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How to Score a Creative Touchdown with Seconds on the Clock

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Each Super Bowl, it’s not just the teams on the gridiron that are in a competitive mindset. Of course, the big game doubles as a competitive play for brands and advertisers, who treat the event as one of the biggest opportunities to make an impression on an unusually large TV audience.

Advertising has become so synonymous with the game that brands have begun releasing previews and prequels to ads in the weeks leading up to the game, drumming up excitement among consumers and effectively building an entire genre in the process. In this environment, how is a regionally based business supposed to capture anyone’s attention? It’s enough to make you think that the day is reserved for only the biggest brands—or is it?

Circus, who joined our big tent at the start of the year, didn’t think so. Through a clever mix of ultra-efficient production, ingenious media spend and close collaboration, a cunning campaign idea was born in 2019. Family-owned supermarket chain Northgate Market pre-empted some of the most buzz-worthy Super Bowl ads with pre-roll ads relevant to their content, a strategy that met so much success (including a Cannes Lion nomination) that we’ve built upon it further this year.

Raising Expectations—and the Bar—on Creative Production

The campaign relies on the relationship that digital streaming has with the Super Bowl ad frenzy. When brands release ad previews, consumers seek them out. And this is where we make a daring play: through a pre-roll offering a “behind-the-scenes” look at the ad viewers are about to see. For example, before watching an Avocados From Mexico spot (which features absurd ways to protect the delicate fruit), consumers within Northgate’s local region see a quick pre-roll in which a crew member on a film set carefully secures and delivers the prop avocado.

northgate avocado

“After the success of last year’s effort, we knew there was an opportunity for us to own during one of the biggest weeks for Northgate,” says Nava. “Going into the second year we wanted to make sure we continue building in the same territory. All products you see on Super Bowl ads can be found at Northgate Markets, but this time we wanted to say that actual products being used to film those Super Bowl ads also came from the store by doing a fun, behind-the-scenes replica of each commercial.” This is referenced in the slogan for the campaign, “The big game ads start with us,” which directly ties to the brand’s message that “every visit has a story.”

A Genius Game Plan Built on Trust

The pre-rolls not only show that the product is available for purchase at Northgate Market, but also reference the themes and ideas behind the most talked-about Super Bowl ads: in the one mentioned above, Northgate’s crew member has the seriousness of a secret agent passing along classified information, seemingly elevating the avocado’s safety to national security-level. But because the content of any Super Bowl ad is only known a week or two before the big game, there was crucial little time to carry the campaign from concept to market.

Monk Thoughts There's not a lot of room for back and forth between agency and client, because there's no time in a project this fast.

Trust and swift collaboration were critical to the campaign’s high-risk, high-reward success. “There’s not a lot of room for back and forth between agency and client, because there’s no time,” says Nava. “The minute a spot is out, we need to prep and shoot for it, so Northgate was part of the process from the beginning, strategizing which products made the most sense for them to promote.”

While the “Super Bowl hijack” tactic was developed as a way to efficiently produce work within a short turnaround time before a major event, it serves as an excellent example of how brands can overcome a growing challenge that’s universally felt: the need to rapidly produce content around the clock. Whether it’s a need to keep up with the rate of conversation, produce always-on content streams or simply anticipate major cultural moments without being left behind, brands seek new ways to cut through the noise amidst fierce competition and dwindling resources. With full-service social media capabilities and as a leader in multicultural marketing, Circus bolsters our ability to produce and deliver relevant digital content at speed for all audiences—not without pulling some tricks in the process.


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