The year was 1982. Super Bowl XVI was an epic battle of the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. The national audience of 85.5 million viewers gathered in front of the TV, ready to use their outside voices and support their team with the 5 (or 50) other people in the room. There were probably some chips on the table.
This year’s Super Bowl audience reached 114.4 million viewers, now snacking on a full party platter (including chips), many of whom were armed with mobile devices which they used to access multiple social media platforms throughout the game. Never has a fan’s “outside voice” been so loud.
Consequently, Super Bowl advertisers played as aggressively as the Denver defense, trying to imprint their brand messaging onto every on and off-screen surface. It was the Pepsi Super Bowl in Levi’s Stadium, and we couldn’t forget it.
The advertising kicked-off long before the coin toss this year as brands leaked ads early and released ads to promote their ads. Some conducted integrated TV and social campaigns like T-Mobile’s #Ballogize in which Steve Harvey apologized again, not for his Miss Universe mistake, but for the mistakes of other cellular networks. Harvey manned the T-Mobile’s Twitter feed during the big game.
Both fans and advertisers benefitted from the longer advertising playoff. Because the excitement and hype surrounding the Super Bowl stretched to a full week, international audiences had better access to advertisements aired in the US, and people who didn’t like sports could still enjoy the other game, watching and rating the commercials. Even if you were in the bathroom during #puppymonkeybaby and came back confused, you could pull it up on YouTube and join the 10.5 million viewers who wanted a closer look. (Why?)
Super Bowl 50 fans embraced the opportunity to watch advertisements for a first, second, or third time online. The Super Bowl ads on YouTube have already received well over 100 million views. That’s a lot of ad-centric activity for an audience that has, through ad blockers, paid subscriptions, and DVR, gone to great lengths to avoid advertising. Where’s the rage against the ad machine?
Although many balk at the $5 million price tag for 30 seconds of ad time, Super Bowl ads appear to be more valuable than ever. They not only have a longer lifespan and greater reach, they also blitz at a rare moment when people are open to advertising.
People respond to advertising that is relevant, non-intrusive, and entertaining. We’ve seen before that consumers reward brands who find creative ways to score on any platform (see: Oreo’s ‘You Can Still Dunk in the Dark’ tweet during the 2013 power outage) and punish advertisers who draw a flag (we won’t soon forget the personal foul of 2015.) This year’s advertisers scored key points by keeping an eye on the consumer… even if the consumer wasn’t us. (Some people actually loved Mountain Dew’s #puppymonkeybaby.)
The harsh reality is that, outside of the Super Bowl, it’s harder than ever for advertisers to score big with consumers. The opportunities for meaningful advertising are growing slimmer as audiences leap, spin, and dodge to avoid them. That means brands need to be focused, intentional, and tactical with their advertising. Advertisers that throw clean, straight passes to consumers will win championships. The ones who don’t will fumble in the other team’s end zone.