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The Evolution of Social Media in Super Bowl Ads

I think we can all agree that this year’s Super Bowl commercials were anything but special.  Ad guru Lee Garfinkel agrees – “average and okay” was the description he used when evaluating the commercials that ran during this year’s game.  As mediocre as they were, it’s clear that the companies investing millions of dollars in ad-buys are now shifting their strategies in order to make their commercials more memorable and engaging.  The solution?  Social media.

The cost for an ad-buy during this year’s Super Bowl was a record-tying $4M for a 30-second spot.  That’s a lot of money – even for big companies.  What we’ve seen over the last few years is more and more companies relying on social media to create a larger impression with their ad buys.  Understandable – you want your $4M to go as far as possible.  So how, when, and where did all this social media integration begin?  Let’s break it down with a simple timeline.

  • Super Bowl XLV (2011): Audi claimed a first in Super Bowl advertising: using a Twitter hashtag at the end of the 60-second commercial.  The German luxury automaker flashed “#Progressls” at the end of its TV spot to target the tech-savvy sports fans.  The result?  More than 12,000 Tweets were generated using the hashtag.  The era of using hashtags in TV ads had just begun.
  • Super Bowl XLVI (2012): This one breaks a Twitter record.  The end of the game between the Giants and Patriots was so close and exciting that it generated 12,233 tweets per second (TPS), the highest TPS for an English-language event by far.  Just for the record, the 2011 Super Bowl generated 4,064 TPS.  During Super Bowl XLVI we also saw companies unveil their Super Bowl commercials weeks in advance by displaying the ads on Facebook, YouTube and company websites.  USA Today partnered up with Facebook and launched an app called Ad Meter, which let its users preview roughly 20 of the commercials and vote on their favorite ads.
  • Super Bowl XLVII (2013): Remember Oreos genius insta-ad during the 34-minute blackout?  Oreos created mega-buzz via Facebook and Twitter with its clever, lightning-fast ad with the punchline “you can still dunk in the dark”.  Other companies like Calvin Klein, Tide, and Volkswagen followed suit, but with little.  This insta-ad was retweeted more than 15,000 times in the first 14 hours and received more attention than any televised commercial  With this, the use of social media was taken to a whole new level – what was once a mere sidekick to the televised commercials is now a force to be reckoned with on its own.
  • Super Bowl XLVIII (2014): Hashtags were used in 57% (31 total) of this year’s Super Bowl ads.  We also saw Esurance create even more buzz than the Oreos insta-ad from last year, with millions exposed to its clever ad campaign.  Esurance claims that it saved $1.5 million by choosing to air their spot right after the Super Bowl and it gave it all away to one lucky winner via Twitter.  “We are making the sweepstakes exclusive to Twitter, because it’s easy, it’s modern, free to sign up, and is a great fit for the Esurance brand,” said Danny Miller, a spokesman for Esurance.  Who doesn’t like free money?

The cost of using social media to help your commercial become a mega-hit?  $0.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see this trend continue and expect more companies to opt for getting exposure through social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s commercials (and hopefully a closer game, too).

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