Super Bowl

This Is What Happened When We Tried to Spend a $5 Million Super Bowl Budget on Facebook

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I'm breaking the most golden rule here, the one where a marketer isn't supposed to bash the Super Bowl, because an ad running during the biggest of the big games is the Super Bowl of advertising opportunities.


I mean, last year's game averaged 111.9 million viewers and 1.4 million live streamers a minute. And advertising is part of what makes the media world go 'round (somebody has to pay for content, if not you and me). Plus, brands like Pepsi reported one billion media impressions in past Super Bowls for their marketing efforts. That's big stuff.

The role of the Super Bowl is cemented into every ad agency's big fat dream: a cluttered awards shelf, and a cultural impact. If you're a Gen X or Y standing at the edge of 2017, you likely remember Apple circa 1984, and know that we still talk about that famous ad today. Wouldn't it be nice to create something like that?

It's also unlikely --  not because you're not great, just because it's rare for the stars to align just so.

So, this year, the Super Bowl costs $5 million for 30 seconds -- $166,667 every second. Surely there are more efficient marketing efforts that can be undertaken for far less money, especially in this era where brands are equally focused on traditional goals like reach and awareness, as well as newer goals like audience development and views, views, views.

In other words, there's gotta be another way.

How about Facebook?

We wondered: What would happen if we tried to spend that $5 million Super Bowl media budget on Facebook instead?

Facebook has 1.8 billion monthly active users, and a reported 8 billion video views a day. Brands like Crypt TV are being born on Facebook, while brands like Tastemade, Harry's Shave Club, Tough Mudder and Red Bull are building audiences in the tens of millions that they can come back to again and again.

So we tried, and this is what we got:

Credit: Tom Lombardo

WTF, this is a lot of people.


  • Upwards of 5 million people, every single day, for 11 months.
  • The ability to do many types of content, from images to text to videos.
  • Anything that goes viral via engagement, comments and sharing would only have additional upside.


Surely there would be a more robust offering than this in real life. For $5 million, you would get a direct sales team at Facebook, and a custom package. And, of course, you'd get boatloads of targeting. Still, this gets to the power of Facebook's massive scale, and the reason we should be treating it like a grown-up.

For us, the biggest upside that people don't talk about enough is the audience development piece. With enough effort, why not build your own audience instead of paying Fox to access theirs for just one day?

There are brands who avoid paying for the Super Bowl, and do more clever things. Take the 2014 Anna Kendrick ambush campaign for Newcastle by our friends at Droga5. Their goal was to be the most talked about ad of the Super Bowl, without making an ad for the Super Bowl. The gambit was award-winning and clever.

True, the Super Bowl has the water cooler component, if you hit the creative out of the park. That matters. And everybody is watching, or at least the closest to everybody that's possible with broadcast television these days (unlike the days of "M*A*S*H" finales).

But the question becomes, Does it matter enough, in today's modern media culture, where we have so many other tools at our disposal to drive reach, views, engagement and such? And has any marketer, ever, figured out the ROI of a Super Bowl spot (if you know of one, please tweet me because we want to give them an award).

We heart culture, great ads, thinking outside the box and watching the Super Bowl. What else we'll watch: whether any brands just say no to the Super Bowl in the future. This year, surprisingly, some already have.

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