By Paul Sandle
CANNES France (Reuters) - Lacking the millions of dollars it costs to broadcast a Super Bowl ad, Britain's Newcastle Brown Ale gate-crashed the biggest advertising event in the United States by creating an archetypal big budget campaign that it never intended to run on television.
The Heineken-owned brand's beer commercials, which poked fun at the marketing tactics of rivals advertising in the American football championship game, ran on Facebook and Google's YouTube instead.
The stunt was a success, generating a similar level of online response as some brands that bought Super Bowl air time.
Brand director Quinn Kilbury said consumers had grown tired of big-budget advertising clichés, such as dramatic voice overs. "They love the fact Newcastle says it as it is," he said.
One video shows Hollywood actress Anna Kendrick talking about how she had been dumped by Newcastle Brown Ale because they were too cheap to pay for the ad.
The average cost of a 30-second spot in the Super Bowl – which this year was the most-watched U.S. television program in history with more than 111 million viewers – was around $4 million. Newcastle said its campaign cost "a fraction" of a Super Bowl ad, without specifying a number.
The Kendrick video attracted 63,336 shares across Facebook, Twitter and blogs, of which 56,116 came from Facebook alone, according to marketing technology company Unruly.
That would put it 19th in the ranking of online responses to Super Bowl ads, in front of Dannon Oikos Greek Yogurt but a long way behind first-ranked Budweiser, which was shared more than 1.9 million times, Unruly said.
Newcastle's campaign is held up by Facebook as an example of how the social network can help advertisers by getting hard-to-reach young consumers to engage with, share and talk about the brand.
It a message Facebook has taken to marketers at the Cannes Lions international advertising festival this week.
The social network will work with agencies and marketing departments to create campaigns that engaged users in different ways than television, said Mark D'Arcy, Facebook's Director of Global Creative Solutions.
"People have absolute freedom of movement across screens," he said. "So the thought that we are living in the 1990s and we have the ability to command and control somebody's attention span on any platform is crazy," he said.
Sales of Newcastle Brown Ale in the United States overtook its home British market around two years ago, the company said. The brand appeals to young U.S. city dwellers looking for an alternative to the big-name beers.
The spoof Super Bowl campaign was the latest in a series of online ads that "tell it like it is".
Brand advertising, which builds awareness of a product or service's name, has largely been confined to television, said Ian Maude from Enders Analysis.
"Television is the still the king of brand advertising," he said. "TV advertising is very robust. But younger audiences, aged 16-24 are shifting to digital devices, dominated by Facebook, YouTube and Instagram."
He said Facebook was pitching itself as a brand medium alongside television.
"In terms of the scale of the audience, they don't compare themselves to other digital media, they compare themselves to TV," he said. "They are gunning for brand advertising."
Facebook is looking to brand advertising to grow its sales, eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson said. The tech and media analyst group forecasts Facebook's advertising revenue will rise from $6.99 billion in 2013 to $10.75 billion this year, $14.01 billion in 2015 and $16.96 billion in 2016.
Kilbury said Newcastle's success was down to the creativity of the campaign, devised by its agency Droga5, which in turn was honed by Facebook's improved analytical tools.
"A year and a half ago it was difficult to get a readout in real time of how your posts were performing, but Facebook can legitimately tell us an hour after it posts, what's working here, who we are reaching, and who it is reaching the best," he said.
For Newcastle, another advantage of using Facebook was the ability to test and tweak ads, nearly in real time.
Changing the placing of the product shot, the number of words in the ad, or the opening image on a video affected the number of clicks an ad received or the number of times it was shared, Kilbury said.
"It's not so much the creative as the way you package the creative," he said.
But Facebook does not want to upset users. It is offering 15-second ads to play with the sound muted in newsfeeds in Britain, Brazil and five other countries. [ID:nL1N0O600S]
D'Arcy said people were foremost looking for relevance when consuming content on Facebook, and advertisers needed to work with this to build a brand on digital media.
"We have an ingrained sense of entitlement in the marketing industry that we have a right (to advertise)," he said.
The targeted approach, and the requirement to make ads fit with content, can be a disadvantage for marketers, looking for the big splash to millions of people at the same time, something that event television still provides.
"Big brands always look for big, splashy eye catching images that create an emotional pull," said eMarketers's Aho Williamson.
"On Facebook you can do so much targeting, it becomes a challenge for advertisers who are used to thinking in broad strokes."
(Editing by Louise Heavens)