The Keys To Successful Super Bowl Ads

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The Super Bowl is one of the biggest advertising opportunities on the American calendar primarily because it is also one of the biggest sporting events on the US sports calendar. A 2012 study titled “Super Bowl Ads” which was published by Stanford University examined the impact of Super Bowl ads over the course of six years and 200 media markets summarized the Super Bowl as follows:

We explore the effects of television advertising in the setting of the NFL’s Super Bowl telecast. The Super Bowl is the largest advertising event of the year and is well suited for measurement. The event has the potential to create significant increases in “brand capital” because ratings average over 40 percent of households and ads are a focal point of the broadcast.

The study was published in 2015 and found that, in general, Super Bowl advertising tended to result in a revenue increase for advertisers in the eight weeks following a Super Bowl by between 10% and 15% with a return on investment of between 150% and 170%. Interestingly, the study also concluded that when competing brands advertised, they effectively cancelled each other out and sustained losses relative to their advertising expenditure:

This implies a return on investment (ROI) between 150 to 170 percent,3 but these gains turn to losses if a competitor also advertises during the same Super Bowl. When we observe both Coke and Pepsi advertising, the lift in revenue per household from advertising vs. not is cut by half or more.

It isn’t always easy to accurately measure the impact of Super Bowl ads on revenue but the indications are that such high profile advertising can be substantially beneficial. The report’s conclusion included the following general insights:

Advertising is one of the most important instruments a brand can use to market its products, yet advertising’s efficacy and the mechanisms behind it are highly disputed. The benefits for a new product are clear as consumers might otherwise be unaware of its existence and features. For established brands, the incentive to spend on uninformative advertising such as that observed in the Super Bowl has been questioned. We document that there are large potential profits to such advertising.

Fortune Magazine reported that a 30 second Super Bowl could cost as much as $5 million this year. Why would brands pay so much money for a 30 second ad? Fortune’s Claire Groden explained:

Prices are only so high because marketers are willing to pay to access the enormous Super Bowl audience. Some 114.4 million people on average tuned into the 2015 Super Bowl to watch the Seattle Seahawks play the Patriots, making the game the most-watched broadcast in the history of U.S. television. That estimate doesn’t even account for larger viewing groups at private parties, or bars.

For some advertisers, $5 million for that many eyeballs is a price worth paying.

Spending this much on an ad places pressure on ad agencies to produce Super Bowl ads that makes a substantial impact. We looked back at four ads for the 2015 Super Bowl that made a substantial impact for different reasons to identify some of the characteristics of these highly successful Super Bowl ads.

2015’s winners

Bud Puppy – Budweiser

This ad featuring a lost puppy was one of the most widely shared ads in 2015 and you can see why. It has an adorable puppy, an attracted and devastated owner and a special bond with a horse that comes to his rescue in the ad’s climax. This ad is heartwarming storytelling that begs to be shared:

#LikeAGirl – Always

This ad tackles gender stereotyping and the “epic battle to keep girls’ confidence high during puberty and beyond”. Always explained in the commentary to its video on YouTube:

Using #LikeAGirl as an insult is a hard knock against any adolescent girl. And since the rest of puberty’s really no picnic either, it’s easy to see what a huge impact it can have on a girl’s self-confidence.

Making a start by showing them that doing things #LikeAGirl is an awesome thing!

“In my work as a documentarian, I have witnessed the confidence crisis among girls and the negative impact of stereotypes first-hand,” said Lauren Greenfield, filmmaker and director of the #LikeAGirl video. “When the words ‘like a girl’ are used to mean something bad, it is profoundly disempowering. I am proud to partner with Always to shed light on how this simple phrase can have a significant and long-lasting impact on girls and women. I am excited to be a part of the movement to redefine ‘like a girl’ into a positive affirmation.”

This ad earned over 60 million views on YouTube (and that is just the official video on the Always channel) by the time we published this article. It is a lighter approach to such a crucial issue and inspired a social media campaign using the hashtag #LikeAGirl. This is one of my favorites:

Domestic Violence PSA – NFL

The National Football League sponsored a domestic violence awareness campaign under the auspices of an advocacy group called No More titled “Listen: 60”. This video is a disturbing reminder of the terror so many people (especially women) face in their homes each day. It is a cleverly conceived ad that leaves viewers with a better understanding of what targets of domestic violence endure and one of the ways they seek help. It received over 7 million views on the No More channel by the time we published this article.

Kim Kardashian West – T-Mobile

This last ad was a terrific example of a celebrity making fun of herself to promote T-Mobile’s mobile data packages. It isn’t a substantial ad at all but earned a fair share of attention simply because it featured the enormously popular Kim Kardashian making fun of herself for 30 seconds. A fluff ad for sure but it got the message across and created a strong brand association.

Looking ahead to 2016 Super Bowl 50 ads

As you can image, all the social media platforms have been working on their Super Bowl promotions for some time now. As Paul mentioned in last week’s News Highlights, YouTube has upgraded its AdBlitz hub and is sharing previews of the ads you can expect to see next week at Super Bowl 50. Here is a handy playlist with all the previews:

Also look out for similar Super Bowl promotions on Twitter and Facebook. Wherever you see the ads, I’m sure you are looking forward to what lies in store this year! Which ad previews look promising to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below? We can compare notes on February 8.

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Sinead McIntyre


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