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Super Bowl social media campaigns can both enhance, detract game viewing experience

It is a searing statistic; proof of the changing nature of our digital times.

Among the more than 100 million people expected to watch the Feb. 5 Super Bowl, about 60 percent are expected to also be watching a second screen: iPad, smartphone, iPod Touch or some other kind of tablet computer.

That number is the lead argument cited by the good folks at Coca-Cola for a massive advertising campaign stretching their promotional message across the television and onto all those other secondary screens.

Under the Coca-Cola plan, the company’s popular animated polar bears will return for a series of ads showing two of them checking out the big game in their Artic home, each one adorned in mufflers emblazoned with the colors of one team playing.

Surf to the website CokePolarBowl.com during the game, and you can watch the bears react to the game in real-time, leading into commercials planned for the 1st quarter, 3rd quarter and post-game (the best one features one of the bears trudging out in the desolate wilderness, letting out a scream of frustration; depending on who loses, the bear with the appropriate muffler will take the long walk).

A team of writers will craft responses to fans from the bears over Twitter and Facebook. Fans can use an app on Facebook to send cheering or mourning polar bears to their friends, depending on which team they supported.

During a painfully awkward webcast rolling out the whole concept Thursday, one company executive enthused that it will be “as if the bears were sitting in the room with you.”

And I say, no thank you.

Social media has become an increasing part of big media events these days, as all of us grow more tethered to the tiny devices that wrangle our emails, text messages and online communication.

But there are very specific purposes to those communications. When Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal to lose the AFC Championship for the Ravens, I wanted immediate access to stats proving what a massive error that was and a clip for emailing to all my friends living within a 100-mile radius of Baltimore.

You know, for their information.

What I didn’t want to know was how the Coca-Cola polar bears reacted to the loss or if they had something snarky to say about the Pepsi commercial which aired two seconds after the blown field goal.

The hype about social media leading up to the Big Game feels even more massive than last year – and that was the game that was supposed to be the Social Media Super Bowl (what it really was: an excuse for advertisers to stick Twitter hash tags and Facebook addresses on the end of their $3-million, 30-second ad spaces).

According to Twitter’s own stats, the final minutes of last year’s Super Bowl produced 4,064 tweets per second – the highest rate for any sporting event.

Already, the host committee in Indianapolis has created a 2,800-square-foot Social Media Center, staffed by dozens of people in 15-hour shifts, this facility will be an information hub for the 150,000 people expected to descend on the city, scanning online platforms for questions to answer and information to pass along.

And that, dear reader, is what social media connected to this game really should do: tell me something I didn’t know or help me connect with people outside my personal space in cool, new ways.

But figuring out how to do that in ways that add to an already overstuffed TV experience is difficult. Chevrolet has a Game Day app for smartphones which offers access to YouTube videos of their advertising contest, a ticker with tweets featuring the game day hash tag, discounts on pizza and NFL merchandise and a chance to win one of 20 cars by spotting license plates in a Super Bowl ad.

It all sounds amazingly ahead of the curve in theory. But I have a hard time imagining I will be interested in checking out a YouTube video of a commercial which may never air in the game while the Patriots and Giants fight for football’s most important title.

Too much of the social media plans revealed so far feel like excellent advertisements for brands which do little or nothing to extend the uses I might put to social media for the big game.

For me, social media is about new connections, new information and new experiences.

And so, fun as it is to see the Coca-Cola polar bears agonizing over a last-second field goal kick, I have a feeling I’ll be too busy actually experiencing the game to see what that looks like in real time.

Eric Deggans is TV and Media Critic for the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times and a 1990 graduate of the Indiana University School of Journalism. He also provides regular commentary for National Public Radio and has been published by the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Chicago Sun-Times and many other publications. He also writes a blog on media, The Feed.

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