America’s Game – the ‘Super Bowl Ad’

 -Super Bowl Ad Game goes digital

The Super Bowl is the pinnacle of every sports fan’s February. Not only do the two best American Football teams face-off, but the Super Bowl now features some of the biggest names in music during the halftime show, including Katy Perry, Coldplay, Beyoncé and the iconic Rolling Stones.

But that’s not all.

Over its 51-year history, the Super Bowl has also become notorious for its commercials, beginning in the late ‘60s. Over 40 years, the opportunity to market to millions of Americans has enticed many a marketer. Colloquially dubbed ‘Super Bowl Ads’, the commercials have themselves become a cultural phenomenon and remain the holy grail of brand marketing. In 2017, some companies are investing $5 million per 30-second slot for their chance to get in front of over 100 million viewers.

Many industries have been forced to transform with the advent of the internet and the subsequent digital revolution; none more so than Marketing. As companies seek new ways to stay ahead, to digitally transform their products or services, the way they market has had to keep up.

The Super Bowl Ad – A Digital Game

Marketers are playing to win on February 5th, 2017. The digital dimension has changed the ad-game of the Super Bowl. Marketers can no longer claim victory simply by topping the Super Bowl Ad Meter survey organized by USA Today. The game has changed. It is now cross-channel, interactive and social.

“Social Media has become the Industry scorecard.” – Alex Konrad, Fortune

#BestBuds Super Bowl Commercial - Budweiser

#BestBuds Super Bowl Commercial – Budweiser

Let’s take a look at famous beer brand Budweiser, part of Anheuser-Busch, who have dominated the Super Bowl Ad Game. According to the Super Bowl Ad Meter survey by USA Today, out of 28 surveys, Budweiser and Bud Light have won the ad-game 14 times. Winning for the first time in 1999 with “Dalmatians get different jobs”, the ad featured two Dalmatians separated at birth (and the famous ‘Clydesdales’, now synonymous with the Budweiser brand) who meet by chance 14 dog years later. Fast forward a decade, animals are still key to the Budweiser and Bud Light Super Bowl commercials. But, with the use of hashtags like #BestBuds and branded landing pages featuring user-generated Instagram posts, Anheuser-Busch additionally ensured their brands were promoted heavily on digital channels, coming in third in the 2015 Digital Bowl Report. In 2017, Budweiser’s commercial will tell the tale of an immigrant’s journey from Germany to the US – the company’s founder Adolphus Busch. The company has been keen to preface the commercial by stating that this is not a political statement. 

Brand marketers are no longer limiting themselves to just the Super Bowl slot. With YouTube, the commercial is repurposed and becomes a video marketing piece, that can be shared across a multitude of different digital channels, extending its lifecycle exponentially. Amazon’s Alexa commercial featuring Alec Baldwin from the 2016 Super Bowl now has over 19 million views on YouTube. Amazon’s use of the hashtag #BaldwinBowl across social media boosted the reach of their commercial.

What is clear is that the Super Bowl Ad game is no longer limited to what’s on your TV screen on a Sunday Night.

How are brands staying one level ahead of other players?

  • ’The Pre-game’

With a 30-second commercial costing upwards of $5 million in 2017, brand marketers are increasingly aware that they need to make every dollar count. The commercial in itself is not enough. Once such way to increase their exposure is to ‘Pregame’. It’s the same principle! Before you go out and spend, you drink what you already have at home! Before the commercial is aired during the Super Bowl, brands are choosing to take advantage of their digital channels. Teaser campaigns or “leaked” commercials are popular tactics.

Snickers, Intel, Buffalo Wild Wings are among the 2017 brands that have already released their adverts to drum up pregame exposure.

  • ’Going Viral’

“Going Viral” is a term digital marketers use often. This is the ultimate goal of any social media campaign. In 2015, the top 10 ‘Super Bowl Ads’ were shared online almost 4.5 million times according to Unruly. In 2016, Doritos “Ultrasound” commercial took the Viral Prize with over 800,000 social shares.

Doritos and Frito-Lay have used the concept of ‘going viral’ to their advantage over the past 10 years, with the “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, which ran for the last time in 2016. The idea: use crowd-sourcing on social media to create a commercial. Chip lovers could submit their own ad creative. Five finalists were then selected based on social shares, likes etc. A judging panel then chose the top 2 ads, which ran during the game. In 2016, the grand prize winner of $1 million was “Doritos Dogs” by Jacob Chase, which now has over 8 million YouTube views.

  • Digital Media and Interactivity

Coca-Cola Interactive Super Bowl Ads – courtesy of AdWeek

Many herald Trump’s Presidential victory as a victory for new media. Trump’s election highlights how a brand can spend a little and reap a lot through creative use of social networks.

Coca-Cola was among the first to take advantage of new media in the ‘Super Bowl Ad’ game. Coca-Cola has invested heavily in digital advertising and experiential marketing. Their ’Super Bowl tactics are no different! Back in 2012, they used rich media ads across a variety of websites, identified as fan favorites with high traffic volumes pre, during and post the game. These sites included ESPN and NBC Sports Digital. What made this adverts stand out was the interactive live stream component, in which anthropomorphized polar bears (iconic with the brand) appeared to react LIVE to the Super Bowl game – they even tweeted! Coca-Cola strategically used a variety of platforms to roll-out their commercial to a much larger audience.

What challenges remain for the Super Bowl Ad Game players?

Super Bowl 50 attracted the 3rd largest audience in US history pulling in 114.4 million viewers. This size of the audience is naturally extremely attractive to marketers. But how do you measure the ROI of a $5 million investment? The fee certainly reflects the audience size but do Super Bowl Ads increase sales? One ad research firm estimates that 80% of commercials do not boost sales. They do, however, boost a brand’s awareness exponentially. What is certainly measurable is the increase in a company’s stock price, but also the social media boost you are guaranteed from 100 million viewers.

Commercials with an easy social component, for example, a hashtag, have responded to this tracking challenge digitally.

A major advantage of digital marketing platforms over traditional marketing tools is the measurability. Super Bowl commercials with a social component can offer quantitative data. AdWeek in the run-up to Super Bowl 50 took a look at how the ad-gamers could be using social tools, in particular, hashtags to better measure ROI. Social components offer consumers an enhanced, more interactive experience. Digital Transformation has also put the consumer in the driving seat and customer-centricity is vital to any successful digital campaign. Consumers have the power in their hands (literally)! Super Bowl Ad gamers need to recognize that the social elements like hashtags provide a better experience. It also allows for easier, instantaneous conversion, which should be the goal of any commercial.

Direct engagement is a key element of social media. The impact of social media measurement has always been engagement – likes, shares, pins, follows, retweets – all of which are measurable. These cannot be directly attributable when it comes to ROI. Though they can provide insight into the consumer, which when used smartly, will help companies guide them through the marketing funnel. Social listening is the minimum that all Super Bowl Ad Gamers should implement.

Marketers are in the business of making money, driving revenue. Conversion leads to ROI. No marketer would invest $5 million if they believe they wouldn’t get ROI. Considering the cost of this investment, the argument for activating the commercial and measuring the ROI is obvious. Brands with a fully integrated CRM system are ahead of the pack here. Tying social media data to marketing conversions vastly improves digital marketing strategy, by permitting for greater targeting.

So is it really worth it if you can’t measure the return? Yes, if you clear message and a great story to tell. Yes, if you have a product/ service with a broad audience. Yes, when you need attention. Yes, when you have a huge budget.

Another challenge facing the gamers this year will be how to stand out from the crowd. With more than 60 commercials aired, only true innovators will steal the coveted ‘Best Super Bowl Ad’ prize.

What can you expect from the 2017 ’Super Bowl Ad Game’? 

According to SportsBusiness Journal analysis of Kantar Media data, from 1995-2006, viewers were inundated with food and beverage commercials. From 2010, the automotive industry reigned supreme. In 2016, the tech industry dominated, taking up more of the commercial space than food, beverage, and beer combined.  This tech domination definitely helped bring the latest digital marketing techniques to the forefront of the Super Bowl Ad Game. However, in 2017 pundits are looking to automotive leaders Kia or Hyundai, or candy giant Mars with two ads (Snickers and Skittles) on show to be the big winners. Super Bowl Ad heavyweights Doritos, Taco Bell and Toyota, are not expected to enter the competition this year. Tostitos is another big name that will be missing off the Super Bowl ad roster in 2017. However, not to be forgotten on game day! Partnering with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Uber, they have created “alcohol sensor” chip bags. These will not be sold in your local grocery store mind!

Kia, the car manufacturer, announced this week that, in addition to releasing their Super Bowl commercial early on February 1 featuring the Niro and comedienne Melissa McCarthy, they will be using their so-called NiroBot, created in 2016 for Facebook’s Messenger platform, which enables consumers to get information and have questions answered in real-time. The bot is manned by Kia representatives, in the hope, this initiative will help to market the Niro as a tech-friendly vehicle.

“With its advanced technology and tremendous efficiency, the Niro sets a new standard in the market, and being the first bot for Messenger to debut a Super Bowl ad reinforces the idea that our newest crossover is like nothing consumers have ever seen before,” Michael Sprague, COO, Kia Motors America

That’s not all on offer in 2017. Snickers have taken on possible the ultimate Super Bowl Ad challenge – the first LIVE commercial. What can only be described as an army of marketers; ad executives from Mars, the ad agency BBDO and the production company O Positive will shoot Snickers’ 30-second Super Bowl commercial during a break in the action. Starring Adam Driver, the western-themed commercial is possibly the most adventurous of all the commercials this year. Their Super Bowl ad will be a continuation of the popular “You’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign. To increase advert reach, Snickers is hosting a 36-hour live, interactive stream which will begin on Thursday, February 2nd. Influencer marketing will play a role here, as it is expected that several celebrities from previous Snickers’ adverts will appear, along with social influencers. This stream will be available on as well as the brand’s Facebook page.

Marketers are also looking for new ways to reinvent traditional and digital channels, often with an omnichannel approach. In a world where content can now come ad-free thanks to streaming services like Hulu, the future of TV commercials may be in question. Of course, live events like the Super Bowl cannot be watched ad-free, but that does not mean that marketers don’t need to innovate. With a draw of over 100 million viewers, the need to standout is greater than ever. Hyundai is another company innovating in 2017 by filming their 90-second ad at the stadium so that they can include off-the-field Super Bowl moments. This will be the first commercial aired post-game. Hyundai CMO Dean Evans spoke to Adweek‘s Katie Richards:

“Super Bowl is the biggest day in advertising, and following our incredibly successful 2016, we wanted to push the creativity and storytelling even further,” Evans said. “Our brand commitment is to make things ‘better,’ and we are going to give some deserving fans an experience they will never forget.”

Another automotive company looking to win big on Sunday is Ford. Alongside their Super Bowl Ad, Ford is opening the 2,900-square-foot experiential ‘FordHub’ exhibit at the Westfield World Trade Center, New York.

Social Media and providing the ever-demanding consumer an experience that stands out will certainly be key to Super Bowl success.

As the New England Patriots prepare to face-off against the Atlanta Falcons at the LNG Stadium in Houston on Sunday at 6.30pm; CMOs and their teams are preparing to face off in the commercial competition. Who will win the coveted “Best Super Bowl Ad”? One thing is certain, it will certainly be a digitally transformative experience!

Check back with The Digital Diary on February 6th for the results. 

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