It’s showtime for social media.
This year’s Super Bowl will serve as the launching pad for a new age of advertising — marketing campaigns that incorporate fast-growing social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
“Social media has really come into its own as an accepted method for businesses to connect with consumers,” said Thomas Harpointner, chief executive of AIS Media, an Atlanta-based digital marketing agency. “A year or two years ago, it was a shiny new object.”
While social-networking sites have garnered hundreds of millions of users, major corporations, for the most part, have not gone beyond the standard Facebook fan page and Twitter account in their efforts to reach consumers through the sites.
That’s changing. Mercedes-Benz, which is advertising during the Super Bowl for the first time, has coupled its campaign with a promotional race that challenges three teams of fans and celebrities to gain followers on Twitter, so-called Tweet Fuel, and pass other social-media tests for a chance to win a new C-Class Coupe.
Bud Light, KIA and M&M’s have already used Facebook and Twitter to tease their campaigns for the Super Bowl, which airs at 4:30 p.m. Sunday on Fox.
Harpointner estimated that at least half of the Super Bowl commercials will feature some sort of social-media component.
“I would be surprised if a minimum of 50 percent of the advertisers didn’t have a solid online social-media tie-in,” he said. “It would be a terrible mistake if they didn’t.”
KIA, which is giving away a 2011 Optima as part of its Super Bowl push, will reveal clues to a puzzle contest on Facebook and Twitter.
While companies are careful not to disclose what will actually air during the Super Bowl, they’re clearly banking that viewers will be connected to the Internet during the game, whether via a smartphone, tablet or laptop.
Bud Light has challenged consumers to guess the storylines of its three Super Bowl commercials from photos posted to its Facebook page. If the storylines are nailed, the company will launch a fourth, Internet-only ad on Sunday. The fan page had nearly 1 million fans as of Friday afternoon.
Companies are coming up with “ideas that are social in nature and then are turning to advertising to drive the conversation,” said Bill Roden, digital creative director for Los Angeles-based David&Goliath, the ad agency behind KIA’s campaign. “That’s a real big flip from the previous years where people have come up with a big idea and then they use the social channels to let people know there’s a big idea going on.”
With the big game expected to draw 110 million viewers worldwide, 30-second commercials are selling for about $3 million. Engaging consumers through social-media channels allows companies to extend the campaign beyond the actual game.
“It’s going to be effective in continuing the conversation or having a longer conversation with the customer and not just during the 30 seconds of the Super Bowl,” said Emily Griebel, integration architect for McKee Wallwork Cleveland, an Albuquerque-based ad agency. “With these teaser campaigns, they can get a lot more for their money.”
While Super Bowl commercials are considered an event in themselves, some question their effectiveness. Richard Feinberg, a professor of consumer sciences at Purdue University, said most of the 100 people he polled four months ago couldn’t recall details of any commercials from the 2010 Super Bowl.
“Most of the time, Super Bowl ads are not effective in reaching the proper target market for the products or services,” Feinberg said.
That’s why Facebook could potentially be a powerful tool for advertisers. By engaging consumers on the social network, companies are able to glean a person’s age, location, interests and other information.
“The 30 seconds is not the primary focal point any more,” Harpointner said. “Of course it is during game day, but people are now talking about these ads way before the Super Bowl and they’re going to continue to talk about them after.”