Seth Stevenson was online at Washingtonpost.com to look forward to this year's crop of Super Bowl ads. An unedited transcript of the chat follows.
Seth Stevenson: Hi all, I'm ready to start chatting about Super Bowl ads. Let's get started.
Washington: Seth, miss your Slate articles and hope you're doing well. On to my question ... I've seen seemingly outrageous numbers bandied about for the number of viewers who will be watching the game, including "more than 1 billion people." There's no way I buy this. A billion people? Where do these (inflated) numbers come from, and are they just a marketing ploy?
Seth Stevenson: Thanks for the kind words, I'll be writing regularly again for Slate starting next week. So let's see, 1 billion.... Even if the roughly 300 million Americans all watch the game (which they won't), that leaves 700 million people to make up the difference. Which is a tall order. Throw in the entire populations of Canada, the UK, and Australia, and we've still got a looooong way to go. You know, I think you're onto something. Further research required.
Chicago: In the current crop, the PepsiCo commercial with sign language is one that stands out. I love the commercial and hope it gets a lot of play.
washingtonpost.com: Pepsi sign language ad previews(YouTube)
Seth Stevenson: Here's what I want from a Super Bowl spot: something over the top, or something I haven't seen before. Looks like this ad might fit in the second category, which I'm all for. I wonder if Pepsi will somehow take on the cochlear implants controversy as part of its campaign?
Upper Marlboro, Md.: No, no, no, no! We are supposed to talk about them after the game. Stop it! Just stop it!
Seth Stevenson: Point taken. Where's the spoiler alert at the top of the chat?
washingtonpost.com: Obviously the large viewership of the Super Bowl is what makes it an important advertising venue, but when did it become a showcase for new ads and a launchpad for new campaigns, products and brands?
Seth Stevenson: I'm sure this could be answered a few different ways, but any answer would have to include Apple's "1984" Super Bowl spot introducing the Macintosh. It launched a new product, and ramped up expectations that the Super Bowl would feature jawdropping, epic advertising.
washingtonpost.com: Apple's "1984" ad(YouTube)
Billion People: To take a sketch from Jerry Seinfeld: He talked about McDonalds counting hamburgers ... more than 1 billion sold. He said McDonalds needs to stop counting ... enough is enough ... just say "we're doing very well." This applies to the Super Bowl as well. Who cares how many people it is? It's a lot.
Seth Stevenson: To quote the great philosopher Jackie Chiles: preposterous! I do think one group cares deeply, though, about the exact number of people who will be watching the game—these advertisers have paid up to $2.7 million for 30 seconds of airtime, and I'm guessing they have more precise estimates of how many eyeballs they'll be reaching.
Washington: Have Super Bowl commercial lost their cache? Every night people see quirky, funny commercials. There's nothing new to them anymore.
Seth Stevenson: I'm always disappointed in the Bud Light ads that are just semi-funny jokes. Not good enough for the big dance. As you note, we can see that kind of thing anywhere. From a Super Bowl spot, I want epic themes, pageantry, huge budgets, the works.
Philadelphia: Hi Seth. Companies like GoDaddy.com seem to be getting a lot of mileage out of ads that Fox rejected as "too racy," and using their Web site to post the rejected ads. My question is, how do you see the expansion of Internet video forums shaping the future of Super Bowl ads (or TV ads in general)? Will TV ads lose relevance in the face of a cheaper, quicker, "always on" media channel like the Internet? Also, will Super Bowl ads be very concerned with trying to drive Internet traffic (i.e. trying to get the viewer to simply visit the Web site to find out more about the product)? Thanks.
washingtonpost.com: GoDaddy.com's Super Bowl ads
Seth Stevenson: From what I've read, the GoDaddy spot will show us some people talking about another GoDaddy spot that can only be seen on the Web. Boooooring. Of course, if this ploy manages to drive massive amounts of traffic to GoDaddy's Web site, we'll have to consider it a success. I'll be interested to see the response. Regarding your question about TV losing ads to the Internet: I think the two are rapidly blending together. That will cause a lot agitation on the part of advertisers and media companies, but for the audience there will always be some sort of combo of content and marketing, whatever the delivery device.
Arlington, Va.: Talking about Bud Light reminded me of the Bud Bowl series so many years ago! Great series, that was.
Seth Stevenson: I think I lost 20 bucks taking the points on Bud Dry. (Does Bud Dry even exist now?)
My favorite is still the EDS "cat herding" ad...: That one was just spot-on: Cute for those who didn't have anything to do with dealing with consultants, and fall-on-floor-laughing funny for those of us who had dealt with them!
washingtonpost.com: Herding Cats(YouTube)
Seth Stevenson: Indeed, a productive marriage of an evocative buzz phrase with some clever visuals. But: How many of us would have remembered which company it was for without your help? (Not me.)
Bethesda, Md.: Is there any way to track which ads from yesteryear have generated a second life on the Internet? My buddies and I occasionally will reference Office Linebacker Terry Tate, and that particular ad seems to have a cult following on the Web.
washingtonpost.com: Terry Tate: Office Linebacker(YouTube)
Seth Stevenson: Terry Tate does still crop up in the occasional pop-culture reference. But he's getting a bit musty, no? Most ads—save for the truly groundbreaking and iconic ones—have a pretty short shelf-life. But to answer your question: I think checking out YouTube stats might be the best way to figure out which ads are still drawing significant viewership.
Lahore, Pakistan: Is any Super Bowl ad time donated to pro-bono causes?
Seth Stevenson: The Office of National Drug Control Policy is doing a spot, aimed at teens, about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. I'm pretty certain that airtime came at some sort of discount (though it's possible I'm wrong about that, in which case, dang, that's a whole lot of my tax dollars flashing by in those 30 seconds). But this may not be the sort of cause you had in mind.
Washington: I can't even remember what product the commercials were about after seeing them. Am I alone here?
Seth Stevenson: Not at all. In my opinion, this is the number one mistake advertisers make. It doesn't matter how funny/clever/moving your spot is if no one remembers what the product or service was. The phrase marketers use is "getting credit." (And sometimes viewers will give credit, but to the wrong company—for instance, remember a Miller spot as a Bud spot.)
Washington: I've always assumed the cost of a Super Bowl spot encouraged advertisers to spend more on the message as well as the delivery. It also excludes the low-budget advertisers.
Seth Stevenson: I think this is generally true, but there are notable exceptions. We've seen some pretty budgety-looking ads over the years. And just recently, Under Armour stock fell when it was revealed the company would be spending a massive percentage of its marketing budget on a Super Bowl ad. There's a certain allure to showing up at the big dance, and some marketing departments can't resist (even if they might be better served spreading that advertising money around in a more diversified manner).
Re: Bud Dry: I think Bud Dry has gone into hiding with Crystal Pepsi. Occasionally they wear disguises and go under assumed names (e.g. Pepsi Blue), but at heart they're still the same as they were years ago.
Seth Stevenson: Does anyone know if there's a retirement community catering to the needs of discontinued beverages? I picture them somewhere outside Santa Fe. Hey Bud Dry, wanna go antiquing with me, Pepsi Clear, and Pepsi Free?
Buffalo, N.Y.: FedEx has come out of nowhere and had some quality Super Bowl ads in the past couple years (the cavemen one in particular). Can we expect another gen from Brown, or just that dude with his white board?
Seth Stevenson: I think we have a "getting credit" problem here. That dude with the whiteboard is shilling for UPS, not FedEx. But yes, FedEx will have another spot this year and from what I've read it sounds entertaining.
Queens, N.Y.: Do you think it's possible to start an Internet campaign that collects donations in order to raise money to show one of my own ads during the Super Bowl? Can a non-advertising agency buy time? Also, would you be willing to donate?
Seth Stevenson: No, probably, and no. But just last Super Bowl Doritos had a contest for consumer-generated ads, and then at the Academy Awards there was another for Dove. These things seem to pop up pretty frequently. So next time you see a call for submissions, have at it.
Arlington, Va. --where are the monkeys: Careerbuilder.com had the funniest ads with their monkey series. For some reason they replaced it with some horrible jungle commercials that were seen once and then I never saw them again. At all. Please tell me they are bringing back the monkeys!
Seth Stevenson: That advertiser will be back this year, but I'm sorry to tell you there will be no monkeys. The monkeys are gone. Let them go.
Washington: Please tell me that the almond company with the terrible ads has decided to save their money or simply are flushing it down the toilet, rather than paying Robert Goulet.
Seth Stevenson: What, Robert Goulet doesn't need to eat? I do think the use of second- and third-tier celebrities has gotten way out of hand, and serves little purpose. This year we'll be seeing a few more C-minus-list celebs in the ads during the game.
Seth Stevenson: Okay, that's it. Thanks very much for your questions. Enjoy the game. May your snacks be salty and your couch super-comfy. And, of course, Go Pats!