How to improve TV ads during football: a season of storytelling

Yesterday ensures that I’ll be watching the Super Bowl for the ads, not the game.  At least it wasn’t a  last second #4 field goal that won it.  Anyway, if you’re a fan of American football, you’ve been watching the season unfold over the past 20 weeks.  What do ads say about an audience?  Football says that they drive trucks, use mobiles, and drink beer.  But for every Chevy ad, there’s a Ford and Toyota ad.  For every Sprint ad, there’s one for Verizon and another for T-Mobile.  And Bud has company from Heineken and Coors Light.

The net effect is a ton of frequency for categories, but the noise makes it difficult for any single brand to stand out.

Here’s an idea: given that you’ve built up a relationship over the season – why not create a story arc to keep viewers engaged?  It’s a way to stand out…create a plot that unfolds over the course of a season that culminates when?  Yep, with a big Super Bowl spot.  Add some meaning and anticipation to that $2.6 million.

The NFL’s own spots start to get at this, with the idea of "revising predictions" made early in the season.  Burger King went halfway last year, with a viral campaign culminating in the "Whopperettes" spot.  But no one’s taken an integrated season the length of the field for a real advertising touchdown.

This can work for any industry.  Fidelity could showcase just how much people saved for retirement and what that will grow into over the next 10, 20, or 30 years.  GEICO can count up how much people have saved on car insurance by switching.  Cingular can track the number of minutes people have saved with automatic rollover.  Toyota shows how much gas you’ve saved and emissions reduced by driving a hybrid.  Bud shows…how much your spare tire’s grown over the course of the season, I guess.

You get the picture.  Is it really that tough?  Lots of talk about storytelling as branding’s next big thing.  So what are advertisers waiting for?