Super Bowl

Social Sharing of Super Bowl Ads Declines, But Does It Matter?

Study Finds Pre-Game Promotions More Effective in Generating Sales

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Now that releasing Super Bowl ads before the game has become commonplace, people seem to be getting tired of it all. Sharing of Super Bowl ads dropped dramatically last year, and releasing the ads pre-game has a fairly negligible impact on awareness or purchase intent, according to separate research studies.

"The online free lunch with the Super Bowl is over," said Richard Kosinski, U.S. president of video ad tech firm Unruly, which found that social sharing of Super Bowl content decreased 29% on average last year vs. 2013. That's despite a 22% increase in sharing for the average online video ad overall. The finding suggests that brands may have to buy more online views pre-game, get smarter about strategy or just wait until the game.

While it's natural to blame the growing glut of online content for the decline in Super Bowl ad sharing, the simultaneous rise in sharing for other videos contradicts that. Mr. Kosinski suspects Super Bowl ad sharing declined in part because advertisers fumbled the timing or got the creative wrong.

Unruly's analysis of the top 4,000 videos across the social web shows that sharing is happening faster as social media's collective attention span gets shorter. In 2013, 25% of video shares occurred in the first three days after release and 37% by the end of the first week. Last year, those numbers nearly doubled to 42% in the first three days and 65% by the first week.

Given the compressed window, the ideal day to release a Super Bowl ad online now appears to be Wednesday before the game, Mr. Kosinski said. But he said brands have tended to release their ads too early or too late.

Then again, none of this may matter much. A separate study by research firm Communicus found that among the 45% of consumers who were aware of a typical Super Bowl ad, only 3% recalled having seen it online prior to the game.

Brands can get better results with a far broader public relations and promotion program rather than simply releasing the ad to social media, said Communicus CEO Jeri Smith.

The average pre-Super Bowl promotion generates 9% branded awareness, compared to 15% for a typical Super Bowl ad. And the pre-game promotions outperform either pre-game video releases or the ads themselves shown during the game in terms of improving purchase intent, she said.

Doritos' "Crash the Super Bowl" program last year, among the most successful pre-game efforts, generated 24% branded awareness, she said. Programs like that or Budweiser's "Name the Clydesdale Foal" effort in 2013, which foster consumer involvement, do the best, she said.

Marketers should also know that Facebook may be as big a platform for pre-game ad viewing as YouTube this year. Mr. Kosinski pointed to ComScore research showing Facebook's share of U.S. video views rose from 10% to 18% just between March and November. YouTube's share fell from 24% to 21%. Among other things, that means it's important to use video viewers optimized for Facebook, he said.

Unruly has found common threads among the most-shared Super Bowl ad videos of all time, such as VW's "The Force" or Budweiser's "Puppy Love" last year and "Brotherhood" the year before. Emotion and nostalgia work better than humor at spanning cultural divides and generating shares, said Mr. Kosinski.

He believes the sharing success of such ads in recent years – also seen with Procter & Gamble's "Thank You Mom" Olympics efforts -- may engender a broader shift toward emotion and away from humor in Super Bowl creative.

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