The Super Bowl of Ads

Between the “Star Wars” and “Ferris Bueller” Internet ad teases and the Facebook awards competition, commercials are threatening to become the bigger spectacle, online and on TV. We’ll be watching – again and again.

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    With Super Bowl XLVI approaching, there may be as many – or more – people are talking about "Star Wars" versus "Ferris Bueller" than about the Giants versus the Patriots.

    The Super Bowl commercial pre-game hype is reaching new levels with this year’s “Star Wars”-themed Volkswagen commercial racking up YouTube hits at greater rate than last year’s. An Internet tease for another commercial – with Matthew Broderick apparently reprising his “Ferris Bueller” character in middle age – also has gone viral. We’ve even been treated a YouTube tease for an ad that, as the Los Angeles Times notes, is slated to debut in movie theaters Wednesday before making its Super Bowl Sunday appearance, courtesy of Kia Motors and model Adriana Lima. While the football game ends Sunday night, USA Today and Facebook will keep us waiting until Feb. 8 to declare a winner in the companies’ best commercial vote.

    It all could potentially ad up to make 2012 the year the Super Bowl ads surpass the game as the bigger spectacle.

    Last year’s Super Bowl drew a record 111 million viewers, and high expectations this go-round – for the game and for the commercials – suggest an even bigger crowd could flock to flat screens large and small Sunday. If you divide the audience into those interested in both football and commercials, those who watch just for the ads and those who run to the bathroom during breaks in the action, there’s a good shot the ads will draw more attention than the game.

    The commercials, like the Giants-Patriots showdown, carry the promise of entertainment. There’s good reason to expect high-quality spots, with advertisers paying NBC a reported $3.5 million per 30-second slot, or more than $116,000 a second.

    Looking at the bigger pop culture picture, though, there’s a lot more in play than just commerce. With TV audiences generally in decline amid an Internet-driven segmentation in media, rising Super Bowl audiences provide one of the few remaining opportunities for shared, instant mass media entertainment experiences. In short, the commercials are something everybody can talk about – online or otherwise.

    Part of the trick, it seems, is getting people talking early as well as getting them watching often – and enticing others to do same, whether via the Internet or by pulling in friends and family in front of the TV Sunday. Last year’s cute and clever Volkswagen spot with the kid in the Darth Vader outfit notched 13 million YouTube views before kickoff and is closing in on 50 million nearly a year later. "The Bark Side," Volkswagen’s new "Star Wars" doggie chorus ad, appears to be ahead of the game, with nearly 10 million hits a week before the big game.

    The 10-second Broderick/Bueller tease video had logged nearly 4 million hits by Sunday night, spurring a guessing game over what the ad will be touting (though one oft-cited report suggested the Ferrari-loving Ferris has settled for a Honda in his older age).

    The mini-mystery speaks to how some viewers tune into the commercials expecting to be surprised – whether via unannounced cameos (2010’s Oprah-Letterman-Leno spot is the undisputed Super Bowl champ) or controversial ads (see last year’s poorly executed Groupon mock charity spots – or just about anything from GoDaddy).

    It’s too early to tell, of course, which commercial will win the USA Today/Facebook honors. In the meantime, check out some early contenders – and teases – below as you plan a Super Bowl Sunday in front of the tube:
     

    Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.