First published by 
MediaPost, Feb. 2, 2011

There’s something about the Super Bowl that brings out the underdog in all of us.  It even makes some of us want to make a bold, disruptive proclamation — and today is as good a time as any.

Certainly, it wouldn’t be the first time disruptive predictions surrounded the “Big Game.”  It all started with Joe Namath’s brazen 1969 pre-announcement, claiming with utter certainty that his lowly AFL Jets would defeat the storied NFL, and their equally storied Colts.

“Broadway” Joe, borrowing from his nickname, already understood, 40 years ago, that the Super Bowl provided a remarkable stage; a stage increasingly set for the three “Ps”: Performance, Prognostication, and of course, Promotion.

Advertisers and promoters began getting into the mix in the 1970s and ’80s, as a wave of promotions offered consumers a chance to, if not be IN the game, at least GO to the game.  Of course, the odds were always slim, and these promotions consistently preyed on the singular characteristic of every underdog.  Namely, hope.

Interestingly enough, this year also happens to mark the 25th anniversary of perhaps the greatest promotional disruption of all time.  The contest’s sponsor had designed a complex, 8-week “Monday Night Winning Line-up” scratch game, where the odds against winning the grand prize — Super Bowl tickets for eight, accommodations, and a round trip travel on a Lear Jet — bordered on the realm of impossibility.  Heck, one would have had better odds trying to compete successfully against the Nielsen monopoly, in the TV ratings industry, than figure that game out…

However, several weeks before the promotion had ended, one inquisitive and determined future MediaPost contributor came forward, and predicted that he could “break the game open.”  To prove it, in front of a room of executives and attorneys, the 23-year-old gamer turned a new game piece into a $5,500 winning ticket in less than 30 seconds.  Thousands of virgin game pieces were stacked nearby.  It was decision time.

Instead of seizing the opportunity, and crowning the contestant as a Super Bowl winner, thereby capitalizing on the feel-good, underdog fanfare that would certainly create a positive halo effect for the brands involved, the now defunct mega-consumer products company refused to bend.

Weeks later, the company received in the mail winning game pieces that could have resulted in the awarding of over 16,000 Super Bowl XX tickets; instead, the contestant opted only for 4 tickets… and $20+ million in alternate prizes.

The Goliath company cancelled the game, nationally, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Or, is it?


Something about that event, 25 years ago, still resonates with me, today.  Having watched Super Bowl promotions and advertising “evolve” over the last quarter century, I continue to be frustrated with the lack of ingenuity displayed by those with millions to spend on garnering attention.  From my perspective, agencies and brands continue to miss (or, more accurately, ignore) the real sentiment that our underdog tendencies belie:

Most of us want to be in the game.

Which brings us to today — where, 100 hours from now, 100 million people will be watching 100 ads, each costing nearly $100,000 per second to air.  When it’s over, there will have been over 10 billion impressions served over the course of the Super Bowl broadcast.

Amidst all of these absolutely staggering numbers, I ask you:  Where’s the fun?  Where does the playful, festive environment of Super Bowl Sunday truly capture the imaginations — and reactions — of nearly half the population of the world’s greatest nation?

In short, what are they doing to engage the underdogs in all of us?

Sadly, not enough.

I think the most valuable underdogs, just itching to get in the game, are the owners of the nearly 40 million camera-enabled, web-connected smartphones, each in close proximity to TV screens airing the Super Bowl, who are almost completely disconnected from the game and its ads.

Sorry, Audi, but an invitation to tweet doesn’t quite cut it.

Candidly, this mass convergence of inactivity represents the greatest lost opportunity in digital marketing history.  Think about it – that’s almost 40 million viewers who want to be in the game, and should be in the game, in one fashion or another, but who are essentially being ignored by a tried and “true” advertising model that’s (thankfully) seen its better, and last, waning days.

I offer this challenge to you, the TV and advertising industry insiders who read this post:

Let’s make this Super Bowl the LAST Super Bowl that ignores the power of 100 million connected and excited viewers.

Furthermore, in the tradition of disruptive underdogs from Super Bowls past, I throw this prediction into the mix:

Next year, somebody attentively watching the 2012 Super Bowl (and its ads), with a web-connected phone in hand, will win $1 million.

My logic (and math) is simple:  With 10 billion impressions to be garnered, an investment of 1/100th of one cent per impression, and a bit of underdog creativity,  someone could make this one of the highest-returning promotions in TV history.

And along these lines, here’s my “Over and Under” for next year’s Super Bowl XLVI:  10.  As in, the number of “reactive” ads that will feature a HyperScanÒ or unbranded QR code, augmented reality technology, an app-enabled offer, or a web-based, immediate call-to-action element.

What do YOU think?  Will next year’s Super Bowl ads and promotions finally take advantage of the critical mass of 100 million playful participants, and monetize paid attention, with prizes in return?  And how many 2012 Super Bowl ads do YOU believe will feature reactive elements?

Let’s hear your predictions.  And, better yet, let’s work together to put the underdogs in the game, next year.

After all, the Jets may not make it — but there’s no reason why we can’t play.