How the Web Brought New Economics to Super Bowl Advertising

Sure, Super Bowl Ads Are Expensive, but the Big Game is Just the Start

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Advertising during the Super Bowl is expensive. It's the price you pay for an audience of 100 million, many just as interested in the ads as the game itself.

But would it surprise to know that Super Bowl ads from 2011 have been watched more than 360 million times -- on the web? In 2012, we estimate that number will be a half billion.

For decades, the Super Bowl has been the most celebrated event in sports, with much anticipation for US consumers. The media is abuzz with team rankings, talk shows featuring QBs and coaches, stats on every yard of the game, and expert commentators with projections on their favorite picks.

And then there are the Super Bowl advertisers who, for the most part, dole out upwards of $3 million on top of the millions they spend on the creative months before the game. All for a mere 30-second slot in front of approximately 100 million people watching the Super Bowl on TV (who are growing at roughly 3 percent annually).

While advertisers and their agencies are constantly assessing and justifying their commitment for a major marketing investment, one wonders if the recurring debate and the scrutiny from the CMO's office would somehow subside if buyers could substantially extend the reach and frequency of the creative beyond the scope of the 30-second window during the game. Diligent media buyers need look no further than online, where social sharing of Super Bowl ads, both pre and post-game, could significantly alter the economics of such high-stakes advertising.

The new water-cooler
While Super Bowl advertising on TV hasn't really changed all that much over the years, a lot has changed about the way people talk about their favorite Super Bowl advertisements after the game. According to Visible Measures' Super Bowl Ad Syndication Research for the past three years (a study of over 150 Super Bowl ads in 2009, 2010, and 2011, conducted in partnership with YouTube), people watched Super Bowl ads and associated creative executions over a hundred million times in four weeks post game each of the last three years.

Surprisingly, Super Bowl ads passed around on the web now account for about the same level of reach as the actual game. The difference is that the viewing behavior is time-shifted over four weeks post-game. In particular, about 30% of the total viewership across all Super Bowl ads syndicated online comes from social sharing of video ad clips.

What used to be the water cooler conversation on Monday morning after the game has in fact shifted to an equivalent consumer behavior that amounts to sharing (copying and uploading, sharing, commenting, blogging, spoofing) the ad and related social behaviors on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and hundreds of other video-sharing destinations around the Web.

The winner's circle
There are winners and losers with every game and the Super Bowl ad syndication game is no exception. In the past three years, the Top 10 most-viewed, syndicated ads captured almost half the total online viewership. More importantly, four of the five most-viewed ads also had the most socially syndicated views (meaning viewers were more inclined to share these ads over other ads). The winning brands make super-sharable creatives and have mastered the science of social syndication, which, for the most part, they take from the entertainment marketing playbook.

It goes without saying that entertainment value is a prerequisite for successful syndication online. If high-incidence of the "thumbs up" selector is any indication of a compelling creative then such a trait is common to all successfully syndicated ads. Moreover, the winners also deploy a broader array of non-standard (long-form, Web-only) assets that complement the Super Bowl spot and encourage greater engagement with the brand.

The part that clearly separates the winners from the losers is the deployment of the Super Bowl teaser assets before the game, a strategy that major film studios like Sony Pictures, Summit, and WB have employed quite successfully as part of their film release campaigns over the last few years. Just as film trailers fan the enthusiasm of moviegoers, the trailers employed by advertisers like Doritos, Volkswagen, and E-trade over the past Super Bowl seasons pumped up their audiences a few days before the game. This approach gave their respective campaigns a leg up over others in the social sharing category.

Tapping the social quarterbacks
So, who is doing the sharing? It is certainly not the wide majority of viewers who want to simply have fun watching the ads. Visible Measures' data on the most successful, socially-syndicated video campaigns of all time show that less than 1 percent of the overall video-viewing audience for a campaign is responsible for driving over 95% of the socially shared, online viewership for the campaigns. The few who drive the masses want to earn the bragging rights to early discovery and stardom. These are the social QBs that advertisers must tap for a compelling ROI on Super Bowl advertising.

Seraj Bharwani is the Chief Analytics Officer of Visible Measures and responsible for thought leadership and consumer insights on branded content, social video, and shareable media.
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