Super Bowl advertisers are learning the art of the tease.
Supermodel Kate Upton appears in an online Mercedes-Benz video in a low-cut top. An unknown man wakes up with his face covered in smeared lipstick and his hands bound in furry handcuffs in a Gildan Activewear clip. And 30 Rock star Tracy Morgan seemingly curses in a spot for Kraft's Mio flavored drops.
"Hey, can you say (bleep) on TV?" he says in the spot titled Bleep.
Super Bowl advertisers no longer are keeping spots a secret until the Big Game. They're releasing online snippets of their ads or longer video trailers that allude to the spot that will run Sunday.
It's an effort to squeeze more publicity out of advertising's biggest stage by creating pregame buzz. Advertisers are shelling out $4 million to get their 30-second spots in front of the 111 million viewers expected to tune in to the game. But they're looking for ways to reach even more people: About half of the more than 30 advertisers are expected to have teaser ads this year, up from 10 last year, according to Hulu, which aggregates Super Bowl ads on its AdZone website.
"It's a great way to pique people's interest," said Paul Chibe, chief marketing officer at Anheuser-Busch, which introduced snippets of one of its Super Bowl ads showing a woman in a shiny dress striding down a hallway with a beer. "If you create expectations before the game, people will want to look for your ad in the telecast."
There's an art to teasers. Each spot, which can run from a few seconds to over a minute long, is intended to drive up hype by giving viewers clues about their Super Bowl Sunday ads. But the key is to not give too much away. So marketers must walk a fine line between revealing too much and revealing too little about their Super Bowl ads.
Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed said introducing a teaser helps people feel as if they're "in the know" about the Super Bowl ad before it airs. The company's teaser shows an elderly man, who is also the star of its Super Bowl ad, doing wheelies in a scooter on a football field.
"On game day, we want people to say, 'Shh, shh, shh. Here comes the ad,' " he says.
Some companies have been successful using Super Bowl teasers in the past. Last year, Volkswagen's teaser that showed dogs barking The Imperial March from the Star Wars movie was a hit. Both the teaser and the Super Bowl ad itself received about 16 million views on YouTube.com.
But no matter how carefully marketers try to control pregame buzz, sometimes it gets away from them. Volkswagen, following its past success with The Imperial March, teaser, is facing some backlash this year.
On Monday, it released its Super Bowl ad showing a Minnesota office worker who adopts a Jamaican accent because he's so happy with his car. Some online columnists called it culturally insensitive since it shows a white man adopting an accent associated with black Jamaicans.
Volkswagen responded that the accent is intended to convey a "relaxed cheerful demeanor."
Still, some ad experts say by releasing the ad early, Volkswagen might have spared itself backlash later. After all, now it has time to tinker with the spot before it airs.