When the Superbowl isn’t the Superbowl

A few years back, the late Mark McCormack – a key figure in the sports marketing industry and, by some accounts, the basis for the character Jerry Maguire – wrote an excellent business book, Never Wrestle With a Pig.  It outlines various rules for succeeding in a professional career, one of which is to prepare for what McCormack calls “your Superbowl” – a key event which puts your talents on display.  For a campaign, that’s Election Day, for a conservative organization looking to make a splash, it might be CPAC.  In the big brand advertising world, the “Superbowl” was, well, the Superbowl for decades.

In what is a telling sign of the evolving media landscape, big brands like Pepsi and GM are sitting out the Superbowl this year.  Even as ad prices tick downward slightly, Pepsi chose to invest $20 million in a social media campaign instead.

In many ways, corporate advertising is becoming more like a political campaign.  Successful political operations use broad-based communication – like TV and radio ads – to raise name recognition, but as election day nears they focus on contact with individual voters with targeted messages (those solidly in a candidate’s camp are reminded to get to the polls on election day, while those identified as being on the fence are coaxed onto one side or the other).

Pepsi is the second-best selling soft drink in America.  That’s a great spot to be in – it means selling an awful lot of soda.  But it also means that there are plenty of people who, no matter what, aren’t going to buy your product.  Pepsi could get in front of millions upon millions of pairs of eyeballs with a Super Bowl ad, but would those eyeballs be attached to tongues which desire Pepsi?  Or would their entertaining commercials be laughed at and talked about by people who, at halftime, would still reach for a Coke?

Pepsi first claimed to be the choice of a new generation in commercials which approximately one generation ago, but more recent branding has labeled Pepsi as “forever young.” Their advertising strategy has evolved, too (though they surely hope the comparison of Will.i.am to Bob Dylan isn’t congruent to the comparison of their new strategy to their old one).

Sine we’re all wondering, there’s still no word yet on how all this affects Bud Bowl…

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