Call it the "second-screen" Super Bowl.
About two-thirds of smartphone and tablet owners use their gadgets to do things like text or post on Twitter while watching TV, according to research firm Nielsen. So, for Sunday's game, companies from Coke to Chevy are trying to reach fans on all of the "second screens" they have.
Chevrolet rolled out the first Super Bowl smartphone app that allows Big Game watchers to enter a contest to win everything from pizza to a new Camaro. Kia is the first company to show its Super Bowl ad ahead of the game in movie theaters. And Coca Cola set up a Facebook page and website so viewers can see its animated polar bears – one cheering for the New England Patriots and the other for the New York Giants – reacting to the game in real time.
"The world is changing," says Pio Schunker, Coca Cola's vice president for creative excellence. "We needed to come to the party with something new and different."
Advertisers have big incentives to stand out. With more than 111 million viewers expected to tune into the game, the Super Bowl is by far the biggest stage for marketers. It's also not cheap: NBC is charging an average of $3.5 million for a 30-second spot. And the competition is fierce: There will be more than 70 TV ads during the Super Bowl battling for attention.
To create buzz, it's no longer enough for marketers to simply get people talking at the water cooler the morning after the game. They also want to engage the people who like reacting to big events like the Super Bowl by posting on Twitter or Facebook or texting their friends, says David Berkowitz, vice president at digital marketing agency 360i.
"People are glued to their digital devices, sometimes sharing far more that way than they are with others in the same room," says Berkowitz, whose firm created Coke's online Super Bowl campaign. "Being social means something very different now."
About a dozen companies have put up their Super Bowl spots on video-sharing website YouTube this year, up from a handful last year. The amount companies have spent on sponsoring YouTube's Ad Blitz, a site for Super Bowl ads, has doubled compared with last year, although it declined to say by how much.
And in another sign that marketers are trying to engage viewers over social media websites: USA Today's Ad Meter, which ranks the popularity of ads, is for the first time allowing viewers to vote for their favorite spot on Facebook.
"This year, we're seeing a whole new level of social media activity for Super Bowl advertisers," said Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
This is the first year that advertisers have tapped into the growing number of users of iPhones and other smartphones during the Super Bowl. In its ads, domain-name hosting site Godaddy.com will feature a QR code, a black and white two-dimensional code that people can scan by putting their smartphones up to the TV so they can go to the company's website. This is a first for a Super Bowl ad.
Chevy's free smartphone app for the Super Bowl, called Chevy Game Time, allows people to enter a contest to win prizes from Chevy and other Super Bowl advertisers, including Bridgestone and Motorola. Users also will get a code. If the code matches the license plates in Chevy ads during the game, they win one of 20 cars being given away, including the Camaro, Silverado and Sonic. App users can also answer trivia questions or polls to win prizes.
Other advertisers are going after the laptop and tablet crowd. As part of Toyota's Super Bowl campaign to showcase its "reinvented" Camry, the company is asking Twitter users to use the hashtag "#Reinvented" to post or "Tweet" about what other kinds of products should be reinvented. Some will get a response back with an illustration of the "reinvented" product.
Volkswagen released a teaser of its 60-second Super Bowl ad on YouTube. The ad, which shows dogs in "Star Wars" costumes barking the "Imperial March" song, was released on the site on Jan. 18 and has 10 million views. Volkswagen also created a dedicated Super Bowl on its Facebook page.
For all of their attempts to reach people on their "second screens," Calkins, the marketing professor, says advertisers won't know what works until Game Day.
"The question is which of the advertisers will really manage to connect on the day of the Super Bowl," Calkins said. "It's never entirely clear which ones are going to stand out."