Home ‘Everybody’s watching’: PR expert talks commercials, effective messaging and yes, Taylor Swift
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‘Everybody’s watching’: PR expert talks commercials, effective messaging and yes, Taylor Swift

Crystal Graham
young people cheering for football game
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There aren’t a lot of things on TV that everyone is watching these days because there are so many channels and streaming options available.

One thing that almost everyone tunes in to is the Super Bowl. And unlike most TV watching, when viewers grab a snack or go to the bathroom during commercials, the opposite is true on Super Bowl Sunday, with people glued to the advertising.

The challenge for advertisers paying $7 million, plus production costs, for 30 seconds of TV time is to be memorable.

Virginia Tech Adjunct Professor Carrie Cousins said the Super Bowl is one of the few opportunities advertisers have to target a large audience. Cousins, who works a day job as an advertising and PR professional in Roanoke, said most advertising today is hyperlocal with the message being geared toward what you like – on the TV channels you watch, social media and with streaming.

“With the Super Bowl, what you’re getting is broad-based exposure,” said Cousins, who teaches two classes at VT this semester. “The messaging starts to change a bit from the advertising perspective to be much more of a brand-building message than a direct-sales message. In many cases, this might be the first touchpoint to an audience for you.”

For example, Cousins said, UberEats has a Super Bowl ad this year. Her parents, she said, likely have no idea who they are or what they offer. On the flip side, some of the characters that appear from old TV shows may resonate with Gen X’ers, but younger audiences may not know who the people are.

“Everybody’s watching,” Cousins said. “It’s worth it (the cost), if on Monday morning, people remember you. Not your ad, but they remember your brand.”

Often, Cousins said, people remember a beautiful message but don’t remember who the ad was for.

“That’s not worth it,” she said.

For example, a Doritos ad a few years ago featured a lot of funny characters and dancing. Cousins said many people remembered the energy of it but didn’t remember who the ad was for.

This year, Cousins said, viewers should expect more ads geared toward women, in part, due to pop icon Taylor Swift.

“Some really big advertisers that we haven’t seen in the Super Bowl space in a really long time are entering the Super Bowl space,” Cousins said. “Dove has a spot. L’oreal has a spot. Elf Cosmetics has a spot. They are directly targeted at women, and I think that really is an indicator of ‘The Swiftie Effect.'”

Like it or hate it, Swift’s enthusiasm in rooting for her boyfriend, Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce, has had a big effect on the game’s audience – with many of her fans initially tuning in to catch a glimpse of Swift in a box cheering for KC; and sticking around longer to learn about the game.

In the AFC Championship Game, Swift was shown to the TV audience for a total of 44 seconds – usually after Kelce had a big play. But fans stuck around for the entirety, making the game the most watched non-Super Bowl broadcast since the 1994 Olympics.

“I can’t tell you how many women in my friend groups didn’t care (about football) until this year,” Cousins said. “And all of a sudden, they have a team. That speaks a lot to advertisers booking spots.”

Cousins thinks “The Swiftie Effect” will have a lasting impact on the sport of football.

“You’re gonna end up with some lifelong fans out of this,” she said. “What’s kind of cool is to see the younger girls come into a love of sport. It’s really cool to see this young generation of women become sports fans or decide to play a sport or understand the sport better. Ten years from now, one of those kids might want to play flag football. There are all these things that will happen, and it is a really nice residual effect that you couldn’t have really paid for.”

There’s been a lot of debate with fans and broadcasters about if they will show Swift in the Super Bowl coverage.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?” Cousins said. “If Kelce is scoring, if the Chiefs are scoring, if she’s having a good time … you’re not missing any of the game by flashing to her during the timeout. You’re not missing any of the game by flashing to her when they’re waiting for the next play. It’s a win for everybody.

“I think it’s great for the sport. It’s great for Taylor. It’s great for the entertainment industry as a whole and for bringing people into new experiences and arenas. It’s kind of the perfect storm. She’s involved with a player on a good team. We’ve had a lot of opportunity to kind of play this story.”

On Tuesday, Cousins said her classes at Virginia Tech will look at the advertising targeting women, what was memorable and the writing of the ads.

The data from her students is also helpful in her PR job too, because she learns so much about what resonates with Generation Z, or zoomers.

Cousins has her eye on several ad spots during the Super Bowl:

  • T-Mobile with characters from Scrubs (and a guest celebrity appearance)
  • Uber Eats – She has seen the ad and calls it “super clever”
  • Dove and other ads geared toward women – “Intrigued”

“Everybody’s (her students) got thumbs up and thumbs down paddles,” she said of her students. “So we’re going to do voting. We’re going to watch ads and try to answer questions about branding and effectiveness.”

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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.