Why did agencies start scooping their Super Bowl spots?

(A look at when agencies began revealing their Super Bowl spots before the Super Bowl)

Prior to 1997, advertising agencies would ever think of previewing an ultra-secret Super Bowl ad prior to the game to risk taking away from that big reveal on Super Sunday. It just wasn’t done. That is … until Dirt Devil and their PR firm, Falls, had the risky idea of scooping themselves.

Falls is a purpose-driven firm that accelerates growth and success for its clients. Falls offers outstanding strategic marketing communications, digital, advertising and branding campaigns from its Cleveland, Ohio headquarters.

The commercial of bringing Fred Astaire back to life to dance with Dirt Devil’s new Broom Vac was made possible through the then-new CGI, computer-generated imaging, taking old movie footage of Fred Astaire dancing with a hat rack and substituting it with a Broom Vac.  Although the commercial was cool and fun – the real impact was the reaction of “how did they do that?”

ALSO READ: Complete list of all our Super Bowl coverage. Enjoy!

“The commercial itself was creatively brilliant, but we knew we were up against the big and dominant advertisers,” said Mike Merriman, then president & CEO of Dirt Devil. “The $1.8 million buy was a significant spend for a little company like ours, so we needed to figure out a way to maximize the investment. It was Falls that came up with the idea of scooping ourselves by not buying any more ad time before the Super Bowl, but rolling out a comprehensive plan of getting free media to tell this story. It was brilliant.”

A press conference was held in New York City with Ms. Robyn Smith Astaire against a 1940s-styled movie set. Later that day the copy of the video news release (VNR) was distributed nationally. Footage appeared in more than 75 television markets on local stations throughout the country.

All three major networks did their own expanded pieces, including all three national morning news and evening news show, plus all entertainment news shows.

In addition, more than 600 print outlets ran it worldwide and 1,100 news sources. It also appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay LenoLate Show with David Lettermen, and The Academy Awards with Jim Carey.  Prior to that, no VNR had more pick up than this one. The media impressions were more than four times that of the Super Bowl ad itself.

The early release also allowed Dirt Devil to ship more than $4 million worth of product to retailers even before the ad even ran. “It was a great strategy that netted Dirt Devil millions more than if we just relied on the ad,” said Merriman. 

“Working with Dirt Devil, the ad agencies, and Mrs. Astaire, we shot our own B-roll during the filming of the commercial. We then put it all together into a media package to introduce Dirt Devil’s new breakthrough product. The Broom Vac was a home run,” said Rob Falls, founder, president & CEO of Falls.  “It has actually given Mike and I some quiet satisfaction to see this strategy used again and again since we started it in 1997.”

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While the ad agencies strategy is sound marketing strategy, it does take away from the anticipation and pure fun of seeing a great Super Bowl spot for the first time during the game. Not to sound like Grandpa David Ogilvy but it is a part of the experience (as much as drinking beer and eating nachos) that’s been taken away from those in the advertising industry who are just as much a part of the audience on Sunday.

For a complete list of our ad agencies Super Bowl coverage click  here. Super Bowl LV airs February 7 on CBS at 6:30 PM EST, 5:30 PM CST and 3:30 PST.