Want to see Kate Upton in slow motion at a car wash on the big screen?
Better make a trek across the border this Super Bowl Sunday.
Millions of Canucks may tune in to watch the Baltimore Ravens play the San Francisco 49ers, or perhaps to see Beyonce shake it and belt it out at the halftime show -- but many also tune in for the splashy new commercials.
In fact, a Canadian Press survey from 2010 found there were more Canadian fans of the Super Bowl ads than the big game itself.
There’s one problem for Canadian ad enthusiasts: they won’t see the same buzz-worthy ads American viewers will.
NEW: Super Bowl 2013 Ads. Story continues below
It’s easy enough for Canucks to find the big U.S. ads on YouTube’s Super Bowl ad dedicated channel AdBlitz or elsewhere online, yet some living close to the border are apparently so intent on viewing the U.S. ads, they’re opting to buy over-the-air antennas and point them south.
But those solutions don’t answer the burning question: Why can’t we get those awesome Super Bowl ads in Canada?
Canadian broadcasters (this year it’s CTV) pay for the right to broadcast the big game, but not for the ads U.S. networks show. They sell their own ads, and they manage to get the rates they fetch for those slots by promising advertisers all of the Canadian viewers watching the Super Bowl.
That’s why even those Canucks who watch the game on a U.S. station won’t be able to see the American commercials. Those U.S. stations haven’t paid for the right to broadcast the Super Bowl in Canada, so their signals are replaced on cable with a Canadian signal. So even if you tune in to CBS, you’ll be watching a Canadian feed.
Signal substitution is a big deal to Canadian broadcasters and advertisers. The CRTC estimates the sales impact of substitution was about $200 million in 2010, the latest year for which it has data.
Canadians end up watching different commercials from those Americans see mainly because of the tightly-controlled fight for media rights to one of the world's most-watched events -- and what broadcasters and advertisers are willing to pay for that audience.
“In today’s fragmented media landscape, it’s almost the last truly mass media event, where you can actually hit that size of an audience with a message,” says Franke Rodriguez, president of ad firm Anomaly’s recently-opened Toronto office.
More than 100 million Americans tune into the Super Bowl. Last year’s event broke the record for the most watched program in American television history, with an estimated audience of 111.3 million.
Compare that to the estimated seven or eight million Canadians expected to tune into the game, and the reasons become clearer as to why advertising spots in the U.S. are a much bigger deal than north of the border.
A 30-second U.S. advertising slot during this year’s Super Bowl is rumoured to cost around $3.7 million.
In Canada, that same slot would cost about one-tenth of that -- around $400,000.
“Three or four million is a big budget in Canada, and to spend 10 per cent of that in one whack on something that doesn’t quite have the status as it does in the States means the advertisers look at it rather differently,” says Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University in Toronto.
“The event in Canada is less, but still big,” he says, adding that slots during commercial breaks are still an attractive “get” for Canadian advertisers.
“It’s got a status and a presence way beyond just a football game. Advertisers like being associated with that, especially if they’re doing one of two things -- either announcing a new product or starting off a major new ad campaign,” he said.
“It’s now a social media event as well, so you’ve got a lot of marketers who pre-release the ads in order to get buzz going.”
Still, Canadian ads “are never as huge or impressive or controversial as the U.S. ads,” he said.
Big advertisers always have the choice to pay an additional fee to air their commercials in Canada, and some do.
This year, U.S. nut producer Wonderful Pistachios will air, simultaneously in the U.S. and Canada, its first-ever Super Bowl spot, featuring viral sensation PSY singing his earworm-inducing hit “Gangnam Style.”
Other big players like Labatt Breweries owner Budweiser or McDonald's can afford to launch a separate ad campaign in Canada that they feel will appeal more to Canadian tastes.
“In general, it’s fair to say Canadian taste in, let’s call it the excessive, is slightly less,” Middleton said.
McDonald’s Canada will air a 60-second spot during the first quarter of the Canadian broadcast featuring frequently asked questions during its “Our Food. Your Questions” campaign, which is specific to Canada.
Canadian commercials, while not viewed by as many people, can also generate huge buzz online.
Last year, Rodriguez’s firm developed a spot for Labatt that depicted a flash mob descending on a beer league hockey game and cheering the players on, NHL-style. The commercial went viral and even had Americans lamenting they weren’t the first to see it, he said.
“People in America were sort of bummed, there were a lot of posts like ‘it was the best ad of the Super Bowl and it didn’t even run in the States.”
That commercial, he said, was one of the best his firm has ever done -- and he believes part of its success came from knowing your audience (hint: Canadians like hockey).
“If you’re a naive American you think Canada is the same,” said the native New Yorker who moved to Canada just last year.
“Once you come to Canada, at least it’s been my experience, it’s not I think Canadians and Americans are similar but culturally there are a lot of differences and smart brands like Budweiser take advantage of that.”
Sometimes Canadian networks can’t sell all of their spots, which is why viewers end up seeing many promos for the network’s new television shows.
CTV said it is “on track to meet all of its advertising objectives,” though it wouldn’t say how much of the advertising slots have been bought so far or how much it is charging for a 30-second spot.
It has lined up Labatt, General Motors Canada, Ford Canada, Nissan Canada and PepsiCo. as sponsors. Pepsi has confirmed it will air an “exclusively Canadian” slot for its Lay’s potato chip brand. CTV says other advertisers include A&W, Panago, Subway, Volkswagen, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Canada, and BlackBerry.
Canadians might be particularly curious to see what the new marketing campaign for new phones from the company known as RIM until earlier this week in what is being touted as a “make-or-break” moment for the Canadian corporate champion, which will also air its BlackBerry 10 commercial south of the border during the big game.