When I shared this year's Honda Super Bowl commercial a few days ago, I mentioned that it was a popular strategy these days for brands to release their Super Bowl commercial prior to the actual game and the actual television airing of the ad. But it's even more popular than I thought--and far more popular a strategy this year than ever before. And it's made me realize that something we've joked about for a very long time has finally come true: the game officially doesn't matter anymore, not even for the commercials.
Major Brands Release Super Bowl Commercials Early Online
Let's just give a quick rundown of some of the major, major brands that have put their ad for this year's Super Bowl online early, shall we? Most of them are the big automakers.
First we have Honda, and their Ferris Bueller ad:
Acura then put out their Seinfeld & Leno ad, which is pretty hilarious:
Chevy also put their ad online early:
After teasing their Super Bowl commercial with a chorus of Star Wars dogs, Volkswagen finally released this year's ad for the game, and it's... kind of a let down:
Toyota's got an early Super Bowl ad too, and it's also pretty darn funny:
Audi is on the bandwagon as well:
Car company's aren't the only ones doing an early release. I freaking love this Budweiser ad that gives a pair of rec league hockey teams an amazing experience:
Marvel went halfway, giving us 17 seconds of footage from their Super Bowl ad for the upcoming film, The Avengers:
Online Video Killed The Super Bowl
Online video killed the Super Bowl. We may not realize it yet, but I think it's too late to do anything about it.
Once upon a time, sites like this one would run an article on the Monday following the Super Bowl with a list of the best and worst Super Bowl ads. These days, we don't have to wait until the game is done to do that (see above commercials from this year's game, which hasn't happened yet, for proof).
The joke for decades has been that no one watches the Super Bowl for the game anymore, but only for the ads. How many of the last ten years' of Super Bowl winners can you name? And yet... almost all of us can name several of our favorite Super Bowl commercials from the past decade, right?
With the viewership now in the hundreds of millions instead of the tens of millions, there are a great number of people tuning in who have little-to-no interest in the game.
But now I don't think they're even tuning in to watch the commercials anymore, because they're watching them, forwarding them, judging them, and engaging with them long before the game's telecast even begins. This year, millions of people will gather together in large groups, drink beer, eat food, and have the Super Bowl on, and many will just be doing it out of habit. There won't be many ads they haven't already seen online.
In a few years, it'll be an epidemic. The date will still hold power, and parties will still be rampant. But fewer and fewer eyes will be on the actual game or the actual commercials. That stuff will just be the excuse to get together and party once a year. The game itself... will be the new Cinco de Mayo (in the U.S., at least, where Cinco de Mayo isn't much more than a national drinking holiday sponsored by Corona).
Now, don't get me wrong... the game will still matter to the loyal football fans that tune in every week during the NFL season. But that is a much smaller number on average than the Super Bowl viewership... by a mile.
And when the ads are more important than the game, but the ads don't matter on TV anymore because all the buzz-worthy ones were already released early online... then what'll happen to the huge revenue the NFL and the network get from the ad buys?
I realize the ad ecosystem isn't quite in place yet for online to replace TV in terms of dollars. But in terms of buzz and effectiveness of ads... heck, the brands are spelling out exactly what they think about which medium is the most powerful and engaging by putting their ads up online prior to the game. They paid nearly $4 Million each for 30-seconds of airtime--just to run the ad on the TV--and they're essentially saying they still think the Internet is a more attractive distribution method.
Of course, you could also argue these online ads wouldn't go nearly as "viral" if they weren't actual Super Bowl commercials being leaked early.
There's nothing to panic about right now. These things move rather slowly. But in the near future, the NFL could have a real problem on its hands. As brands shift to online video over television ads in order to find more engagement with consumers, the Super Bowl risks losing some of its "event" appeal. People who only tuned in for the ads aren't going to tune in forever if all the best ads can be seen online ahead of time.
And if the NFL loses those viewers, the whole darn thing could start to crumble--even if football fans as an audience base are growing, because that number is still dwarfed by Super Bowl viewer totals. Advertisers won't be willing to pay current rates for less viewers, so the revenue could begin to slip for the league and the networks.
The advertisers are going online because it's more effective, but the "Super Bowl" event status of their videos is still driving their success right now. But by going online, they're helping destroy what made the game a must-see event (and possibly cutting their own legs out from under them). The Super Bowl cash cow could be nearing an end. The very people who made the Super Bowl what it is today could ultimately be responsible for killing it, with online video playing the role of accomplice.