Winning the Super Bowl is the apex of a career for most NFL players.
The big game is equally important to the large corporations and up-and-coming businesses willing to spend millions — $3.8 million for a 30-second spot this year — on product promotion.
"We all want to break through. This is a big bet," said Michael Pavone, president and CEO of Pavone Marketing Group Inc., a Harrisburg-based public relations and marketing firm that launched a real-time Super Bowl commercial voting poll called SpotBowl in 2004.
In 10 years, SpotBowl has grown from a small local poll with a few thousand votes to the nation's largest Super Bowl advertisement poll.
"It's become a reflection of America," Pavone said of the poll, which has tracked advertising in the post-9/11 war era and seen the fall and rise of the American automotive industry.
SpotBowl has become a strong platform for advertisers looking to maximize product exposure as many Super Bowl spots appear ahead of the game.
At the same time, that big idea has facilitated steady growth at Pavone and thrust the firm into the national spotlight.
Company representatives perform 100 or more annual radio interviews around the Super Bowl, and the site has attracted print attention in markets across the country.
"It's our Christmas and Oscars all in one," said David Shoffner, the firm's senior public relations strategist.
The media attention is one of the bigger residual benefits, he said, because it has morphed beyond just SpotBowl.
"That benefits the entire public relations team. It benefits our clients, too," Shoffner said.
When Pavone started SpotBowl in 2004, it had 24 employees. Today it has 55 on staff.
Much of that growth can be attributed to SpotBowl. It has proven to be a good digital testing ground for the firm, Pavone said.
"It's a demonstration of how we can create a brand," he said.
"It was the first time we created a blog for any client, including ourselves," Shoffner said of the SpotBowl blog, which launched in 2005.
To date, the Turkey Hill blog has been viewed more than five million times, according to Pavone.
A few years ago, Pavone launched an experts page on SpotBowl, where clients and prospective companies — the Coca-Cola Co. and the Kraft Foods Group Inc. among them — were asked to weigh in on Super Bowl ads.
"It gave us a chance to reach out to these people and establish a relationship," said Shoffner.
Half of Pavone's clients come from the food and beverage industry.
"We see a ton of growth in food and beverage," said Pavone, who is targeting new national brands. "We've shown success and results for clients."
SpotBowl created social media jobs at Pavone, Shoffner said. The firm was live tweeting during the game, which led to social media assistance for Turkey Hill and brands such as Ortega, Yuengling and Orrstown Bank.
"It allowed us to test our skills," Shoffner said. "We have had to hire people to fill social media roles in our digital media team."
Before SpotBowl, Pavone didn't even have a social media team. It also had just one Web developer compared with four today.
The continued development of the product — fresh content throughout the year and a chat function might be added — has shown that anything is possible, Pavone said.
Increasing its mobile capabilities could be key for future growth, Shoffner added. Pavone is exploring seasonal application development for SpotBowl, which would provide an example for clients thinking about product apps.
"You need an example of what you have done," he said.
2004 (1st year): 3,112
2013 (10th year): 50,510 (from all 50 states)
Top Super Bowl ads
Pavone's SpotBowl has evolved from a Super Bowl commercial poll that attracted a local audience to one that now touches all 50 states.
Here are the 10 SpotBowl winners:
2004: Budweiser "Donkey"
2005: Anheuser-Busch "Hero Applause"
2006: FedEx "Caveman"
2007: Blockbuster "Mouse"
2008: Bridgestone "Avoiding Squirrel"
2009: Anheuser-Busch "Fetch"
2010: Anheuser-Busch "Fence"
2011: Volkswagen "Little Darth"
2012: Volkswagen "Slim Dog"
2013: Dodge "God Made a Farmer"
Cost of a Super Bowl ad
In 2004, a 30-second Super Bowl advertisement was priced at $2.3 million. The price was $3.8 million for Super Bowl XLVII.
In 1967, the year of the first world championship game, the cost was $42,000, or about $250,000 in today's dollars, according to Pavone.