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Old Milwaukee's End Run Around Super Bowl Advertising

Old Milwaukee used a tiny ad buy to get big social media buzz

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 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.