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Confessions From Super Bowl Advertising Quality Control

With a price tag of $5 million for a 30-second spot, it’s a no-brainer that quality control is top of mind for Super Bowl advertisers. So for the last six years, I’ve been on-site all week at the network that carries the game, as Extreme Reach’s VP of video network & support, making sure that all spots are delivered and aired without any issues. To think that the first year, I actually had to convince one of the networks that being on-site was a good idea, makes me chuckle.

The setup is simple - the network gives me some space by the commercial or media operations department and I keep track of all the Super Bowl spots that come in through Extreme Reach, which this year accounted for 73% of all advertisers. Every time the network identifies an issue, they pull me in so that I can see it and then initiate the process of reviewing the master copy and coordinating the effort of getting a replacement spot or an approval to air as-is.

Even though the networks aim to get the spots in one to three weeks before the Super Bowl (depending on the network), most spots actually arrive after the deadline. It's not until Saturday or Sunday that everything is in place and completely locked down. The week before game day, clients come in to watch their spots in a control room to make sure that everything looks and sounds as it should. Sometimes, issues are identified during the viewing – it can be an audio issue, a closed captioning issue, or sometimes even a video issue. This year 33% of spots we received had an issue that needed to be fixed before the big day.

Related: Fox Sports: Super Bowl LI Most-Viewed U.S. Program Ever

One of my jobs every year is to educate clients on what can and cannot fly when it comes to technical specifications for the Super Bowl. For example, every year, without fail, clients provide spots that don't have average audio loudness at the required -24 LKFS. People still try to get away with a louder
-22 or -23 LKFS. This year the network had the added excitement of dealing with a live ad. The brand had a backup spot ready to go should any technical issues prevent the live ad from airing and Extreme Reach delivered that backup spot. Like overtime ads in every other year, the backup for the live spot was not needed.

I was on-site until 1 a.m. on Sunday this year dealing with some last-minute issues, and then on Sunday morning there was a new spot that could have meant more work if there was an issue with the spot.

A couple of years ago, I almost had to go back in on game day because a client wanted to create an overtime spot. In the end they decided not to go through with it. If that had been this year, the brand would have sorely missed out, as four advertisers were lucky enough to have their spots shown during the first overtime in Super Bowl history (Extreme Reach delivered 3 out of the 4 overtime spots that aired).

Related: Kantar Media: Super Bowl LI Was Second Most Cluttered Game

Last year, as I was walking out of my hotel on Super Bowl Sunday morning, I received an email from the network saying that a spot was missing closed captioning. I spent all morning talking to the network, our video account management team, our operations team and the client to get it done. By 1:30 p.m., the spot was at the network and I was able to go to lunch knowing it was all set.

With $5 million on the line for every 30-second spot, there is a lot of pressure to make sure that everything goes perfectly. I won’t say I’m under as much pressure as Tom Brady, but I can’t help thinking there’s a lot riding on me not dropping the ball.