Erin Kelley | @tartebaker | Digital Media/Search Supervisor

Jan 30, 2013

Super Bowl Ads—We Secretly Enjoy Spoilers

I’ll admit I’m not much of a football fan. My favorite parts of the game are things like the shiny pants, touchdown shuffles, and the ingenuity of a six-legged turkey. I am, however, a fan of good advertising. Like so many fans and non-fans alike, I anticipate being able to see all the Super Bowl ads in their brilliant and entertaining glory online, most before the big game, and some before they even get to become ads. So, this naturally brings up the question: why would brands invest so many zillions of dollars on airtime ($4MM per thirty seconds to be exact) that get spoiled before the big day?

A behavioral study from late 2011 revealed that people, in fact, actually like spoilers. We prefer them apparently, as we consume our entertainment. Our collective actions reveal that in fact we care less about spoiling or being spoiled than we care about being first or at the very least, appearing to be first. We pride ourselves on being the first to know [fill in literally anything here]. Does this mean we are losing our collective imaginations? The wonder of suspense? Who among us can recall an era when we didn’t even have the means of knowing an unexpected plot twist or seeing an ad before the $4MM TV spot aired? Who shot J.R.? That question would linger on the minds of 2013 TV viewers for no more than an online minute instead of the better part of 1980. For those then un-born babes of the industry: the show was Dallas (the genre-defining original) and the answer was revealed after seven months of collective nail biting to be (SPOILER!) the evil mistress/sister-in-law.

Twitter is another great example. We tweet TV spoilers at such a rate that a new kind of etiquette has emerged, requiring that tweets are labeled as “spoilers.” The New York Times published an article calling for a bit of a reality check. If you don’t want the rest of world to spoil your surprise ending, then watch it while it’s happening. If you can’t and it means so much to you, then lay off the Twitter… and other social media channels for that matter. On the flip side, Time magazine contributor Jared Newman offers a plea to Twitter to help those poor slow fingered saps who haven’t made it past the second commercial to stop allowing spoilers at all.

In the digital age, our sense of suspense seems to be replaced by the wonder of discovery. We value quick adoption, first to market and early reveals. In part, I believe because what we discover is so amazing. We can’t help but marvel. For better or worse, we are driven to uncover what is going to happen before it does. We anticipate. We make predictions. Why can’t we as an industry stop talking about what Facebook Graph Search will become in a few months? Maybe the better question is why should we? We live in a world where we knowing hold its own kind of magic.

So it seems that our pre-game search for the infamous Super Bowl ad is further proof that we want to be spoiled. We like it. Advertisers know that. If the entertainment study I referenced earlier is any indication, it’s probably better this way. Good for us and good for the advertiser spending the GDP of a small nation in less than a minute. It’s just smart marketing to let your ad have a life of its own prior to the big game. It’s free impressions and lots of them-the best kind of impressions, too. Ads, not even really perceived as ads – just short videos, get passed between friends, which is arguably the most effective form of advertising.

Then of course there are the real party crashers. Doritos crashes the Super Bowl and takes an engaged crowd of millions with them. I care because my vote counts! Doritos gets to show us a bunch of ads for the price of…well basically none. And we love it. We expect it now. SPOILER! I predict Fashionista Daddy will win. Lincoln and Jimmy Fallon are turning ideas from tweets at hashtag #SteerTheScript into a Super Bowl road trip. Dunder-Mifflin, fictional-turned non-fictional paper company is crowdsourcing their first Super Bowl ad to announce that it has escaped the confines of that box in your living room and now has real paper and office products to sell to YOU.

The hype, the ads before the big day, fan-voting, user engagement, buying airtime at a sporting event and still reaching nearly to every man, woman and child with access to a digital screen, feels like the happy culmination of everything that is possible in advertising. Though, on Sunday February 3rd, I predict I will be watching episode 6 of Downton Abbey (another case study in spoilers as our First Lady notoriously requested and received an advance copy of season 3), I also predict I won’t miss a single Super Bowl ad.