The Top 10 Ads of 2014 by Estimated Spending (And Five Lessons to Draw)

Verizon, Buick, Esurance and Domino's Led With Costly Outlays

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As the year draws to a close, we can now reveal the biggest TV ads in terms of estimated spend in the U.S. See below the chart for five thoughts on what we can learn.

Top 10 Ads by Estimated Spend
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$93MM - Verizon: Verizon More Everything Plan
$92.6MM - Buick: 2014 Buick Lineup
$78.5MM - Esurance: Beatrice
$74MM - Domino's Pizza: Specialty Chicken, Failure is an Option
$68.1MM - Mazda: 2014 Mazda3, Dare the Impossible
$65.4MM - State Farm: 3 a.m. Savings
$64.3MM - Trivago: Compares Prices
$63.6MM - Sleep Number: Find Your Setting
$62.7MM - GMC: 2014 GMC Sierra 1500 Crew Cab, GMC Summer Selldown
$61MM - FIAT: FIAT, Mirage

It was another big year in TV advertising. Not just because there were tens of thousands of ads, hundreds of billions of views to those ads on TV and online or because puppies, camels, or talking heads and animated graphics continued to dominate the time between shows. The growth this year can be seen in how the market adapted to the increasingly multi-platform world.

While the list of trends in TV advertising could arguably number in the dozens, here are a few that became clear after closer examination of the ads on our list.

1. Detroit redefines itself

Not surprisingly, 4 of the top 10 ad ads by spending came from auto manufacturers. Automakers spent $7.1 billion on U.S. TV this year through the first half of December, according to iSpot estimates. But what stood out this year was how they did their advertising. Buick, the year's second-biggest TV ad by estimated ad spend, heavily stressed its 2014 redesigned lineup. That theme resonated through U.S. automobile manufacturers. Their overall message: "We've gotten better." More than just selling a model year of cars, the U.S. manufacturers used their lineup to rebrand themselves, almost across the board.

2. Events rule

While yearly events like the Super Bowl pull in big numbers, this year was unusual in the addition of both the Sochi Winter Olympics and the World Cup. Almost every one of the ads in the top 10 above used these and other events in a large way as part of their strategy.

What's more, TV advertising around events is big digital business. The top 10 most digitally-active ads for the Super Bowl generated 8.5 million explicit social actions and nearly 285 million video views online -- "earned" views that consumers sought out, moreover, as opposed to paid ads that automatically played before other content . The top 10 most digitally-active TV ads for all other periods of the year account for 115 million views and a quarter of the social activity that those top Super Bowl ads generated.

3. Real-time digital activity influences creative

In 2014, iSpot.tv measured 4.5 billion earned digital views for ads airing on TV. On top of that, we tracked 125 million social interactions and more than 800 million searches explicitly linked to airings of ads on TV. It's safe to say that commercials are increasingly being used to drive earned media activity, and the creative behind much of them is designed to generate online chatter, such as shares, tweets, likes and votes on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Particularly on social networks, the need to create ads that viewers will want to share not out of brand loyalty but out of pure entertainment value has led to much more creative and engaging spots.

In terms of which ad generated the most digital response all year, none topped Budweiser's "Puppy Love" Super Bowl commercial, which generated more than 54 million online views and 2.6 million social actions alone.

4. Calls to action

Over the last two years, the number of calls-to-action in TV ads has increased from 60% of all ads to almost 75%. What's also interesting is the form those calls to action take. While web domains and phone numbers remain dominant at 65% and 23% respectively, the use of hashtags grew the most, from 2% two years ago to 9% now. Conversely, referencing Facebook pages fell in popularity, from nearly 3% to less than 1% today.

5. Digital brands go analog

More digital brands are using TV advertising to drive awareness. The trend started years ago, as GoDaddy's run of Super Bowl advertising demonstrates. But this year we began seeing digital brands on a far more regular basis across the dial.

Mobile games were perhaps the most notable new entrant, with publishers of hits like Candy Crush and Clash of Clans spending more on TV advertising in the months preceding the holiday rush than the bigger game console developers.

And newcomer Trivago, the travel search site, rose above the rest, becoming the only digital brand with an ad that broke into our top 10 spending list.

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