties that bind the American Super Bowl Sunday culture. Not all viewers have enough in-depth knowledge of football to talk about the plays and strategies within the game, but with commercials, diverse audiences can find common ground for conversation.”

At a cost of up to $4.5 million for 30 seconds of airtime, advertisements shown during the game’s broadcast will be the most expensive of the year. Watching and discussing them will be a significant aspect of the event, with talk taking place before, during and after the game.

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An expert in advertising, Johnny Sparks’ research focuses on the influence of strategic communication’s content and structure on human emotion and cognition. His peer-reviewed research articles and abstracts have appeared in leading communication journals including Communication Monographs and Communication Research and in the journal Psychophysiology.


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