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Restaurants leverage Super Bowl without pricey TV ads

When it comes to advertising during the Super Bowl, restaurant companies don’t need to shell out $3.5 million per spot to be in the game.

There were no national restaurant TV commercials during the National Football League championship last Sunday, but many brands still found ways to leverage the Super Bowl’s power. According to Mountain View, Calif.-based Ace Metrix, a marketing research firm, restaurants were still able to draw millions of Americans, including hard-core football fans and casual observers, to their televisions during the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl pregame festivities without the hefty price tag.

“The Super Bowl is not something to shy away from if you have strong creative,” Jonathan Symonds, executive vice president of marketing for Ace Metrix, said. “But it has to be balanced against what you can do with $3.5 million in media buying.

“The Super Bowl looks just like America demographically,” Symonds continued. “Pizza Hut has that strong demographic base, but Taco Bell, for example, is targeted at a younger demographic, and the game may not be right for them.”

Papa John’s flips the script

Even though Louisville, Ky.-based Papa John’s Pizza is in the second year of a three-year official sponsorship of the NFL, the chain decided not to advertise during this year’s Super Bowl.

But the brand said it was happy with the exposure it gained in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl when the chain’s commercials for its “Super Bowl XLVI Coin Toss Experience” promotion ran.

Watch Papa John’s commercial; story continues below

The promotion asked customers to vote on Papa John’s website to predict whether the pregame coin toss for the Super Bowl would come up heads or tails. If they voted correctly, Papa John’s pledged to offer a free pizza and bottle of soda to Papa Rewards loyalty program members. When the toss came up heads, as the voters predicted, “we had an incredible amount of traffic to our website and Facebook page,” said Chris Sternberg, senior vice president of corporate communications.

“We are absolutely thrilled with the response to our coin toss promotion,” he said. “It was a crescendo to our season-long activation. … We’re very pleased with the growth in Papa Rewards members that resulted from this promotion. You don’t have to advertise in the game to be in and around the game.”

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Playoffs kick off restaurant spending

Restaurants’ rate of advertising during the Super Bowl itself has fallen, Ace Metrix’s Symonds said, from two commercials in 2010, to one last year and none this year. He speculated that the $3.5 million price tag for a 30-second Super Bowl ad may have seemed to restaurant marketers an inefficient use of money, rather than running several digital campaigns or local television ads.

Yet restaurant companies did advertise quite a bit during the NFL playoffs, particularly Subway, whose Fresh Fit Meals commercials feature athletes. During the 10 playoff games before the Super Bowl, restaurants bought 19 percent of ad space, trailing only car companies, according to Ace Metrix. Subway ran 26 spots during those weekends, compared with 11 for McDonald’s and 10 for Domino’s; 10 additional brands broadcasted national ads.

During the AFC and NFC championship games two weeks before the Super Bowl, restaurant companies bought 17.5 percent of the ad spots, again trailing only automakers.

Consumers surveyed by Ace Metrix judged Applebee’s new commercial for steak on its Under 550 Calories menu to be the most effective restaurant ad they viewed during the playoffs.

Watch Applebee’s commercial; story continues on next page

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Super Sunday still an opportunity

Pizza Hut and McDonald’s may have passed on in-game Super Bowl ads this year, but both ran commercials nationwide before the game kicked off. Pizza Hut ran three different commercials, but the one spot the brand debuted for Super Sunday, “Pizza Rap,” did not score well with Ace Metrix’s consumer group, the market research firm said.

Watch Pizza Hut’s “Pizza Rap” commercial; story continues below

“The Super Bowl is such a unique platform with such a broad group of people watching your ads, that it’s still very attractive,” Symonds said. “The money continues to be considered well spent, which is why rates keep climbing. The key is coming to market with something with broad appeal.”

Pizza Hut’s “Pizza Rap” commercial’s poor performance probably resulted from its rap video format, which scored well with young males but fell flat with other demographics, Symonds said. That commercial placed it in the bottom fifth of all ads on Super Bowl Sunday, according to Ace Metrix data.

“Good creative is good creative, whether it debuts Super Bowl Sunday or midweek in June,” Symonds said. “The other commercial for the $10 any-pizza deal did better, and as a general rule that’s been effective for Pizza Hut.”

Watch Pizza Hut’s $10 any-pizza ad; story continues below

The brand’s other two commercials, a 15-second spot for the any-pizza deal and a 30-second spot for the same offer called “Parents are down,” placed in the top quintile of Super Sunday ads.

Watch Pizza Hut’s “Parents are down” ad; story continues below

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