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The best Super Bowl ads weren’t on during the game

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    This undated image provided by Esurance shows the company's ad that aired just after the Super Bowl ended on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014. The ad offered to give away $1.5 million. (AP Photo/Esurance)

NEW YORK >> Brands have figured out how to get Super Bowl buzz without paying Super Bowl bucks.

Some of the companies that had the most success during the game were not official sponsors.

Newcastle beer created a hit online campaign spoofing the self-importance of Super Bowl ads. J.C. Penney generated attention on Twitter by posting nonsensical tweets during the game. And Esurance grabbed the spotlight by offering to give away $1.5 million in an ad that aired just after the game ended.

It’s the latest proof that companies don’t need to pay $4 million to capture the 111.5 million Super Bowl watchers. It’s mostly the result of the growing popularity of social media to reach a large number of people who are watching the game on a big screen TV with another eye on their cellphone or tablet computer.

Advertisers really started realizing the power of social media last year after Oreo seized the opportunity when the Super Bowl game was interrupted by a 34-minute power outage. The cookie maker posted a pic of an Oreo that was partially in the dark and tweeted "You can still dunk in the dark." It was retweeted and mentioned on Facebook thousands of times.

"There’s an opportunity created by social media for people to have conversation with the Super Bowl-watching consumer … without having to pay the $4 million," said Kelly O’Keefe, professor of brand strategy at the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter.


Newcastle created a pseudo "Behind the Scenes" video starring "Up in the Air" actress Anna Kendrick, riffing on being asked to star in a Super Bowl ad — the words ‘Super Bowl’ are bleeped out — by Newcastle. Then, the company backed out of the deal.

"I don’t think of myself as beer commercial babe hot," she said in the video. "I’m hot but like approachable hot, like the hottest girl in your improv-class hot."

The ad garnered more than 4.3 million views on YouTube, more than some actual Super Bowl commercials. Other videos that were part of the campaign showed storyboards for "mega huge" ads that Newcastle said they would have made for the Super Bowl. Newcastle said the ads have been viewed 9 million times collectively.

"Not participating in the Super Bowl fit the Newcastle brand. It’s not a showy brand," said O’Keefe, the professor. "But they certainly became part of the Super Bowl conversation."


Esurance, a part of Allstate Insurance, saved a bundle by buying the first ad after the Super Bowl ended. But it still became one of the most talked about spots.

In the ad, "Office" actor John Krasinski sits in front of a pile of money and said Esurance saved $1.5 million by buying a post-Super Bowl ad, and planned to give it away to someone who tweets hashtag #EsuranceSave30 by 4 a.m. Eastern on Tuesday.

Within a minute after the commercial aired, the company had 200,000 entries. The hashtag has stayed the top trending hashtag on Twitter since the spot ran. And as of Monday, Esurance had gotten 2.57 million entries and its Twitter following went from 8,900 to 187,000 followers.

"It was a terrific media buy," said O’Keefe. "Everybody’s been talking about it."


J.C. Penney took a slightly weirder route, but it got people talking.

During the Super Bowl, the official Twitter handle of J.C. Penney started sending out odd tweets, like, "Who kkmew theis was ghiong tob e a baweball ghamle. #lowsscorinh 5_0."

That sparked speculation that the account had been hacked, or the person in charge of the handle was inebriated. But soon J.C. Penney revealed it was all a prank to promote the hashtag #TweetingWithMittens.

Opinion was split over whether this stunt actually helped build J.C. Penney’s brand. But it definitely captured people’s attention during the Super Bowl, and cost nothing.

J.C. Penney said it gained over 10,000 followers on Super Bowl Sunday, received over 40,000 @jcpenney mentions and 1,800 mentions of the hashtag #tweetingwithmittens.

"Standing on the sidelines, as opposed to being part of the Super Bowl, and aiming to be a part of the conversation, is really smart," said O’Keefe, the brand professor.

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