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For a long time now, the fiercest competition of Super Bowl weekend might not be contested on the field, but instead between companies vying to win the attention of the largest TV audience of the year.
Over the past decade, the fight to get noticed has spread far beyond the TV screen, with companies launching increasingly ambitious digital marketing blitzes to reach the millions of people glued to a second screen during the big game.
In 2019, the Super Bowl brought in an audience base of 98.2 million people and 32.3 million social media interactions. Capitalizing on that social-media audience is crucial, given that a 2017 study by Influence Central found that 78 percent of Super Bowl viewers would engage with social media while watching.
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“Super Bowl strategy is no longer limited to television, or even necessarily includes it,” said Abbey Klaassen, New York President of 360i, an agency that authored a viral tweet for Oreo when a power blackout struck Super Bowl XLVII in 2013.
Indeed, by 2016, companies as prominent as Nike and Gatorade decided to pass on buying TV advertising spots during the Super Bowl, and in the years that followed brands including Taco Bell, Toyota, Honda, and Snickers followed suit. Even Coca-Cola opted for a pre-game slot last year.
But that hardly means brands have forgotten about the Super Bowl – they’ve just moved their ads from the airwaves to the digital realm, often with creative results. With that in mind, we took a look at six of the best Super Bowl digital marketing and social media campaigns.
During Super Bowl 50 in 2016, insurance company Esurance managed to drag millions of eyeballs away from Denver’s win over Carolina without footing the bill for a TV spot during the game. Instead, they simply offered to give $1.5 million away.
Before kickoff, the company aired an ad that advised viewers to keep an eye on their corporate Twitter account during commercial breaks and share their tweets for a chance to win money. Each retweet of #EsuranceSweepstakes would assure participants another chance to win the seven-figure payday.
The result? Esurance managed to triumph over much more prominent brands to secure the most Twitter mentions during the Super Bowl – 835,000 tweets – along with a 100 percent favorable tweet rate. Further, #esurancesweeptakes accumulated nearly 2 million mentions, the biggest score for any branded hashtag during the game.
Ultimately, the company gave out a little more than $1 million to 17 people. Esurance also further capitalized on the buzz surrounding the giveaway by posting videos with Face-time responses from winners soon after learning about their prizes.
“We wanted to leverage second-screen culture,” said Sarah Evans, Esurance Social Media Communications Specialist.
“No one these days is just watching the TV. We’re surrounded by technology. We know the only way into somebody’s house, into somebody’s life, is not just through the TV screen, but through handheld devices and social media.”
For a decade, Doritos ran the innovative “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign and, although the company has since moved on to other marketing tactics, the influence of its user-generated content-fueled campaign is still being felt today.
Beginning in 2007, Doritos made the risky decision to allow customers and amateur filmmakers – and not professional ad agencies – to take a crack at creating their Super Bowl ad. By the time the program wrapped, the company was offering $1 million to the winning amateur auteur along with the promise of a collaboration with Hollywood director Zack Snyder.
Year after year, the consumer-submitted ads ranked among the Super Bowl’s most popular.
The winning spots earned top-five rankings on the USA Today Ad Meter every year in which they aired, including four number one rankings. Ace Metrix ranked Doritos first on its list of the most effective Super Bowl-advertised brands between 2010 and 2015. Frito-Lay North America Chief Marketing Officer Ram Krishnan credited the campaign for helping to grow Doritos from a $1.54 billion brand in 2006 to a $2.2 billion brand by the time the campaign wrapped.
The genius of the idea, of course, was that it kept consumers engaged with the brand for weeks on social media in a way that a more traditional 30-second TV spot never could.
“What we are doing is creating a platform that they [pitch ideas] 365 days a year instead of making this big deal about this one moment of time that we did once a year,” Krishnan said.
The King of Beers has always maintained a strong presence during the Super Bowl broadcast – but lately, Bud has also been crowned as one of the top brands for engaging the public in the digital sphere. And rather than one specific campaign, Bud has launched several that are worth revisiting.
Budweiser trotted to the front of the pack with plenty of help from its Clydesdale mascots, which have been featured in the company’s Super Bowl spots since 1975. In 2013, Bud invited users to vote via Twitter for a name for the new foal that was to be featured in the upcoming ad.
Then in 2017, the beer-maker struck gold with its “ClydesdaleCam,” a Facebook Live broadcast that featured the Bud Clydesdales chewing away on snacks while taking in the game. The spot appeared on the Facebook Live Heat Map during the game and attracted nearly five million viewers.
A Super Bowl without the Clydesdales isn’t really a Super Bowl. Head over to our Twitter page at 7:15pm during the game for a special live stream. #ThisBudsForYou #ClydesdaleCam pic.twitter.com/qN6iTx10Te
— Budweiser (@budweiserusa) February 4, 2018
Meanwhile, Budweiser also won a Shorty Award for its 2016 “Apology Cakes” campaign, with the company working closely with Imgur to create a series of shareable desserts with messages both thanking and apologizing to the people who acted as designated drivers after the Super Bowl. The sweets garnered more than 1.1 million unique page views as well as an 87.71 percent upvote ratio.
Ultimately, all the clever campaigns are part of an overall marketing strategy that places great emphasis on the value of digital.
“It’s not a commercial anymore, it’s a campaign and a strong digital plan is just as important as the Super Bowl ad-buy itself,” said Nick Kelly, an Anheuser-Busch Spokesman. “Our pre-Super Bowl commercial release strategy has become extremely valuable for gaining momentum heading into Sunday.”
For three straight years between 2015 and 2017, Skittles purchased Super Bowl ad spots. In the two years that followed, the colorful candy arguably earned even more attention over Super Bowl weekend without actually airing a big-game spot.
In 2018, the “rainbow treat” booked Friends star David Schwimmer for four 15-second teasers for a Skittles ad that the public would, in fact, never get to see. Instead, the final commercial was shown to an audience of one – 17-year-old Marcos Menendez – while an audience of Facebook Live viewers were offered the opportunity to watch Menendez watching the ad. The stunt garnered widespread media coverage, helped by the enthusiastic participation of Schwimmer.
The next year, Skittles topped itself with an even sweeter scheme to earn eyeballs during Super Bowl weekend.
The company announced that it was going to forgo advertising altogether to instead produce a Broadway musical that would run just once – immediately before the game – at New York’s 1,500-seat Town Hall theater. Titled “Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical,” the production was written by Pulitzer finalist Will Eno and starred Dexter’s Michael C. Hall.
The production featured a cheeky song called “Advertising Ruins Everything,” which was released along with the rest of the show’s entire original cast recording on Spotify.
And, just as the brand did the year before, Skittles earned a ton of media coverage for the stunt, with Forbes even declaring the idea amounted to “the best Super Bowl ad of the year.”
“We’re so focused on these 30-second television commercials at a time when the way content is being consumed is so far beyond that,” said Ari Weiss, Chief Creative Officer of DDB North America, which served as producer on the show.
“So if you want to be at the forefront, it makes sense for this brand that targets 20-somethings to explore what’s possible and ask the irreverent questions.”
Advertising at the Super Bowl for the first time in 2019, this skincare company made a smooth impression on viewers with an ad and accompanying social-media campaign that cast Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar in a horror-themed spot based around the hashtag #KillerSkin.
— OLAY (@OlaySkin) February 1, 2019
Olay – which is set to again advertise at the Super Bowl in 2020 with a commercial featuring Lilly Singh, Busy Phillips, Taraji P. Henson, and Katie Couric – entered the Super Bowl fray based on the idea that while 45 percent of NFL fans are female, only 27 percent of ads in the game feature women.
The beauty company issued three teasers of the Gellar spot to stir interest, and her star power helped propel a raft of media coverage and excited social-media chatter.
In fact, Olay’s campaign took top spot in Merkle’s sixth annual Digital Bowl Report, which evaluates the game’s digital marketing efforts. The Olay campaign earned top-10 honors in all four categories the report looked at, including social media, paid search, SEO, and digital media.
The company continues to be forward-thinking in its use of social media. For its 2020 campaign – which also casts astronaut Nicole Scott in a commercial introducing Olay’s first space mission – parent company Procter & Gamble has pledged to donate $1 to Girls Who Code every time the hashtag #MakeSpaceForWomen is used.
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Avocados From Mexico
When you think of the companies that can afford to spring for splashy Super Bowl spots, you tend to think of such mainstays as Pepsi, Toyota, Verizon, and Budweiser. At the Super Bowl in 2019, Avocados From Mexico managed to outdo them all with a spot that sparked more than 606 million impressions, 65.2 million more than the second-best brand hashtag.
That occurred a year after the company managed to transcend 2 billion impressions a week before its Super Bowl ad even aired thanks to a savvy #AvoSecrets social-media campaign that included a partnership with more than 200 influencers, along with celebrities Jon Lovitz, Jeremy Piven, and Tim Tebow.
The 2019 spot – their ad at the 2020 game will mark their sixth straight Super Bowl – featured Kristin Chenoweth narrating a “Human Canine Show.”
As usual, it was accompanied by a savvy social-media blitz, including teaser trailers, sponsored content on The Onion, and a partnership with Adopt A Pet that used AI tech to match people with adoption-eligible dogs based on their “avocado and lifestyle preferences.”
“Everything we do within our Super Bowl campaign is done with the intention of having people participate in our conversation,” says Ivonne Kinser, Digital Marketing Director at Avocados From Mexico, who led the strategy for the Super Bowl digital activation.
“With that conversation comes genuine, authentic word-of-mouth interaction and advocacy that does more than any strategically crafted message can.”
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