To build interest in its Super Bowl commercial well before the big game, Mercedes-Benz has unleashed a colorful cast of characters -- NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, Playboy bunny Stephanie Branton and a smart-mouthed hare -- on TV and YouTube.
Mercedes' strategy of building an elaborate pregame hype machine reflects a growing trend among Super Bowl advertisers: To get the most bang for the buck from the biggest advertising event of the year, use social media early and often -- emphasis on "early."
"You're going to exploit [the game spot] with a whole program built around it outside of the game itself," said Drew Slaven, vice president of marketing for Mercedes-Benz. "That's why we have put so much more work and effort this go-around in what is the primer into the spot itself."
Thirty-second commercials during the game cost $4.5 million this year, excluding production costs. Experts say keeping quiet until game day to build suspense limits the reach of the expensive mini-productions.
YouTube has been ground zero for pregame marketing -- for good reason. In 2014, aggregate watch time of Super Bowl commercials and teasers on YouTube almost doubled to 6.3 million hours from 2013, according to the site.
Of the 379 million views that Super Bowl content garnered on YouTube last year, more than 40 percent came before game day.
In addition, commercials that were posted on YouTube before airing during the Super Bowl generated 2.5 times more views than those released on game day.
"As an automotive manufacturer, do not think of the Super Bowl as a single point in time on Feb. 1. That's not where the energy and excitement is," said Suzie Reider, Google's managing director of brand solutions. Google owns YouTube.
"The energy is around the lead-up," she added. "Then, sure, you have a spike on game day. Then [more] energy comes after. Seventy-five percent [of views] happen before or after the game."
Toyota Division started its Super Bowl XLIX ad offensive several weeks ago with YouTube videos featuring double-amputee snowboarder Amy Purdy and good dads of the NFL, such as retired NFL quarterback Kurt Warner and former linebacker LaVar Arrington.
The videos reinforce Toyota's "One Bold Choice Leads to Another" marketing theme for the Camry sedan.
Toyota is trying to boost the campaign's messaging on Twitter by asking people to tweet photos of their dads using the hashtag #OneBoldChoice.