The big game isn't until Sunday, but for Super Bowl advertisers the first quarter is already over. That's because increasingly the battle isn't for the game itself but for the pre- and post-game views on the web, not to mention related spoils such as shares, tweets, likes and comments.
Google won't say how much revenue it earns connected to the Super Bowl, but safe to say every pre-released ad, teaser and video promo -- 55 so far this year -- includes a YouTube ad budget.
In this battle for online supremacy Google has found itself in an enviable position: For advertisers, winning the pre- and post- Super Bowl means paying to promote them on YouTube.
"It is a huge business-driver for us; the most meaningful in Q1," said Lucas Watson, VP of sales and marketing at YouTube.
For YouTube, this is essentially found money. Traditionally, Super Bowl advertisers carefully guarded their creative in hopes of creating a surprise during the Super Bowl. That all changed in 2011 when Volkswagen and Deutsch released "The Force" on the web before the game and racked up 10 million views before the teams took the field. (Volkswagen's entry this year has 3 million views so far.)
Today, competition for web views is fierce, and while great creative is a factor, who wins and loses depends largely on the size of the promotional budget behind the campaign. We know the average cost of 30 seconds in the 2014 Super Bowl is around $4 million, but Adam Komack, chief client officer of Mediacom, told Ad Age he advises clients prepare to spend $6 to $10 million, once they factor in promotional costs, to make sure the ad is seen before and after the game.
"They are paying us a lot of advertising money for people to discover these," Mr. Watson said. "Because YouTube is such an amplifier and extender of the Super Bowl, this has proven to be a nice element of our business model."
The competition for views isn't just about bragging rights; it's a way to both amortize the cost of impressions as well as an insurance policy. The game is a crowded affair with 50 to 60 spots debuting at once, so it's not easy to stand out. Add to that the possibility of a blowout game or some other unforeseen circumstance, such as the blackout in New Orleans last year, and the game itself is a risky place.
"We can't control the viewership and the exposure our ad will get during the Super Bowl, but we can control the views and exposure leading up to and afterwards," said Michael Neuwirth, senior director of public relations at Dannon, whose Oikos Greek yogurt brand is back in the game this year with an ad starring John Stamos and a "Full House" reunion.
Dannon released a teaser last week and the full ad on the web earlier this week. Both videos in the campaign have been viewed 4.2 million times so far, according to Visible Measures.
Last year it's possible that more people saw Super Bowl ads outside the game than in. Nielsen said an average of 108.4 million people watched the 2013 Super Bowl in the U.S. Super Bowl ads were viewed 486.7 million times around the world on the web, according to Visible Measures. Those views are not unique and not comparable to viewers measured by Nielsen, but we're still talking about similar orders of magnitude.
The big early winner on the web appears to be Doritos, whose "Crash the Superbowl" user-generated ad contest has generated 14.1 million views so far, according to Visible Measures.
To make sure that their spots work well on the web, advertisers are bringing YouTube into the conversation early. This year four Super Bowl advertisers -- Butterfinger and three undisclosed marketers -- worked with YouTube's Brand Lab on their original concepts.
Not every Super Bowl advertiser has embraced the pre-bowl. Chrysler, for example, has kept a tight lid on spots like 2012's two-minute "Made In Detroit" and last year's "Farmer," which it kept off the web until the big game. "Farmer" appeared to pay a price, at least in terms of views, finishing outside the top-10 Super Bowl ads on the web last year.
While the first Super Bowl spots and teasers started trickling out in early January, Mr. Watson sees a day when the Super Bowl ad "season" creeps back to December 26. "This year people went earlier than last year," he said. "We think after Christmas people will start the 'win-the-Super Bowl conversation."