Locals plan Twitter experiment on Super Bowl ads
A group of ad agencies and Boston University students are looking to get a real-time Twitter debate going on the merits of Sunday's Super Bowl ads, said Mullen, a Wenham ad agency that is part of the group.
Newspapers, such as USA Today, have long conducted polls to see how the ads measure up with the American people, and over the years, rating Super Bowl ads has become increasingly popular.
"Evaluating these spots has become a bit of a national pastime," said Professor Tim Calkins, who is part of a separate effort at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management to rate Super Bowl advertising. (Click here to visit the Kellogg site.)
In a similar spirit, the ad agency group is looking to harness the social networking technology of Twitter.com as a way to get folks to post instant and pithy critiques of ads they loved or loathed - even as they are watching the game, Mullen said. (Click here to visit "Trash Talk from Section Twitter.")
In theory, participants can get near-instantaneous feedback on how others are reacting to ads. (According to David Pogue of The New York Times, the world of Twitter is "sort of a complicated cross between a chat room and private e-mail.")
Or as Edward Boches, Mullen's chief creative officer, said of the upcoming Twitter experiment on Super Bowl ads, "We're looking to use a new medium to comment on an old medium."
The old medium that Boches is referencing is the 30-second TV commercial, which some think will fade away in importance as more ad dollars shift to the Internet and marketers become more adept at using new media and new tools like Twitter to advertise their wares.
The Super Bowl, of course, is one of the few remaining television events that stills draws a mass audience, and viewers now have come to expect as much from the ads as from the football game itself.
Indeed, in the dot-com era of a decade ago, many ads were so over the top that it was sometimes hard to discern the sales pitch from the hoopla - or even to describe the product or service that had been advertised. Remember that ad in which a group of hardened cowboys attempted to ride herd on hundreds of unruly cats? Now, quick, name the advertiser and the product that the ad was selling. The answers: Electronic Data Systems and information processing. (Click here to see an image from that ad.)
In retrospect, it might be easy to say that what many marketers forgot that year was a key Madison Avenue dictum: Entertainment and humor are mere handmaidens to the sales pitch, and the ultimate measure of an ad's effectiveness may be how much product does it sell at full price. At least, that's often the measure if you're a chief marketing officer, and your job is on the line. So it's great if your ad elicits a few yucks or a poignant moment - Mean Joe Greene swaps his jersey for a Coke - but the response to an effective ad may have to be: "I laughed, I cried ... and, hey, I also want to buy the product." (Click here to see an image from the Mean Joe ad.)
Tom Fauls, an associate professor at BU's College of Communication, doesn't quite buy that kind of thinking.
"The rules of marketing are suspended for the Super Bowl," said Fauls, who teaches courses in interactive marketing communication.
Now that the Internet has become mainstream, Super Bowl advertisers have the option of airing entertaining, soft-sell ads that persuade viewers to later visit their websites.
"If you do it correctly, you'll get people to come online and interact with your brand," Fauls said.
What intrigues him is that viewers of the game "can see in real time how people are reacting" to the ads.
Using micro-blogging and Twitter as marketing tools is a very exciting theory, he said, "But no one knows what will become of it."
Mullen, by the way, gets high marks for a Super Bowl ad that it created a decade ago for Monster.com, the job search website. The ad was titled, "When I grow up," and it had little kids saying things like, "When I grow up, I want to brown-nose my way to a good job in middle management.... When I grow up, I want to be forced into early retirement." (A picture of one of those kids in the ad, shown at right, was provided by Mullen.)
Given the nature of the Twitter format, which seems ideal for tiny cell-phone display screens, participants in this Super Bowl experiment will have to be as concise as haiku practitioners: Blather on for more than 140 characters, and Twitter can cut you off. No windy epics, please. Stick to micro-blogging.
In any case, the group of ad agencies is asking participants to use a 1-to-5 rating system, and there could be some post-game analysis on Monday. An example of a Twitter critique involved an ad for CareerBuilder, a job-search website: "2 stars, man on dolphin funny but donít these guys know thereís a recession going on?"
At Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, marketing students don't operate under such tight restraints, and they are encouraged to focus on the advertiser, rather than a specific ad, Calkins, the professor, said. For instance, Anheuser-Busch InBev, the global beer brewer, generally runs several ads during the Super Bowl, and so participants in the Kellogg forum might comment on how all of the company's Super Bowl ads collectively advanced the company's brand message. Calkins and a colleague, Professor Derek Rucker, then aggregate all the data and develop rankings before publishing results online.
The planned running Super Bowl commentary on Twitter may have a different objective, said Boches of Mullen. Not only are employees at Mullen and other ad agencies invited to participate, but also BU students and ad agencies' clients.
The idea is to get the whole community more familiar and comfortable with the concept of social networking as another option in the marketer's tool bag, Boches said.
"And if we're lucky," he added, "the comments will be funnier than the ads themselves."
To see a Boston.com photo gallery of famous Super Bowl ads from the past, please click here.
(By Chris Reidy, Globe staff)