Why brands are using in-house agencies for Super Bowl work

In-house creative teams at advertisers may play a bigger role in Super Bowl advertising this year.

Procter & Gamble will air a pregame spot for its Secret brand on Super Bowl Sunday that was conceptualized, written and cast by its in-house creative team. The in-house team also had a hand in the editing, graphic design and revisions of the spot.

Since this past July, the Secret Deodorant team at P&G has been managing most of its own creative work as well as its media planning and buying duties in-house. Doing so has allowed the team to move at a greater speed and be more cost-efficient, according to Sara Saunders, associate brand director for Secret Deodorant. The speed and efficiency demonstrated thus far has already proved that it’s easy for this in-house team to handle its Super Bowl campaign, she said.

“We really wanted to try it out and see how it would work,” Saunders said. “In the end, the planning process was very accelerated. This whole process was six weeks from concept to shoot. That’s one of the benefits of having a team in-house: We were able to go from idea into execution very rapidly.”

Other companies are turning to their in-house teams for Super Bowl ad preparation as well. Verizon’s in-house agency, 140, will manage on-the-ground social media content captures and marketing for the company during the Super Bowl: Verizon plans to show off its network’s 5G capabilities by providing a special dome experience  for attendees at the stadium. Nonetheless, Verizon is also working this year with several agencies on its Super Bowl efforts, including McCann for its television advertising and R/GA for its digital strategy.

Volvo has been using its in-house team to manage its Super Bowl Sweepstakes, in which the carmaker offers a chance to win a car if a safety is scored during the game.

Advertising observers may have anticipated that in-house teams have a bigger role this year in Super Bowl marketing efforts. In recent years, companies big and small have added in-house resources to help manage either creative, media buying and planning or social media duties. More than 78% of the member companies belonging to the Association of National Advertisers have in-house agencies, according to its 2018 report. That’s an increase from 58% of members in 2013.

At the same time, marketing for the Super Bowl is much more expansive in its range of activities than before; this factor can make it more attractive for marketers to tap internal resources to help manage the advertising duties and keep costs low. And creating a larger campaign is more expensive sousing in-house resources can help reduce the costs. (After all, Fox is selling 30-second spots this year, for as much as $5.6 million for Adweek reported.)

“It’s not just about having a clever script for a commercial anymore,” said brand consultant Allen Adamson, co-founder of Metaforce. “Now, programs are more integrated with sales and social media rather than just a traditional media buy by an ad agency for a spot during the game.

Adamson said, “When [a campaign is] more deeply integrated [with] social or other activities, it’s more complicated to execute, and oftentimes it’s taken in-house because lots of folks in the organization need to get involved.”

Along with tapping external agency partners, Verizon needed 30 to 50 members of its 186-employee in-house team to help “thread together” its various Super Bowl efforts, said Andrew McKechnie, Verizon’s chief creative officer. The in-house team members also worked on Super Bowl marketing tasks last year but this year will be doing more social media narrative and content development because the company now has a larger social media content team.

The in-house team at Volvo repurposed assets previously created by its agency partners in previous years to run its Super Bowl sweepstakes. The carmaker made the decision to use the in-house team for reasons of speed, according to Jim Nichols, Volvo Car USA’s senior manager of product, tech and brand communications. “Our agencies are head down on a lot of different larger projects,” he said. “The scope of what our teams do [for this initiative] is relatively small, so we used what we have internally.”

Secret Deodorant’s in-house team, which is based in Cincinnati, had no trouble shooting the spot in that city and using P&G employees and their families as extras; the use of employees as extras likely helped keep costs low. “This particular spot is about one-tenth of the cost of a traditional agency spot,” said Saunders. “It would be woefully below [the price for] other Super Bowl ads  produced.”

While cost was a consideration for the Secret Deodorant campaign, it wasn’t a big factor for Verizon’s or Volvo’s Super Bowl efforts. The companies declined to share whether their use of in-house resources helped them save money on Super Bowl advertising. Instead, representatives of both companies expressed that they were using what was available to them because this helped streamline the process or bolstered the overall effort.

Some agency executives might take issue with this. “If they built an in-house team, that team is probably keen to do the Super Bowl and pushing to be able to do it,” Adamson said. “But it’s risky for clients to do Super Bowl advertising in-house because you can get myopic, and Super Bowl advertising is already risky. If you do it in-house, it adds another dimension of risk.”

Tim Smith, president of independent full-service agency Chemistry, concurred.  “If you’re so inundated with the culture of the company, you kind of get in that bubble,” he said. “Agencies are able to see more trends and bring in new ideas. If you’re going to spend millions to get the Super Bowl audience, that’s probably not the time to do discount production.”


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