Here in New York last week, digital media and advertising commentators were all talking about the role that digital and in particular, social media, was going to play during the Super Bowl TV ad breaks. With advertisers paying about $3.5 million for a slot, this has been another record year for TV ad revenue and the show was the most watched TV event in American History.

Sunday night was going to be #Hashtag-Heaven, we were told – or at least a #FacebookFrenzy, with brands falling over themselves to drive people off their 47 inch flatscreens and onto their other devices – the so-called ‘second screen’. So you’d think that the ad execs would have thought the web in all its forms – mobile, tablet and laptop – would be the place to go make sure they extended the reach and level of audience engagement worthy of such an expensive commodity. 

You’d be wrong. 

Monday’s industry blogs have been suggesting that brands should be praised for not ‘drinking the social media cool-aid.’ Hashtags represent a waste of time said Drew Olandoff from The Next Web; “…there’s absolutely no way I’m going to ask millions of people to use a hashtag. There’s just no context to be had there and nothing to be gained”

But what the commentators are missing is that a successful social media strategy does not begin and end with Facebook and Twitter. Rather it manifests itself most effectively when embedded in the behaviour that the brand exhibits. When used effectively as part of a well integrated plan it’s about being useful or entertaining. They need to create a compelling reason why people absolutely have to right now this minute reach over their chicken wings and beers and reach for their second screen to call up or act on that ad they’ve just seen.

According to research done by the Altimeter Group, although most ads promoted an online destination of some sort- only 16% of them promoted a call to action in what could be described as a social media space and a third had no online call to action whatsoever.

The real point here is not whether or not the TV spots drove people online –it’s about what value proposition did or didn’t await them there. Most of the TV ads that featured any online call to action at all simply encouraged people to go to the corporate website, but what would be in it for the viewers if they did? There’s been plenty of debate over who had the best or worst ad, but the point is why go out and splash $3.5 million on your 30 second spot without using social media to amplify its effect?

One of the best examples of a wasted opportunity came in the form of Budweiser commercial from Anomaly – an agency usually vaunted for its clever thinking. The ad featured a mashup of the Cult’s 1985 rock classic She Sells Sanctuary with Flo Rida’s track Good Feeling. Unfortunately the agency failed to score as there was no meaningful integration with an online strategy. Of the hundreds of millions watching, you can bet a fair few would’ve head to Google to locate the song, feet still tapping. Yet what they would have found was digital tumbleweed.

Apart from a few Cult fanzine sites, several weeks old, that announced that the ad was going to be aired, there appeared to be no strategy for using the creative assets to their full potential. What came as a big surprise was there was no corporate presence against any of the relevant searches from Budweiser – no ‘official version’ of the song or even a teaser announcing its forthcoming release. There was no iTunes link and not so much as a mention of the remixer who’s thought to combine these two tracks. They could have created something that had further reach and would drive consumers back to their own online space. As of today, they still haven’t capitalised on that.

As a contrast, look at Sony’s Bravia TV launch in 2005. Their campaign went beyond their colourful ‘bouncing balls’ commercial. It featured a fully integrated microsite which had the Jose Gonzalez track freely available for download as well as a host of other goodies such as a screensaver and behind-the-scenes footage of the ad’s filming. So effective was this approach that it generated a vast amount of online buzz and huge volume of inbound links to the site which contributed to them ranking number 1 in Google for the term “advert”. The only shame is that they didn’t keep the microsite live or even better create it on a subdomain of the main Sony site, so only the wayback machine can show us a hint of what they did.

Above all, what this lack of integration shows is that there’s still a divide between Madison Avenue and Mountain View. Both agencies and advertisers were too cautious to try and mix things up, or more likely too stuck in their old planning models. This is bizarre because despite the fact that the event itself broke a new record for the number of tweets per second, very few brands actually capitalized on the second screen opportunity that presented itself better than Eli Manning’s pass to his wide receiver in the fourth quarter. 

Perhaps like the New England Patriots’ quarterback, Tom Brady, the brand managers and CMOs will come to rue missed opportunities to get the most from this uniquely old fashioned spend-fest. In hindsight we can all see ways things can be improved and as the old adage goes it’s certainly easier to critique than create, but surely it wouldn’t have taken much to link a well designed digital experience to the TV spots? 

Econsultancy’s JUMP (Joined Up Marketing Perspectives) conference launches in New York on May 23, 2012. If you want to learn how to create more integrated campaigns and build connected brands, come join us at JUMP. We might even buy you a Budweiser…