Like many of its deeper-pocketed rivals, Old Milwaukee beer rolled out a new TV commercial on Super Bowl Sunday. The ad featured a celebrity endorsement of sorts from comedian Will Ferrell. But rather than targeting all of the 111.3 million viewers that Nielsen (NLSN) estimates tuned in to NBC stations and affiliates for the Nov. 5 gridiron championship, the Old Milwaukee spot aired in front of a tiny subgroup—those watching the Super Bowl on NBC affiliate KNOP-TV 2 in the country’s second-smallest TV market, North Platte, Neb.
The 30-second commercial, against a stirring soundtrack, features a single shot of Ferrell in a pair of shorts, striding through a field toward the camera. He catches a can of Old Milwaukee that is tossed to him; just as he opens it, the commercial ends abruptly. Only a relative handful of huskers saw the spot’s original TV broadcast. Nielsen estimates that during the 2011-2012 season, North Platte (the hometown of New England Patriots running back Danny Woodhead) consisted of just 15,180 TV homes. Yet the Old Milwaukee ad managed to outperform some of the commercials broadcast nationally during the game in an increasingly important metric of Super Bowl advertising bragging rights: chatter on social-media networks.
According to a post-Super Bowl tally by the Boston-based ad agency Mullen, Ferrell’s Old Milwaukee ad generated 1,640 mentions on Twitter. That’s significantly more buzz than was created by some of the nationally broadcast spots, including ones for Cadillac (345 tweets), Century 21 (520), Lexus (922), CareerBuilder (1,001), and Hulu (1,191). After the game a user who goes by the name of Daddymcc uploaded a low-quality copy of the Ferrell commercial onto Google’s (GOOG) YouTube, which Old Milwaukee’s official Facebook page subsequently linked to its followers. The ad has since been viewed 760,000 times. By comparison, Budweiser’s (BUD) slickly produced Eternal Optimism Super Bowl spot has been viewed on YouTube some 320,000 times.
All this means that Old Milwaukee managed to piggyback on the wave of Internet attention surrounding Super Bowl ads while ponying up a fraction of the traditional buy-in cost. This year, according to NBC, the average 30-second national ad slot during the big game sold for roughly $3.5 million. Lewys Carlini, the general manager of KNOP, says that during this year’s Super Bowl, advertisers tended to pay in the range of $700 to $1,500 for 30 seconds of local North Platte airtime.
In May 2010, billionaire Dean Metropoulos and his sons, Daren and Evan Metropoulos, bought Old Milwaukee as part of a broader $250 million purchase of Pabst Brewing, which also includes the suds brands Colt 45, Schlitz, Schaefer, and Stroh’s. The Metropoulos family, who had vowed to steer clear of traditional celebrity brand endorsements, then signed a deal with Ferrell’s production company Funny or Die to create a series of humorous Web and TV sketches incorporating Pabst products. Martin Lesak, an agent with Creative Artists Agency, brokered the deal. Ferrell has since appeared in a number of low-budget Old Milwaukee ads that have appeared only in small, local TV markets, including Davenport, Iowa, and Terre Haute, Ind.—but also managed to find larger audiences on the Web.
“The Old Milwaukee campaign featuring Will Ferrell, as a whole, is about paying homage to great Old Milwaukee towns,” Daren and Evan Metropoulos said in a statement. “North Platte, Neb., is just another one of those towns and what goes better with football than Old Milwaukee beer? The ads with Will Ferrell are extremely popular, which just shows you don’t need to spend millions of dollars to make a big impression.”
The bottom line: Old Milwaukee spent $1,500 to broadcast a Super Bowl spot that’s generated more social media buzz than rivals’ $3 million commercials.