Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Super Bowl Experiences Now as Big as the Game

The Super Bowl is the ultimate championship game in American professional sport- a single game to determine the champion of the National Football League. Television viewership and advertiser spending re pillars that support the special status to which the Super Bowl as risen in our popular culture. Another trend is emerging that is adding to the mega-event: Branded experiences during Super Bowl week. 

The presence of experiential events and spaces is perhaps magnified this year with the Super Bowl being played in the New York area. Among this year's destinations for fans and others taking in the Super Bowl atmosphere are:
  • PepCity – A free three-day event featuring concerts housed in a 10,000 foot dome in Bryant Park 
  • Bud Light Hotel – A Norweigan Cruise Line vessel docked at a Hudson River pier that will house 4,000 guests invited by Anheuser-Busch InBev
  • Super Bowl BoulevardEngineered by GMC – A 13-block interactive area on Broadway featuring games, sponsor exhibits, shopping, autograph opportunities, and a toboggan run (yes, a toboggan run). 

One might wonder if the popularity of experiential marketing around the Super Bowl is a fad that will recede after this year's game, or is it here to stay? Evidence points to the latter.

An Alternative to Traditional Ad Buys

There are two noteworthy benefits for companies to invest in hospitality and experiential events compared to traditional Super Bowl advertising. One benefit is that because the number of branded experiences are relatively few, they stand out in the minds of the people who interact with them. Brands crave engagement with their target audiences; experiences like the Bud Light Hotel and PepCity will likely gain the attention of people who interact with them. In contrast, approximately 25 different brands will be vying for the audience’s attention during the Super Bowl and with only 30 seconds to succeed. A second benefit is relates to the engagement characteristic mentioned earlier- brands can use experiential events to make deeper connections than possible in a 30-second message. Although Super Bowl commercials are more favorably received than typical TV ad messages, their impact is still short lived. Experiences have greater potential to shape brand perceptions and attitudes compared to TV advertising.

Consumers are receptive to branded experiences as long as they enhance the overall experience of sporting event consumption. When branded experiences deliver entertainment or pleasure, they add to the total bundle of benefits received from attending an event like the Super Bowl (and help justify outlay to attend). The fine line marketers must walk is to achieve impact with attendees without putting on a heavy marketing presence that would detract from their enjoyment of interacting with the brand in an experiential setting.

Branded Experiences are no Fad

Marketers are challenged more than ever to stand out in the competition for attention. Branded experiences at sporting events are somewhat exclusive compared to the number of brands that use media advertising during sporting events. Also, experiences at or near the venues of major sporting events connects with a slightly different audience than mass media advertising. In the case of the Super Bowl, many attendees are business decision makers or influencers. The benefits of more extensive interactions between them and a brand (e.g., building relationships, generating sales, strengthening brand loyalty) can create a return on investment that is felt long term.

The costs of executing elaborate brand experiences are significant. However, one way to look at the decision to commit to branded experiences is to compare cost with media advertising. A 30-second Super Bowl commercial costs around $4 million this year. Of course, that is just the air time. Brands will commit additional expenditures into seven figures on commercial production and supporting marketing. Thus, a brand could spend say $6 million or more around one 30-second message with no certainty about its impact in terms of return on investment. Branded experiences can connect with their audience in deeper, more meaningful ways than an ad buy cannot match.