Super Bowl ads are now a game of their own.
On Sunday, as the New England Patriots face the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, Coca-Cola’s animated polar bears will ask fans to upload photos to a Facebook page; commercials for Web company GoDaddy.com will flash a QR code - one of those black and white symbols that link smartphone users to Internet pages - to lead viewers to the Web company’s website; and Chevrolet will invite fans to search for clues in the carmaker’s TV commercial, and maybe win a new car.
Interactive commercials will appear throughout this year’s Super Bowl in an advertising strategy that represents “a huge shift - and you are seeing it a lot this year,’’ said Kevin Daley, group creative director at Boston ad agency Hill Holliday.
Advertisers are shelling out an average of $3.5 million for each 30-second Super Bowl spot, and they want the most bang for those big bucks. The interactive game plan: Engage the flocks of fans expected to watch the Super Bowl with second screens in their hands - smartphones, laptops, or tablet computers like the iPad. Interactive commercials will ask fans to scan a QR code with their smartphone, join a Facebook page, become a brand’s Twitter follower, or use sound-recognition app Shazam to see bonus content.
For advertisers, interactive ads “extend their brand message,’’ said Geoff Klapisch, a Boston University advertising professor. “This is the only program on television that people are watching for the commercials. It’s very easy to grab your smartphone and pop in a hashtag and see where it takes you. So pay attention!’’
The time is right for such ads, said Suffolk University professor Susan Alessandri, because people are watching television differently than they did years ago. One report by ratings research company Nielsen found that 40 percent of smartphone and tablet owners use their devices while they watch TV.
Alessandri, who watches TV with her iPad by her side, said a QR code or a Twitter hashtag shown during a commercial “raises a level of engagement with people. The more you can get them to interact with your brand, the better the recall. . ..That is just an incredible opportunity [for advertisers.]’’
Take Chevrolet, for example. The carmaker has been inviting Super Bowl fans to download an application called “Chevy Game Time,’’ which can be used to spot clues in its Super Bowl ad for a chance to win a new car or other prizes.
Coca-Cola is placing its computer-animated polar bear mascots in an online video stream during the game. Different groups of bears will be shown cheering for each team, posting updates, and asking viewers to send in personal photos during the game.
Volkswagen of America has created a Facebook page with its new Super Bowl commercial and a feature called “Intergalactic Invite,’’ which allows folks to send their friends Star Wars-themed e-vites to come over and watch the game.
“The strategy is about entertaining and creating conversation,’’ said Brian Chee, manager for Volkswagen digital marketing.
By using interactive teasers and apps before the game, companies can build buzz, said Joe Grimaldi, chief executive of Boston ad agency Mullen. The agency is working with Boston.com, the Boston Globe’s free website, on Brand Bowl 2012, a social media event that will study Twitter comments to rank the more popular Super Bowl ads even as the game is being played. Boston.com will offer online buttons that viewers can use to join in with their own tweets.
Brett Leary, vice president of mobile marketing at Boston-based ad agency Digitas, said that while interactive ads offer broader exposure than a simple TV spot, there’s a potential drawback for the unsuspecting viewer.
“Consumers may not be expecting it, and may have to react quickly,’’ said Leary. “How quickly can I get my phone out of my pocket, focus, and have that work? The worse thing that can happen is that we interact with one of these experiences and it doesn’t work.’’
Johnny Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.