Fumble in the Ad Zone?

(Full disclosure: As a former New Orleanian and proud member of Who Dat nation, I watched the Super Bowl on Sunday evening in the hopes of seeing the Saints win. And they did- yay!)

For a lot of people, though, interest in Super Bowl ads is what drives them to tune in on the first Sunday in February. Brands pay as much as $2.5 million for 30 seconds of airtime, and consumers expect to be wowed by the content. Traditionally, a large portion of the appeal of Super Bowl ads lay in the fact that consumers were viewing the material for the first time when it aired during the big game. But social media has started to change this. This year, for example, advertisers used a variety of social media channels to debut their ads and test out audiences responses prior to Sunday’s event. Mashable has a great round up post here.

Some brands avoided advertising during the Super Bowl all together in favor of using their ad spend for more viral marketing purposes. After 23 years of advertising on Super Bowl Sunday, Pepsi decided instead to spend its money on a social media campaign it dubbed the Pepsi Refresh Project. According to Mashable, the idea behind the campaign is to encourage consumers to submit ideas to refresh their communities. Site visitors can vote on the ideas they like best, and Pepsi will ultimately select and implement the most popular submission. Was this the right strategy?

According to Bart Cleveland, an agency partner and blogger at Advertising Age, the answer is yes. In a recent post, "Super Bowl Commercials Going the Way of the Dodo," he opines that the era of spectacular Super Bowl ads is over. As Bart tells it, the commercials that aired during Super Bowl XLIV simply weren’t up to snuff when compared to the creativity and originality of ads that ran in previous years. His sentiment seems to be shared by his colleagues in the industry and consumers alike. Gawker deemed 2010 "the year without an original Super Bowl commercial," and Facebook and Twitter were abuzz on Monday morning with consumers complaining about the quality of Sunday’s commercials.

While I was admittedly focusing most of my attention on telepathically communicating with Drew Brees, I’d have to agree that the Super Bowl commercials were pretty boring. And in today’s day and age, $2.5 million seems like an exorbitant amount to spend on traditional media when there are so many other channels that let brands communicate with consumers in real-time. I’m betting that, by the time Super Bowl XLV rolls around, the majority of brands will have incorporated more social media into their related commercials or abandoned traditional campaigns all together in favor of a more viral approach.

 -Contributed by Kate Finigan. Follow her @PRKateFin