By Barry Janoff
November 26, 2012: In football, the term "Take it to the house" refers to a great play that oftentimes results in a touchdown.
Century 21 managed to take its Super Bowl XLVI commercial to the house, a successful double-entendre for a real estate company whose bottom-line strategy is to sell homes.
The Parsippany,NJ-based Century 21's first Super Bowl commercial in the company's 40-year history translated into winning numbers: Total leads climbed 20% year-to-date (through October) and Web site traffic year-to-date was up more than 40% versus industry Web site growth rate of 4%, according to Bev Thorne, Century 21's CMO.
In addition, the presence in the commercial of Donald Trump, Apolo Ohno and Deion Sanders was a catalyst for1.3 billion media impressions for the brand.
Century 21 used its "Smarter. Bolder. Faster." mantra to showcase its real estate agents, and then used the Super Bowl XLVI broadcast — which attracted a record-setting average of more than 111 viewers — to jump-start other sports-related activation.
In 2012, that included media buys during the Summer Olympics, horse racing's Triple Crown and an official alliance with the men's and women's national soccer teams that will continue to build through the 2014 FIFA Men's World Cup and the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. leading to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Century 21 has committed to a 30-second media buy during the Super Bowl XLVII broadcast on CBS plus sponsorship of pre-game programming on Feb. 3, 2013.
Still, using the Super Bowl to advance the company's strategy did not come without some apprehension and late-night jitters about the amount of money being spent and the message being sent.
With the 2012 NFL season entering its last weeks and the playoffs and Super Bowl fast approaching, NYSportsJournalism spoke with Bev Thorne about the risks and rewards of buying real estate on Super Bowl Sunday.
NYSportsJournalism.com: Coming into 2012, your strategy was to use the Super Bowl XLVI commercial as a catalyst for other activations that would help to get Century 21 on a public stage. Did you accomplish this?
Bev Thorne: It worked out to the best that we could have hoped for in so many ways. We have seen very strong results, not just numerically, not just quantitively but qualitatively as well. We found ourselves in the middle of the most-watched Super Bowl ever and the single-most watched event of the year with more than 111 million viewers. Our ad was in the third quarter, and that was a point in the game where the viewership spiked up. It turned out to be a great game, which helped our positioning. That truly did kick off some real visibility and awareness of our Century 21 agents, as evidenced by what we saw following that.
NYSJ: What did you learn from your rookie year in the Super Bowl?
BT: The most important lesson that I learned was whether it's your first time or your 15th, you have to get it right. We learned that some of the calculated risks we took did indeed turn out to our benefit. So many of the things that we were hypothesizing going into the game proved to be affirmed. If there is one area that we are uniquely focused on, as we were last year, and that we have a heightened sensitivity to, it's our creative. We want the delivery of our creative to properly positions our agents front and center and properly captivates the audience.
"Whether it's your first time or your 15th, you have to get it right. We learned that some of the calculated risks we took did indeed turn out to our benefit."
NYSJ: Was there an immediate spike after the game or have the effects been longer-lasting?
BT: At the end of the day, we are in business to close transactions. However, we did not expect our TV spot during Super Bowl XLVI to drive up our transactions. You do not buy a home because you see an ad on TV. For us, it was a brand-preference play. Here we are in November and we are still seeing some great benefits from it. I won't say it was totally attributed to the Super Bowl advertising; it was many things combined.
NYSJ: What specific numbers have pleased you?
BT: We have seen our total leads year-to-date climb 20%. Our Web site traffic year-to-date is up more than 40%. That is phenomenal because the industry Web site growth rate is 4% through October. So viewership to our Web site is far outpacing the growth across all real estate industry Web sites. So we believe that the buzz and the conversation that began at the Super Bowl enabled us to carry through with many other activities, advertising, tools and other activations that have taken us to where we are today.
NYSJ: Is there anything that surprised you about your rookie Super Bowl experience?
BT: I wouldn't call it a surprise. But whenever you bring a celebrity into the equation, there will always be supporters and there will always be detractors. But that is what helps to create conversation. Donald Trump is a polarizing figure in many way, and his presence clearly created a buzz and lots of conversation around the Century 21 brand. Where we surprised by that? No. But it was an interesting thing to note.
NYSJ: Aren't Century 21 and other brands who use Donald Trump or other celebrities who generate controversy aware of that going into their alliances?
BT: Certainly. We knew that Donald would create conversation. Our eyes were wide open. But we also knew that for better or worse, he did represent an iconic figure in real estate. People think he's smart in real estate. So that was a perfect for us to position our agents as 'smarter' than someone who is viewed as being smart about real estate. The same for Deion Sanders, who clearly is known as being bold, and is also in the football space. And with Apolo Ohno being a fast Olympic athlete, we were able to play off the 'faster' aspect for our agents.
NYSJ: Not that he needs the work or another agent, but would you recommend that other companies use Donald Trump?
BT: [Laughs.] I don't need to do that. What I do know is that using him worked very much to our advantage in terms of providing earned media. Donald was a terrific catalyst for us in that aspect.
NYSJ: How long after Super Bowl XLVI did Century 21 decide to buy time during the Super Bowl XLVII broadcast?
BT: It was definitely not right after Super Bowl XLVI. We waited six months before we took any glance at what was happening with all of the key indicator metrics. After that point, I'd say it was late summer, early fall before we made the decision regarding Super Bowl XLVII.
NYSJ: Why wait that long?
BT: We purposely wanted to wait and watch what would happen with the numbers. What we were looking to do [during Super Bowl XLVI] was what we always look to do with that type of national advertising: Be in the middle of the conversation and be visible to those consumers who are considering a home purchase or a sale. So we have a lot of leading indicators that we look at. We wanted to see what type of traffic we got to the Web site. We wanted to see what type of leads we would get. And we did want to see what happened with closed transactions.
NYSJ: How would you assess Century 21's moves in that category, which started with the Super Bowl and included the Olympics, the men's and women's national soccer teams and other sports alliances?
BT: Our strategy is not necessarily sports-oriented, but sports happen to be in the middle of our strategy. Our strategy is to associate our brand with iconic appointment media events, such as the Super Bowl, the Olympics and the World Cup. What's great about the Super Bowl is that there is no bigger stage. There is no bigger audience. The Super Bowl is the last great campfire for the American family. Consumers come together in households across America to share a common experience. I can’t think of a better place to tell our brand’s story.
NYSJ: How do the Olympics and World Cup hold up to Century 21's definition of iconic appointment media events
BT: Aligning with the Olympics, with the men's and women's soccer teams, they were all beneficial to our overall brand strategy. We could not have been more pleased with those buys. Clearly, the effects of trust is based on two things: First, is the benefit greater than the cost? In this case, the benefit was overwhelmingly greater than the cost. Second, are we positively positioning our agents and their 'smarter, bold, faster' attributes in front of consumers who are considering purchasing or selling a home? And we are doing that in a big way, as well.
NYSJ: Your ad was in the third quarter during Super Bowl XLVI and you again are in the third quarter during Super Bowl XLVII. Is that by choice?
BT: Yes. We chose to be there. I could opine for an hour on the pros and cons of each quarter. We had our choice and we chose the third quarter. Where we were last Super Bowl worked out exceedingly well. I believe New England was leading the Giants 10-9 at the half, and they were still leading [17-15] at the end of the [third] quarter. So not only weren't viewers leaving, but more were tuning in.
NYSJ: Would you have expected that response had the game been a blowout at halftime?
BT: We actually have made a change this year, even though we are still in the third quarter. During Super Bowl XLVI, we were at the end of the third quarter, somewhat knowingly I would say in retrospect. [Laughs.] This year we will be very early in the third quarter, actually toward the end of the first pod after the halftime break [with Beyonce, pictured]. So with everything, you want to try, you want to learn. We think and are hoping that this will give us even greater visibility in front of the viewing audience. We believe there will be a lot of return viewers right after halftime, which is why we moved to that spot. Of course, if the game is a blowout by halftime, you can never predict what the viewing numbers will be.
NYSJ: You are good at not giving away hints regarding your creative, but will there be any celebrities in the upcoming commercial?
BT: [Laughs.] No sneak peeks. What I will tell you is that there are definitely pros and cons to using celebrities. We took a calculated risk and were very pleased with the return. The celebrities helped us to get phenomenal earned media. But the risk for us to weigh this year is do we continue to do that or do we position the Century 21 agents as the celebrities worthy of earned media on his or her own. You'll have to tune in for that answer.
"There are definitely pros and cons to using celebrities. We took a calculated risk and were very pleased with the return."
NYSJ: When will you break the creative details?
BT: Probably the tail end of January is what is looking good right now.
NYSJ: Are celebrities, athletes and/or their agents now asking to be in your commercials?
BT: That's interesting. The celebrities don't really hang out where I do. [Laughs.] But, yes, there is more visibility for Century 21 in that regard, more inquiries from organizations [who represent celebrities and athletes].
NYSJ: Do you see this year's Super Bowl spot as being a driver for your 2013 marketing?
BT: Yes. It will again be a catalyst, as was the commercial in Super Bowl XLVI. We are very interested in deepening and broadening our relationship with the men's and women's U.S. National Soccer Teams. So you will see more activation for that relationship across our system.
NYSJ: How visible will Century 21 be during the qualifying matches for the 2014 men's FIFA World Cup and other tournaments and matches involving the U.S. National Soccer Teams?
BT: We are working on details, but you will see Century 21 involved in far more than signage in a stadium. Soccer is a great sport to reach our target demographics and in which to showcase our 'smarter, bolder, faster' agents along with the players themselves. The men's team was in a great position to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. But unfortunately, they didn't. The women did win the gold medal. You know, the women always tend to carry the day. But looking ahead, we plan to be prominent supporters of the men's team as they move toward the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the women's World Cup in 2015 and then the men's and women's team as they try to quality for the 2016 Summer Games (in Rio de Janeiro).
NYSJ: Were the Century 21 agents happy with the commercial and the way in which they were pictured?
BT: You would have to ask them. But I can tell you that I believe they were, and that time made them even happier. Like any group of people, they had varying opinions about the celebrities who were chosen. Did they all like Donald? As with any group of people sitting around in their living room, probably not. But at the end of the day, the measure is did it help to grow their business? And the answer is yes. I think overall they were pleased and continue to be pleased to this day with the results from that advertising.
NYSJ: Changing the topic only slightly, I know you are a fan of the Green Bay Packers. What did you think about that last play in the game against the Seattle Seahawks with the replacement refs?
BT: [Laughs.] Don't get me started on that. You know, a few weeks after that game, I had the opportunity to meet with Herm Edwards (ESPN football analyst). It was incredibly interesting from the human-interest perspective to hear his viewpoint on that. And it was his belief that it was literally the reason that the union came back.
NYSJ: Do you think the Packers have a shot at the Super Bowl?
BT: [Laughs.] They should have made it last season! They were 15-1 and lost to the Giants [in the NFC divisional playoffs]. But I like their chances this season. They were 2-3, but Aaron Rodgers and the team came back. I think they will have to hold off the [Chicago] Bears to win the division. But they certainly are in the running.
NYSJ: So would one of your dream scenarios would be for the Packers to be in the Super Bowl and in a very close game in the third quarter when the Century 21 commercial airs, and then have them win big after that?
BT: Yes, that would be one of them!
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