This Super Bowl Facebook (FB) is taking a page from Twitter's (FB) playbook, for the first time during a football championship selling ads that target people based on what they are talking about in real time.
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These include video ads that will play automatically on Facebook's newsfeed, triggered by key words that members mention in their posts as they watch the American football game on Feb. 1.
Smartphones and tablets provide a second screen for the Super Bowl's 100 million television viewers to comment about the game as it proceeds, giving advertisers a more precise way to target messages.
Twitter is the leader in this arena that other social media networks are seeking to emulate. Mondelez International's Oreo sent out clever tweets when the lights went out during the Super Bowl in 2013, a stunt considered to be a marketing coup.
"Twitter has owned the mantel of being a real-time platform but the sophistication of Facebook's ad targeting is unparalleled," said Noah Mallin, head of social for north America at MEC, a media buying agency that is part of WPP.
"That is a big change."
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At last year's Super Bowl, marketers on Facebook could target ads to segments of members based on their likes, profiles and demographic information. Facebook has introduced real-time targeting features since then, and this year the social network, with 155 million daily users in the United States and Canada, will customize audience clusters that advertisers can target in real time during the game.
Maura Tuohy, head of social media at the marketing agency Eleven Inc, said Facebook had to work hard to dispel the notion that people do not use the network while watching live tent pole events. "People are talking about these shows" on Facebook, she said.
For example, Toyota Motor Corp in the past had turned to social media to amplify its creative TV commercials running in the Super Bowl. Now, the Japanese automaker is making commercials specially for social media.
Dionne Colvin-Lovely, director of traditional and emerging media at Toyota, said the automaker is running two commercials during the Super Bowl but has turned to digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google Inc's YouTube and Hulu to generate a conversation around car buying.
"There is a lot more fragmentation," Colvin-Lovely said. "TV is an important media; it's not as dominant. We need to make sure we have a strong presence online and in mobile. It's more complicated now."
Twitter is staffing "war rooms" of 13 advertisers for the Super Bowl, including PepsiCo and Anheuser Busch - triple the number of companies that worked directly with Twitter for last year's big game.
Staffers at the 13 companies will monitor social networks during the game and pump out videos, tweets and graphical ads. Some companies will have lawyers on hand to approve the spots.
A growing number of big brand advertisers want to create "unplanned" social ads for the Super Bowl, said Twitter Director of U.S. Brand Strategy Ross Hoffman.
Twitter and Facebook are hoping that by executing memorable real-time ads with a more precise way to reach consumers will be an additional tool in their long-time efforts to grab a bigger slice of the estimated $66 billion television advertising pie.
Many marketers are also turning to digital platforms, including YouTube.
While many agencies executives said social networks do not necessarily charge more for ads during tent pole events, total spending rises as advertisers target more people.
This year, NBC is charging a record $4.5 million on average for a 30-second commercial. So far the network, a division of Comcast Corp, has sold 95 percent of the game's inventory.
When the $5 million to $10 million cost to produce a TV commercial is factored in, digital advertising looks even more attractive.
"It's a much more complicated ecosystem than 2 years ago," said Winston Binch, partner, chief digital officer Deutsch North America. His firm created the iconic "The Force" Super Bowl TV ad featuring a little kid dressed up as Star Wars character Darth Vader in 2011 for Volkswagen <VOWG_p.DE>, which is not airing a spot this year.
"The price tag keeps going up. It's not an easy decision now for big brands," he said.
(Reporting by Jennifer Saba in New York and Alexei Oreskovic in San Francisco; Editing by Peter Henderson and Richard Chang)