It’s time of year again – a night of exciting football and advertising frivolity.  Sunday, February 7th 2010 marks Super Bowl XLIV (that’s Super Bowl 44 for those that are Roman numerically challenged), an annual event where commercials command just as much attention as the game itself.  Raking in as much as $3.1 million per 30-second spot, it’s the priciest bit of commercial real estate in the advertising landscape.

Over the years, folks have tuned-in to watch Cindy Crawford sip Pepsi, witness Ali Landry pop Doritos and learn that the FedEx package Tom Hanks held so dearly in the movie Castaway, ironically, contained a survival kit.

But times have changed.

For the first time in 23 years, Pepsi will not be represented at all in this year’s Super Bowl.  Neither will perennial Super Bowl advertising award winner FedEx for the second year in a row.   And Doritos’ approached to Super Bowl advertising has been completely revamped all together.

There is no doubt the poor economy as played a large roll in this sudden stream of corporate fiscal responsibility, but underneath all of the PR speak of “accountable spending” lies the realization that far more cost effective means of marketing exist.  Pepsi has publicly announced that Super Bowl advertising simply doesn’t fit into their marketing mix for 2010.  A marketing mix that relies FAR less on television and print advertising, and more focused toward interactive marketing and social media in a $20 million project they have called “The Pepsi Refresh Project”.

Crash the Superbowl

Doritos (whose parent company happens to be PepsiCo) is taking a somewhat different approach.  They are using their Super Bowl ad space solely as the culmination of a competition that, prior to the Super Bowl, has relied almost completely on viral marketing.

The Doritos “Crash The Super Bowl” challenge is both simple and ingenious.  It’s simple because it allows anyone with a video camera to submit their idea for a Doritos commercial.  Buzz is generated and traffic is driven to the Doritos site where visitors can vote on their favorite commercial. The commercial receiving the most votes is chosen to air during the big game with the winner receiving as much as $1 million.  It’s ingenious because it promotes user generated content and personal interaction while spending far less on their usual Super Bowl commercial production costs.

Fedex Cuts the Cord

FedEx was more straight-forward with their stance on Super Bowl advertising, stating: “FedEx does not plan to advertise due to cost containment actions we’ve taken as a corporation.”  Mike Glenn, a FedEx executive has also added that their annual TV advertising budget had been reduced significantly to its lowest point in years while their digital advertising and communication plan continues to expand in effort to “be where our customers are” .

In lieu of their traditional television advertisements, FedEx has released a series of 3-minute short films they expect to spread virally and are considered to be more sketch comedy and less commercial.  These spots have their own dedicated YouTube channel and can also be found on FedEx’s website

So are these Fortune-100 companies missing anything by forgoing the Super Bowl advertising frenzy all-together?  According to a recent study, the Super Bowl is viewed by 42% of all U.S. homes with televisions, which is a pretty impressive number.  However, when you consider the fact that 85% of those same homes use some form of social media, perhaps its money well spent.

Our Client Success Story

Since we are a digital agency that has yet to establish a television department, we helped one of our clients achieve their dreams of being associated with the super bowl by taking a far more niche approach to those employed by major advertisers.  Since we didn't have a large budget to buy media, we set our target on associating the content of our clients website as being a solution for a very niche element of the super bowl: snacks.

Granted, some people care more about the food that they are eating than the actual game, but we found that in our niche, we could become a major player on Google for minimal ad spend.   Our long tail approach created a winning situation for our client; they were associated with super bowl snacking hundreds of thousands of times (often in the top two positions) and they didn't have to break their advertising budget to achieve this association.   They were pleased with the results and loved seeing themselves associated with the Super Bowl; we even took several screen shots of them beating their competition in the ad position game.

Have you thought about advertising on the Super Bowl for your brand/clients?  Would you take a niche approach and if so, what would be your niche?  Let me know in the comments!