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As the Big Game landed Sunday and I finally had a chance to see all the ads, I discovered just how strange this year is for Super Bowl advertising. From spots aired in only one city, to a crowdsourced ad featuring 37 brands, to a slew of tech brands…2015 has shaped up to be an interesting, call it weird, year in Super Bowl advertising.
1. Traditional Super Bowl advertisers didn't advertise
Detroit automakers have in the past been a strong supporter of the Super Bowl with ads by most of the American carmakers each year. But in 2015, Ford, Lincoln and General Motors didn't run ads. And other brands including Hyundai, Honda, Acura and Volkswagen opted out. This is surprising, especially given the strong past performance of Super Bowl ads like Volkswagen’s 2011 “The Force”. Chrysler returned with three spots, likely looking to hit on the same success as past ads featuring Eminem, Clint Eastwood and Oprah Winfrey. But other 2014 advertisers decided not to return, like Dannon, despite great response to their Full House spot last year. With a $500,000 cost increase over 2014, a 30 second spot is now at a staggering $4.5M price point, forcing many advertisers to seriously consider their marketing mix surrounding the Big Game. Even Anheuser-Busch spent less in 2015, cutting their total advertising time from four minutes in 2014 to three and a half minutes in 2014. Many marketers focused their efforts on digital. Even A-B put their attention on digital with its largest-ever social media “war room” with up to 60 staffers who responded to consumers throughout the day. With a focus on Millennials by many brands, and a desire to engage them where they talk, watch, and shop – on their mobiles – Super Bowl ads this year had to be just one part of a larger digital strategy, or simply weren't needed at all.
Despite past success like 2012’s “The Force”, Volkswagen did not advertise in the 2015 Super Bowl
2. Brands discovered the regional buy
AdAge asked “Is 2015 the Year of the Regional Super Bowl Ad?”, and it was. Droga5 helped Newcastle Brown Ale create the most cost-effective Super Bowl advertising campaign ever with the “Band of Brands” ad. The 30 second spot crams 37 brands into a single ad, crowdfunding their way to pay. And to justify the entire campaign as Super Bowl official, Newcastle aired the ad in only one market, Palm Springs. The brand director for Newcastle Brown Ale, Priscilla Flores Dohnert said in a statement “By asking other brands to team up with our brand we are making a statement that Big Game advertising should be accessible to everyone, whether they can afford it or not.” And other brands took a similar approach with ads from Carl’s Jr, Buzzfeed, Eat24 and GrubHub taking a regional buy. Media publisher, The Verge, aired their spot in Helena, Montana at a reported $700, kicking off their Super Bowl campaign with some online fanfare over an accidental leak of the spot last week. The strategy – to develop a Big Game spot and then air it inexpensively regionally, and then create a social and digital engagement program around it – is just smart. It connects with the hacker-mindset of Millennials and Generation Z and allows these brands to create a sizable presence and ownership surrounding the Super Bowl officially, without the same level of investment of an Anheuser-Busch or Fiat. This generates respect from youth; it’s how they’d do it.
Newcastle Brown Ale’s “Band of Brands” spot crams 37 brands into the first crowdfunded, regional Super Bowl ad
3. Digital channels offered alternatives
In the past, Facebook developed advertising packages for marketers around key sporting events, beginning with the Super Bowl in 2014 and then for the World Cup. But with these advertising channels, Facebook focused on the core fans of the events based on Likes of related Facebook Pages. But with the Super Bowl this year, Facebook provided advertisers with the ability to reach any consumer who talked about the Super Bowl with targeted advertising in real-time. Aggregated data was offered up as an audience for Super Bowl targeted ad placements. For the first time, what people talked about on Facebook in a particular moment were used to drive relevant ads. But the most amazing aspect of this new product from Facebook was how nearly in real-time it ran. Typically Facebook needed a day or longer to populate targeting segment databases for advertisers. But now, a person could be added to a keyword target within a couple minutes of making a post. This connected clever social media brand messaging to relevant cultural moments as they happened. Twitter helped the NFL with their live social broadcast of the game and allowed brands to leverage the real-time conversation platform with Twitter’s new video design. Twitter encouraged brands to use Twitter early, 12 days before the Super Bowl, to drive engagement around the Big Game campaigns. And most advertisers put their digital campaigns first, leveraging these tools to generate engagement in their videos to supplement or even replace Super Bowl TV ad viewership.
Facebook’s Super Bowl channel allows fans to see their Friend’s activity, while a new Facebook targeting product gives marketers real-time social ads
4. While digital brands went for the spot
At the height of the dot-com bubble in the early 2000s, technology brands like Pets.com, Monster.com, E-Trade, HotJobs, and WebMD dominated the Super Bowl. In fact, there were 14 technology brands in 2000, now widely referred to as the “Dot-Com Super Bowl”. Of course the bubble burst, and by the next year only three technology brands were left in the game. Fast forward to 2015, and it felt a bit like deja vu. A slew of new technology brands advertised, with national and regional spots from Wix.com, Squarespace, Mophie, The Verge, Buzzfeed, TurboTax, GoDaddy, Eat24, GrubHub, Game of War:Fire Age, Clash of Clans, and Heroes Charge. Just seeing three mobile games in the mix felt like some kind of new future. Of course, the big difference compared to 2000 is that these brands are profitable. With reported daily revenue of over $1.1M per day, the Super Bowl ad for Game of War only required four days of play to pay for itself! And Clash of Clans makes so much money they could afford Liam Neeson to reprise his role in Taken for their ad. But beyond the F2P Mobile MMO category there was exceptional creative delivered by digital brands this year. The Verge said “Mophie might have made this year’s best Super Bowl ad” and digital publisher Buzzfeed’s branded Web series ad for Friskies, “Dear Kitten: Regarding the Big Game” garnered the Internet cat-fan love you'd expect. It was a banner year for technology brands at the Super Bowl, and with mobile becoming more and more central to our lives, we’re not expecting a bust anytime soon.
Mophie’s first Super Bowl ad “All-Powerless” imagines the apocalypse because God needed a cell phone charge
5. And advertisers (mostly) failed digital youth
Despite a lot of talk about Millennials and the Super Bowl this year, there was surprisingly very little that would resonate strongly with youth audiences. The game is certainly a significant event in their lives, with the large majority of college Millennials taking part in a viewing party. But the focus is as much on the social experience, with only 36% of their time spent watching the game versus 29% spent hanging with their friends and 9% texting (Fluent, February 2014). But despite their huge demographic viewership, there just wasn’t a lot geared to the audience. The approach in this year’s crop of ads – from BMW to Dove to GoDaddy – felt traditional and risk-averse. Even Pepsi’s Half-Time Show with Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz, and Missy Elliott, although visually unique, had an air of a safe, sure bet. But there were a couple of standouts. Bud Light’s “Real Life PacMan” brought the right mix of pop culture, music, and unexpected experiences that youth love. Snickers surprised with a funny new twist on its “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” featuring tough guy Danny Trejo as Marsha Brady and Steve Buscemi as Jan Brady in a simple, irreverent “The Brady Bunch” spot. And Pepsi showed prowess with their activation of the Half-Time Show by creating 40 different pieces of digital content that started months ahead of the game, resulting in more than 54 million views and 1 billion media impressions (with 83% of conversations around #halftime surrounding the show, compared to only 1 percent last year).
“Real Life PacMan” brings a retro video game to life as part of Bud Light’s #UpForWhatever campaign
As I notice every day, we are living in the future. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Super Bowl advertising this year felt a bit different from the past. Consumer confidence is higher, unprecedented mobile computing is exploding, and digital natives are firmly planted in new careers and raising kids. The Super Bowl advertising we saw this year might not be so weird.