When insurance marketplace company eHealth's ad ran near the end of the third quarter of Yahoo's NFL live stream last month -- around 11 a.m. on the East coast -- 1.65 million people worldwide were tuning in, 25% of whom were in that coveted 25- to 34-year-old age demographic. That's well short of the 15.2 million total viewers that tuned in at some point during the three-hour game, or the double-digit millions of people on average that are tuning in at any minute during a televised NFL game. But for eHealth, it was enough because the price was right.
"We're not spending a billion dollars or hundreds of millions of dollars a year on advertising. So we can't afford to play at the NFL level on a regular basis in broadcast," said Jeff Bernstein, senior VP-marketing at eHealth.
Even for brands like Arby's and Dairy Queen that can and do pay to air ads during televised NFL games, pricing played into the decision to advertise during Yahoo's live stream.
"Because of the uncertainty of how it would perform, pricing certainly came into play," said Brian Pruitt, senior director of media impact at Arby's.
"We always like to try new things if we can afford them. This was definitely a new opportunity that we always set aside some strategy and innovation dollars to do new and different things," said Tim Hawley, VP-marketing communications at Dairy Queen. He added that "viewership exceeded our expectations" but was unable to provide viewership figures for the brand's in-game ads or the pre-game show it sponsored.
Ad Age reached out to 22 brands that advertised during the live stream. Only Arby's, Dairy Queen and eHealth agreed to interviews while representatives for Kay Jewelers and Snickers sent emailed statements. Chrysler, Emirates Airline, Esurance, Kohl's, Microsoft, Subway and Toyota declined to make executives available for an interview, and the remaining 10 brands did not respond to interview requests. A Yahoo executive was unavailable for an interview.
"We are really pleased to have been part of this historic live stream," said George Murray, chief merchandising and marketing officer at Kay Jewelers' parent company Signet Jewelers, in an emailed statement. "The NFL audience is one of the most passionate in all of entertainment. This live stream was a unique opportunity to reach audiences on a global scale, while supporting this exciting first use of technology for the NFL."
"We're encouraged by the participation in this first event, and look forward to continuing to explore new ways to diversify how we reach our consumers," said a spokeswoman for Snickers' parent company Mars Chocolate North America in an email.
None of the brands that Ad Age interviewed for this article would say how much the ads cost. But one person with direct knowledge of the matter said that the first six advertisers that Yahoo signed paid $70,000 for each of their spots. Using the viewership for eHealth's ad as a proxy, that works out to $42 for every thousand viewers. That's almost as much as the average broadcast TV ad, which was $43.06 last year, according to media pricing analytics firm SQAD.
But brands like Arby's were paying as much for eyeballs as for insight into whether live sports streamed online is something it should budget for in the future. The brand ran one 15-second ad in the first quarter and another in the fourth quarter. The viewership count for both ads combined totaled 3.2 million people, which was more than the 3 million unique streams that the brand had anticipated heading into the game.
"In terms of the delivery, frankly, I think it met our expectations. But most importantly it allows us to have a benchmark in this space so we can make decisions moving forward," Mr. Pruitt said. "Bottom line, overall I'm pleased with the delivery."
In particular, brands like Arby's and eHealth were pleased that the audience they hoped would tune in to the live stream -- millennials -- did so, particularly the older end of that demographic. People between the ages of 18 and 49 years old accounted for "a little over 50%" of the audience for Arby's ads, Mr. Pruitt said.
Of the 1.65 million people that watched eHealth's ad, 48% were between the ages of 25 and 44 years old, according to data that Yahoo provided to eHealth. However only 30% of total viewers were in that coveted 18- to 34-year-old millennial demographic, and only 5% of total viewers were between the ages of 18 and 24 years old. The data also showed that 67% of those viewers were male and 91% were watching the game on their desktop computers.
"We're a medium-size company that needs to look like a big company," Mr. Bernstein said. "And so when we look for our advertising, we need to be very scrappy with our dollars. We need them to work well. We need them to reach a lot of people."
For eHealth, the single 30-second spot did work well. Within an hour of it running, eHealth measured a 47% week-over-week increase in search-driven traffic to its site and a 76% week-over-week increase in direct traffic to its site that Mr. Bernstein attributed directly to the brand's ads during the live stream. "There's no doubt what it was," he said. That ability to measure the ad's direct impact mitigated the importance of how many people saw the ad, including whether they saw the ad because they were actively watching the game or because it was autoplaying on Yahoo's home page while they browsed the news, Mr. Bernstein said.
EHealth is also squeezing some extra value out of their relatively inexpensive ads. The insurance marketplace tagged the people who visited their site from Yahoo to retarget those people with ads for 90 days after the game had ended. A Yahoo spokeswoman said the portal has discussed retargeting the game's audience with brands that advertised during the live stream. Of the brands that Ad Age interviewed for this article, only eHealth was aware of those conversations.