How popular are Super Bowl ads? They generate so much social media activity, they challenge the capabilities of modern technology.
“We set up the collection methodology for over 50 different ads, and we actually have somebody babysitting the server for when we turn it on to make sure it doesn’t blow up,” said James Rubec of Cision, which tracks social media performance for brands. “It’s probably the biggest event of the year in the United States for social media.”
Not only are more and more people talking about Super Bowl ads online, more brands are posting them on the web days if not weeks ahead of the game.
“It’s really more like a three-to-four-week event,” said Tom Galido, head of data and insights for online video rights management and marketing specialists Zefr.”We’ve broken it down into three phases — the buildup to the Super Bowl, the actual Super Bowl itself, and then what happens after the Super Bowl,” when people go online to re-watch and discuss the commercials that they liked or search out the buzzed-about spots they missed.
According to YouTube, brands that release their ad on the platform before the game receive an average of 2.2x more views than those that wait until Sunday’s kickoff. This year, Pokémon released its first ever Super Bowl-related ad two weeks before the game, and it has already racked up more than 13 million views. The fastest rising Super Bowl spot is a teaser ad from Hyundai, which at press time had garnered more than 16.3 million views.
Sometimes, brands upload the ad that will run during game time online ahead of the Super Bowl, but they’re more likely to post a series of teasers with narrative through-line leading up to a climactic spot that premieres on the telecast.
“It used to be that people did not put their commercials online because they wanted to keep them a surprise for the big game,” said Allison Stern, co-founder and VP of business development and marketing for cross-platform video analytics company Tubular Labs.
But, according to Stern, that all changed when Budweiser leaked its “Puppy Love” commercial online before the big game.
“It really went viral, and it caused them to have 10x the views than anyone else,” said Stern. “Putting it online got people talking about it, and then they were waiting on the Super Bowl to see it, then after the Super Bowl they all went online to watch it again. It was a really virtuous cycle that proved once and for all that putting your ads online is not going to steal your thunder, it’s going to get you more views.”
Some Super Bowl-related ads never appear on television, much less the game telecast. For instance, Visit California partnered with multi-platform network to produce “Bay Area or Bust,” a mini-series of video shorts appearing exclusively on its YouTube channel that follow four-time Super Bowl champion Joe Montana as he makes his journey across the state to the big game, encountering Fullscreen creators Brandon Armstrong, Zachary Piona, Brittani Louise Taylor and Tyler Ward along the way.
As of press time, the “Bay Area or Bust” series featuring Montana had racked up more than 5.86 million views. That may seem like a small number compared to the record 114.4 million viewers who tuned into last year’s Super Bowl, but, with advertisers paying close to $5 million this for a 30-second spot on this year’s big game telecast, an online-only strategy is an attractive option for many brands.
“If you can’t get a multimillion dollar media buy on the actual Super Bowl, you can still have your ads be shown on YouTube and get traffic,” Galido said. “In terms of brands, you don’t even have to even create an ad, per se, just create an interesting video and find a way to promote it. As the millennial population grows up, things like the Super Bowl, which traditionally has had a television-driven audience, is now becoming much more online-social. It’s a great opportunity for brands to engage directly with influencers who are in line with the ethos of the brand and can communicate in an authentic way.”
Once a brand gets its message out into the social video space, users will do most of the work for them. According to Zefr, 90% of a brand’s content on YouTube is typically user-generated, with only 10% is hosted by official channels. And Zefr is finding that a growing amount of Super Bowl content on YouTube consists of video logs — fans uploading discussions and predictions about the game, what’s going on at their parties, etc.
Given the increasing ability to make an impact online, does it still make sense to spend all that money on a Super Bowl broadcast ad buy?
“Super Bowl ads are great for visibility and provide a great opportunity for brands to reposition themselves,” Gailido said. “New brands see a lot of lift versus the Anheuser-Busches of the world. Anheuser-Busch is a brand you know and trust and have heard of forever. Are they really getting a tremendous amount of lift [with a Super Bowl commercial]? Probably not.”