Web Civ: Super Bowl Ads Go Viral

In case you haven’t been informed by every news website ever, a 30 second commercial slot during last night’s Superbowl XLV cost a whopping $3 million. To put this in perspective, this means the price of airing Kim Kardashian in a tight black outfit could have paid for roughly 120 semesters of private university education–gotta love America.  Anyway, while the numbers aren’t in yet, yesterday’s game could turn out to be the most-watched television event in U.S. history with over 1/3 of the nation’s 307 million people tuned in. This year, however, companies were not merely satisfied getting exposure during the country’s biggest sporting event and opted to go viral with their commercials in order to further promote their products. Read more about the commercial invasion of social media after the jump.

While conceived as a Super Bowl ad, the Volkswagen commercial above actually premiered on YouTube four days before the big game. According to a Boston Herald article, this is part of a new strategy for companies to expand their audience beyond the time purchased on television. Currently, “The Force” and another VW advertisement have garnered nearly 18 million hits (roughly 20% of the Super Bowl’s viewership) and the numbers are continuing to rise. These and other gameday commercials are also a part of YouTube’s Ad Blitz 2011, a competition hosted by the website wherein viewers vote for their favorite ads in the days following the Super Bowl; the reward is “ultimate video glory” in the form of “YouTube homepage recognition” at the end of next week. Hulu has a similar rate-the-ad feature called “Ad Zone 2011: brought to you by Geico,” though this website is notably different from YouTube in that it only hosts network television shows and other professionally-produced content.

The Ad Blitz contest presents a somewhat disturbing continuation of commercialization for sites like YouTube, which was founded upon user-generated content. Though advertisements have always been a major part of successful websites (as a primary means of generating revenue), they had generally served a supporting role as sidebars on the screen or compulsory promotions preceding a particular video. And while small companies and websites have been using viral marketing for years, it seems that the big guns like VW and Pepsico have finally occupied that realm with their high production values and deep pockets. In the egalitarian dominion that is the Internet, corporations have found a way to convert the content they once sponsored into publicity for their products.

At the same time, television commercials have historically been the meme generators in American society. From “Where’s the Beef?” to “Wassup,” commercial catchphrases have permeated our vernacular and quickly proceeded to wear out into “I Love the…” obscurity. One might say that several of the sensations on YouTube owe their existence to the TV ads of the past, which set the standard for memorable bits of entertainment in a short timeframe. It may be a shame that ads are on their way to taking over every aspect of YouTube, but VW’s Darth Vader spot is actually a pretty inspired and enjoyable vignette that only reeks of marketing in the last few seconds (and in its title ‘Volkswagen Commercial: The Force’). There’s a distinct possibility this is just passing fad during the marketing whirlwind that is the Super Bowl, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Feel free to share any thoughts you have about the presence of big companies on YouTube in the comments.

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