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Why Super Bowl ad teasers have become as important as the commercials

Advertising execs explain the significance of the commercials for the commercial.

Why Super Bowl ad teasers have become as important as the commercials

To paraphrase the Gospel of John, in the beginning was the Commercial, and the Commercial was on the Super Bowl, and the Commercial was the Super Bowl.

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For years, brands would pay millions of dollars to produce and air 30-second and 60-second ads during the most-watched sporting event in America. It got to the point where fans looked forward to these ads almost as much as the game itself. We all know this from our history books or something.

But more recently, much like the evolution of movie trailers from awkwardly edited, kinda dull plot summaries to slick and enticing marketing machines, so too have Super Bowl commercials evolved to become Super Bowl campaigns that span media and calendar dates far beyond the evening of the first Sunday in February itself. Brands now view the Super Bowl spot as a foundation for a broader advertising strategy, utilizing social media and supplementary TV leading up to and after the game.

The Super Bowl, then, has become an entire advertising season.

The teasers, the social posts, the in-store promotions, and of course, the marquee commercial itself, are now all one Voltron of consumerist creativity aimed at making the most of every brand’s marketing budget and our fleeting attention. And it’s only getting tougher. Mr. Peanut paid for it with his life.

Take Mountain Dew. Last week, it released a 10-second teaser that somehow tied its zero sugar product to The Shining.

What in the sweet redrum does caffeinated sugar water have to do with a classic psychological horror flick?

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Who cares, probably!

It’s exactly the kind of question that’ll get millions of people waiting for that ad. Star Tracee Ellis Ross also posted a short behind-the-scenes look on Instagram of what may—or may not!—be her recreation of an iconic scene. Amy Ferguson, executive creative director at TBWA\Chiat\Day New York, the agency behind the work, says it’s a tricky balance between building anticipation and giving it all away. “You have to give enough away to get people excited to see your spot, but too much can take away from the big Super Bowl moment,” says Ferguson. “Brands want consumers to love the teaser so much that they’ll be looking for their spot during the game. It’s a tall order, for sure.”

Goodby Silverstein & Partners has clients in this year’s Super Bowl, and so far has released teasers for SodaStream and Cool Ranch Doritos. For SodaStream, it’s Bill Nye questioning his own judgment on the viability of Mars as a habitable planet.

Again, what does that have to do with making your own soda at home?

Exactly.

Margaret Johnson, Goodby’s chief creative officer and partner, says that when companies first started teasing their spots, they were just cut-downs of the spot itself. But when they began creating standalone content to tease the commercials, things got much more creative. “The teasers became as important as—if not more important than—the ads themselves,” says Johnson. “You want to generate a buzz. Get people talking about what’s to come. We have a teaser for Cool Ranch Doritos that rivals any spot in the Super Bowl. It features Sam Elliott reciting the lyrics to ‘Old Town Road.’ It’s epic. I’m as proud of that teaser as I am of the spot itself.”

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That teaser has more than 4 million views on YouTube alone.

This week, Heinz released a teaser, created by agency Wieden+Kennedy New York, that aims to prepare us to watch four ads at once during the game.

Intrigued?

Creative director Christine Gignac relates it back to the notion that the goal of most brands right now is to have their advertising break through into pop culture. “If we want people to consume ads as entertainment, I think it makes sense to treat it like the entertainment world does, by creating trailers—or teasers, in our case—to get people into the idea,” says Gignac. “Ultimately, people only want to watch content that’s interesting to them, so the teaser needs to be as good and as engaging as the ad itself.”

It’s not enough anymore simply to have a great idea for a Great Super Bowl Ad. It now requires a great idea to tease that Great Super Bowl Ad to make sure you’ll actually stop and watch that Great Super Bowl Ad. Then, after the game, it’s about using all commercial means necessary to remind you of that Great Super Bowl Ad you saw. The next thing you know it’s, like, June.

Goodby’s Johnson used to lament the disappearing element of surprise, the impact of that One Big Moment. But she’s come around to today’s reality. “You tease, and pique their curiosity, you share the spot early so they can talk to their friends about it before the game and look forward to seeing it,” she says. “Then you create a second-screen experience to give the idea dimension and draw in a younger audience that may not care that much about the game. Then you follow up with some postgame content to keep the campaign going. It’s actually a lot more fun.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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