Arguably one of the best ads from this year’s Super Bowl wasn’t even a Super Bowl ad. With the trend among advertisers to own not only the game night but also the week leading up to the big game, Newcastle Brown Ale was able to swoop into the pre-game fray and deliver an epic send-up of “Super Bowl advertising” that made it the most talked about work of the pre-Bowl.
Following on its “No Bollocks” campaign, which was launched by Droga5 three years ago, the beer brand released a series of low-budget, deadpan funny online spots that adheres to the campaign directive: “take the bullshit out of beer marketing.”
“Instead of using bikini-clad babes and cold-activated cans to trick people into buying our beer, we decided to give guys a bit more credit and shoot straight for once: You drink our great beer in exchange for your great money,” says Droga5 digital strategist Nick Maschmeyer.
With that in mind the goal was to hijack the Super Bowl conversation without actually advertising in the Super Bowl “because unfortunately, we just didn’t have $4 million laying around,” Maschmeyer says, adding that even if Newcastle Brown Ale was flush with extra millions, they were locked out of advertising due to other brands’ exclusive rights on the game. “But our ‘No Bollocks’ approach has always allowed us to punch above the weight of our media spend, and as the world’s biggest stage for advertising (especially beer), we knew we had a chance to break through in a scrappier way.”
To do so, Droga5 created the “If We Made It” campaign, a series of ads touting how epically amazing their ad would be if they were actually running a Super Bowl ad. Executions ranged from simple text based films with Newcastle’s trademark funny copy, to clips of focus groups reacting to the most over the top ad possible, to behind the scenes videos with celebs like Anna Kendrick, who shares how stoked she was to be in a beer commercial before revealing how super pissed she is that her big sellout moment vanished.
“We just wanted to be a part of the horserace without buying our way in but after all was said and done, the success of the campaign wildly exceeded our expectations,” says Maschmeyer. “For just 1/35th of what our main competitor spent, we received over 10 million views across 15 pieces of content, and picked up over 600 organic media placements, all of which amounted to more than 1 billion impressions, all for a Super Bowl ad that we didn’t actually make.”
Here, Maschmeyer walks through how Newcastle Brown Ale hacked advertising’s biggest event of the year.
When we looked at conversation around the Super Bowl, we noticed a growing tide against the exorbitant sums of money shelled out for 30 seconds of airtime with viewers left scratching their heads asking, “They spent $4 million on that?” We knew we had a chance to cut through the clutter and circumvent Super Bowl marketing conventions (and our own budgetary limitations) by turning them on their heads.
We looked at past Super Bowls and the type of marketing tactics other brands typically trotted out leading up to the game. It’s the one time of the year when people not only embrace but actually celebrate being marketed to while the rest of the year it’s mostly an annoyance. We referred to it as “marketing’s birthday.” At the same time, the media reports on it with the same vigor as a political election, all of which has sort of emboldened brands everywhere to act with impunity. And it’s not about the Super Bowl night anymore, it’s now a week long event, and the 30 second spot during the game just doesn’t cut it anymore.
In other words, the hype around the ad had become more important than the ad itself. We saw an opportunity to subvert the hype by doing it ourselves in the most underwhelming way possible. Just because we didn’t spend millions on an ad, doesn’t mean we can’t get in on the hype. So, what if we turned our weakness into a strength and hype the hell out of a commercial that didn’t actually exist?
Since the launch of the campaign, our goal has never to call bullshit on the idea of marketing. We like marketing. We just dislike it when it’s intrusive, deceptive, and blatantly pandering, and so does the public. We kept ourselves in check from getting too insider by making sure that whatever it was that we were calling bullshit on was immediately recognizable to our audience as a cliché marketing tactic. Beyond that, anything was fair game as long as it was something that another brand had actually done. Luckily for us, the well of Super Bowl gimmicks runs deep.
We knew we couldn’t win Super Bowl night, but we could win in the week before, and we said from the beginning that if we could get just one piece of the campaign to break through, then it would be a success. We didn’t have the budget to guarantee millions of views on a single piece of content, so we made 15 different pieces of (mostly video) content that included not just a storyboard version of the epic ad we would’ve made, but also a teaser for the official trailer for the epic ad we almost made. We shot behind-the-scenes interviews with celebrities, like Anna Kendrick, that would have starred in the epic ad we never made and even filmed real focus groups real reactions to the storyboards. We released a new film each day in the week leading up to the Super Bowl just as other brands were releasing theirs, and that juxtaposition really helped in giving our content the context it needed to be most effective.
Beyond just skewering Super Bowl marketing in our creative executions, we made a point to subvert typical media planning. We aired ads for the ad we didn’t make on ESPN2. We worked with Reddit to make a special big game ad just for them that poked fun at crowdsourcing. We even partnered with Gawker to write an advertorial calling out other advertorials. And of course, we created a microsite to host all of our content so we could tell the larger story of the whole campaign.
Again, we knew if we could get one piece of the campaign to break through the din, then we’d have a bit of a halo effect for the rest of the films on our website. We had a few early hunches, but we just couldn’t predict which of our videos would be the one to reach critical mass. We didn’t have a ton of media dollars, certainly nowhere close to our competitors, so we worked closely with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to amplify reach through a mix of paid social, pre-roll, and a YouTube mobile masthead. We did a bit of test and learn with the first few films, spreading our dollars across each of them, and pulsing on the best performing. We got a lot of great PR pickup with those first films, but it was when we saw the final edit of the Anna film where she absolutely nailed it, that it had the potential to be huge. That, coupled with her media tour appearances on Entertainment Tonight and Conan, and the video just took off.