Social makes the Super Bowl more super

Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI will be the first 'second screen' Super Bowl

When the first Super Bowl was played in January 1967, you had three ways to enjoy the game: You could drive to the stadium and sit in the stands, listen to the play-by-play on the radio or watch the action on TV. If you were on the cutting edge of technology, you could watch the game in color.

Is that how you're going to watch the game this year? Just on a color TV, like it's 1967?

Come on. It's 2012.

This year, there's a wide range of options for augmenting your experience with social networking and other Internet-based technologies. The Washington Post said this year's game will be the first "second screen" Super Bowl, since advertisers, the football "industry" and others will all be trying to get your attention via other venues when you're not focusing on your television.

Second Screen game options

Google has gone all out with a site called "Game Day With Google" that will offer special features throughout Super Bowl Sunday. You can get up at 8 a.m. and turn to the site to find recipes for game day snacks. It also features a pregame briefing and has tips for searching for stats during the game. And in keeping with Google's new obsession with social networking, the site offers a feature called "See What Your Friends Are Saying" that highlights Google's ability to surface social posts.

Google is also promoting a Google+ hangout by the New York Giants just before the game.

The city of Indianapolis, where the Super Bowl will take place, has set up a 2,800-square-foot "Super Bowl Social Media Command Center." It's staffed with Internet-savvy locals, who search the Internet looking for people asking questions about the city from within a 50-mile radius and respond with answers. They'll be able to tell people where to park and how to navigate the crowds, and they generally try to answer any question posted on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ or on message boards and chat rooms.

The NFL has introduced a new app for iOS and Android for people attending the game. The app offers maps of the stadium and the surrounding area, highlighting nearby restaurants and businesses.

The app also features video and data on each of the Super Bowl players and teams, as well as a database of information about previous Super Bowls.

Ads get social

And it's not just the game. Advertising has gone social, too.

Super Bowl ads this year cost an average of $3.5 million for a 30-second spot. So advertisers will try to get the most out of their investments by driving eyeballs to social interaction. More than 80% of this year's Super Bowl ads will offer some kind of social component or app integration.

About half of the 50 or so ads created for the Super Bowl have already been posted online. Companies are trying to create viral buzz in advance of the game.

Audi claims it's the first Super Bowl advertiser to use a Twitter hashtag in a commercial. The hashtag is #ProgressIs, and it's tied to a contest.

But the only reason Audi is able to make that claim is because its commercial is one of the first ads scheduled to run on Sunday. Twitter executive Adam Bain predicts that at least half the ads that will run during the game will feature hashtags.

Zero hashtags last year; hashtags in half of the ads this year: The mainstreaming of social networking is happening very fast.

And Super Bowl social gets super weird

Coca-Cola has concocted a way to show its CGI polar bears watch and react to the game in real time at a dedicated website. The bears have appeared in regular TV commercials in the past. Now, they will react to the game in real time like real-life armchair quarterbacks; they'll even chat with site visitors about the game.

Social media is even being used to predict the outcome of the game. Track Social is a social media analytics platform that claims to have predicted the winner using "millions of cells of data and robust mathematical models to benchmark the performance of the teams in the social media." (It's predicting a New England Patriots victory.)

As publicity stunts go, that's quite a gamble. If the folks at Track Social are right, they'll look like geniuses. If they're wrong, fans will think they're morons.

The bigger questions are: Does all this social and app-based "stuff" improve the experience of following the game? And does it increase the appeal of the advertising?

In general, I think it does. The challenge for companies offering these features, however, is that everybody's doing it. Each Super Bowl viewer will likely choose only a small number of the available options during the game.

The social media experience that will probably be used by the most people will be good old-fashioned Facebook, Twitter and Google+ posts, which will skyrocket with every big play, turnover, bad call and touchdown. "Event TV" like the Super Bowl and the upcoming Oscars have turned out to be major social media drivers.

The Super Bowl has always been a social event. What's different now is that social media and the Internet have turned geography and proximity into nonfactors -- the trash talk and game banter can now span the globe, as people who can't get together physically interact with one another virtually.

I don't know who will win the game, or whether the advertisers' creative social gambles will pay off. But I do think the viewers will win. It's just more fun to augment an event like the Super Bowl with social networking.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. You can contact Mike and learn more about him at Elgan.com, or subscribe to his free e-mail newsletter, Mike's List.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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