Every year, the Super Bowl is the most anticipated sports event in the United States of America. It also consistently boasts the largest audiences both on Television and on social media. 2015 was no exception, as it became the most watched broadcast in the history of American television. Given the immense number of people whose eyes will be glued to the event, it is a no brainer that advertisers would go to great lengths to secure advertising slots during the Super bowl’s break periods.
Advertisers were offered 15-second and 30-second ad spots. A 30-second ad spot costs US$4.5 million – making it the most expensive ad slot ever. 2015 ad slots cost 12.5% more than the 2014 rates. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is estimated to have generated US$350 million from its broadcast of Super Bowl 49.
Super Bowl 49 advertisers included Conglomerates (Coca-Cola), Movie Studios (20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios) Insurance firms (Nationwide), Online businesses (GoDaddy.com, Wix.com), Confectionary (Skittles), Transportation (Carnival Cruise Lines). There were advertisers for beer, automobile and food. However the surprise campaign was that of Ecuador. The tiny South American nation of 15.6 million became the first foreign country to buy airtime during Super Bowl.
The campaign “All You Need is Ecuador” was also pushed using the hashtag #AllYouNeedIsEcuador
What business has a foreign government got to do with a sporting event unique to another country? Is using a budget of about US$ 4.5 Million for a 30-second ad spot to promote tourism worth it?
Many Ecuadoreans took to social media to criticize this “wasteful spending”. As one tweet put it ~ "all we need is free speech, democracy and yes, another president”. I too was initially critical.
Some were not content to leave it there. Soon trolls (people who post negative, inflammatory messages to provoke emotional responses) appeared online.
While many might choose to ignore trolls and concentrate on their own messages, the Ecuadorean president, Rafael Correa decided to hit back. In a 3-hour weekly presidential TV address to the country he read out a number of unsavoury tweets. He went further to call out the names and contact details of at least 3 persons who had been vocal online critics of the Super Bowl campaign. Not done, he threatened that for every tweet his team will reply with 10,000 tweets.
In almost every country, campaigns are run at some point or the other to promote tourism and investment. These campaigns will continue to elicit conflicting opinions on their merits and demerits especially in trying economic times.
It appears to me that when the people are so alienated from the government of the day, the government may not even be credited with any lofty achievements they might have made.
Let us look at Ecuador’s case for making this seemingly expensive 30-second investment.
Its marketing agency states that "Ecuador decided to make a big investment on the Super Bowl because they have goals for American tourism and ... want to increase it in the next few years. With over 100 million viewers, they knew the Super Bowl could put them on a global platform”.
According to official government records, about 259,000 Americans visited Ecuador in 2014 making the US the second largest source of tourism to Ecuador.
Given that Americans are heavy spenders while on holidays, Ecuador wanted to leverage Super Bowl’s prime opportunity to connect with this proven market.
The target was to increase the number of America tourists by 5% (12,950) to 271,950 in 2015.
The government was also confident that they were taking the right step as recent efforts to increase tourism flow have been effective - – averaging a 14% increase in tourists. Americans were drawn to its peculiar outdoor attractions - Andes Mountains, the Amazon rainforest, the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador’s many beautiful beaches.
For the price tag of US$4.5 million, the cost of selling Ecuador will cost the country US$347.49 (about N64, 000) for each of these visitors. It certainly will make more from each tourist – through accommodation, food, transportation, attraction fees, etc.
With this understanding, it seems appropriate to target Americans using a show-stopping event like the Super Bowl. More so the campaign was going to run on Television stations in US cities with the highest number of tourists to Ecuador including New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Washington.
The challenge therefore seems to be one of disengagement between a government and its people. Tourism does an economy a whole lot of good. Invariably it is the people that benefit, not necessarily the cronies of the government.
Strangely, though President Correa is a staunch critic of U.S. capitalism, common sense and pragmatism seems to have played a part in making Ecuador the first foreign government to buy a Super Bowl commercial.
President Correa is currently leading attacks against online critics. On January 24, 2015, he launched a website, Somos translated as “We are More”. This website will investigate and respond to social-media users that “attack” or “defame” his government. He is also recruiting a dedicated army of trolls who will “respond and support the Citizens’ Revolution.”
When a President declares war on his own people, it indicates intolerance for dissent, truth and objectivity. Social media has clear rules of engagement. An “us versus them” approach is a recipe for creating even more division in a country. Every President will leave office someday – either by choice or by force. When it is finally over, will it have been worth it?
It will be interesting to see who blinks first in this war!
P.S: This article was also published in the 4th of February 2015 edition of the Punch Newspapers. Click to Read