At an average of $3.5 million for a 30-second ad, the Super Bowl is an expensive proposition for any advertiser. It's also an incredible value, at least when compared to what they pay for a standard spot that gets no buzz and is likely seen as more of an annoyance than content.
Over the past couple of years, Super Bowl advertisers have started to play with the idea of releasing their ads ahead of the game.
Others have issued teasers, so as to hint what their plan is but not give away the surprise.
Whether it's a teaser or releasing the full commercial, I think it's a bad mistake.
Let's get this straight: I clearly sympathize with the marketers dilemma. Why shouldn't I try to own the audience for a few more days? Why shouldn't I do that before the game as the media runs out of stories to tell?
The answer? In order to achieve buzz, time is not a factor. When a company pre-releases an ad or even a teaser, the chance of garnering that white hot momentum that every advertiser craves is significantly lessened.
Let's take what might be the most successful of the pre-released ads: the Honda CR-V ad starring Matthew Broderick reprising his role in Ferris Bueller. The full extended spot, which runs longer than 2 minutes, is longer than the spot in the game, and the spot is indeed a classic.
Eric Smallwood of Front Row Analytics, a media evaluation firm, tells me that the 5.2 million views the ad has garnered on YouTube in a couple of days is worth $314,000 in equivalent ad time. But while Honda execs are undoubtedly high-fiving themselves over the early returns, what's to say that wouldn't have happened after, or even during, the game?
Think of it this way: If a company believes that it will break through the clutter, and most who have Super Bowl ads do, the value of the ad is worth more if it's a surprise. And the value of those YouTube hits are worth more as well.
Why? Because every click isn't worth the same amount of social currency. I'd argue that 3 million hits on YouTube before the Super Bowl is worth significantly less to a business than 3 million hits after.
Critics will tell me that there's still a huge audience that will still watch a commercial during the game, even after it has been pre-released. And there's a significant portion of the viewing public—probably in the 99% range—that didn't see the spot or the teaser.
But just like every click doesn't have the same value, every messenger that passes on an ad in the form of a link isn't the same. The most active messengers, we'll call them buzz leaders, have more followers and more social cache. The more of these people that choose to engage a conversation about a particular ad over a smaller amount of time, the greater the "heat" of the ad is.
The mathematical equation for buzz would go something like this: Good or catchy message + the right people talking divided by a short period of time.
And that's exactly why giving away your ad, or even pieces of it, is an issue.
When the game is done, Web site monitors will undoubtedly release numbers about how a larger percentage of ads were watched again online more than ever before. Understand that that's a function of the growing connectivity and not because the ads got more buzz.
When companies release ads further in advance, those that like the ads have a greater time to distribute the content. The interpretation by advertisers seems to be this: More time before the game equals more time to spread the ad.
But that also exhibits a lack of confidence in the awesome system of modern day telephone that exists in our world of Twitter and Facebook. That is, if a piece of content is good enough it will spread quickly, and the quicker it spreads, the more value it has.
Hits or Web site views don't translate into sales. But if a company achieves heat —the ability of a piece of content to move fast and be the talk of the moment—they have a better chance to get a better return on investment. A lot has to do with the merits and the price point of product and how new it is, but the point is that all numbers aren't equal.
I suspect that Super Bowl advertisers will learn that soon enough and we'll go back to the good old days of ads being secretive until the minute they run.
Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com