Despite one of the most boring Super Bowl games in recent memory (and perhaps ever), 2019 still brought in 98.2 million viewers. However, the real benefit came from the conversation around the game.
Music and video analytic company Pex tracked 28 ads on 24 different platforms during the days before, during, and after the Super Bowl last year, and the results confirm: You don’t have to be a big sponsor to make a big splash.
While about 45 million people watched these videos online during Super Bowl Sunday, the numbers were more impressive the Thursday and Friday before the game (105 total million views) and the Monday after (more than 70 million views).
With a 30-second spot costing $5.6 million—$10 million if you’re Michael Bloomberg or Donald Trump—the reality is that most brands won’t be able to afford a commercial during the Super Bowl itself. But thanks to an ever-expanding digital market, being off the big screen isn’t a bad thing.
In fact, some advertisers are thriving on it. Here’s a look at our favorite techniques for making sure your brand is heard during Super Bowl Sunday, as well as before and after the game.
Skirt the rules of the big game
For marketers, there’s a list of rules regarding the Super Bowl. Unless you’re an official sponsor, the phrases Super Bowl and Super Sunday are off limits. For brands that don’t have that spare $5.6 million to shell out for 30 seconds on TV, the rules provide an opportunity for some creative outside the box thinking.
In 2014, Newcastle took this route during the buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII, releasing a series of ads with people who would have starred in “the mega huge football game ad,” if only Newcastle had the money to shoot and edit the commercial. Instead, we get Anna Kendrick in makeup, a stylist teasing her hair as she complains about Newcastle’s tight pockets, while the phrase “Super Bowl” get bleeped every time she utters it.
The NFL may take itself way too seriously, but you don’t have to. Don’t forgo the chance to poke a little fun at yourself—the end results will be much more memorable.
Promote user-generated content
All brands have a certain subset of superfans. These are the people that will sing your praises to anyone who will listen, and that includes on social media. Smart companies use this content to their advantage.
From 2006 to 2016, Doritos hosted its “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign, which took user-generated content (UGC) to a whole new level. The company asked fans across the world to submit commercials for the brand. The grand prize? Get your commercial on national television in front of millions of people during the Super Bowl. Over the course of the campaign, Doritos received more than 36,000 entries, and credits “Crash” as a key component to growing the brand’s worth from $1.54 billion in 2006 to $2.2 billion a decade later.
Similarly, Pepsi, sponsor of the Super Bowl halftime show, encouraged fans to share photos of themselves with the brand. One big winner won tickets to the Super Bowl, 50 others got to be on the field during halftime performer Beyonce’s live show, and everyone got to see themselves in the intro to Beyonce’s performance. It was a clever way to engage with loyal customers without having to travel across the world to shoot footage. And how many of us can say we basically shared screen time with Queen Bey?
Even if your brand can’t offer a trip to the Super Bowl, there are plenty of incentives to offer for fans willing to spread your message. From discounts to personalized shout outs, show your fans a little love.
Just say, “We’ll do it live!”
In 2017, Snickers ran an ad during the Super Bowl that was a little different than the norm: it was completely live. Adam Driver came out of a saloon, saying both the score and the quarter, 21-3 in the third. (Sorry for bringing up a terrible memory, Falcons fans).
The move was a gamble. As the entire premise centered around Driver’s Wild West sheriff being unaware that the live commercial was happening and accidentally destroying the set around him while setting fire to several pieces of scenery in the process, everything had to go “wrong” perfectly. The following day, Snickers continued the conversation by having Driver apologize for ruining the commercial, but getting interrupted by the sound of a fire extinguisher in the background.
As a bonus, if you happened to be watching the game at a house that has a Slingbox or another device with ad blockers, the live commercial avoided those blockers. I happened to be at such a party, and the only commercial we saw all night was the one from Snickers, because it was live and went undetected as an advertisement.
Meanwhile, Wix ran giveaways leading up to Super Bowl LI by melting blocks of ice containing football-themed paraphernalia inside of them, like a football or helmet. They showed the blocks of ice melting via a Facebook Live stream and encouraged users to sign up to win prizes between $10,000 and $50,000. To better build brand awareness, all entrants had to change their profile picture to Chez Felix, a Wix customer and spokesperson.
Thanks to features like IGTV and Facebook Live, brands can generate buzz before the Super Bowl and then go live during the game. Just make sure your content is strong and find a fun way to engage with fans throughout, as long as it stays true to your brand.
Who knows? If we end up with another snoozefest like last year, you may have more eyes on your content than the game itself.
Embrace crossover promotion
Despite Game of Thrones fans displaying mixed emotions toward the show’s final season, it was one of the most talked about pop culture events of the past decade. Anheuser-Busch, which had already adopted a Game of Thrones environment through its “Dilly Dilly” series of Bud Light ads, saw an opportunity, even if it meant the death of its beloved Bud Knight.
As part of a $20 million campaign for the final season, HBO sent in Gregor Clegane, a.k.a. “the Mountain.” One of Game of Thrones’ scarier characters, the Mountain defeats Bud Knight in a callback to an earlier season of the show. Then, for good measure, one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons comes in to set everything on fire.
The end result was just enough to offer a glimpse of the final season without giving too much away—the show’s director rewrote multiple versions of the spot to avoid such spoilers—while appealing to fans of both the show and the beer.
It’s perhaps the boldest Super Bowl brand crossover, but marketers should take note. Expanding your audience through complementary brands can lead to loyal customers down the road. For example, a salsa brand could partner with a cleaning supplies company to do an email campaign on how to keep everything tidy during and after the game.
This is an easier solution if you’ve developed audience personas for your customers. You know what their challenges and concerns are, and you can team up with another brand to offer unique solutions.
Keep an eye on the social media conversation
Perhaps the most famous Super Bowl ad is not even an ad at all. During the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII, the power went out in the stadium, causing a 34-minute delay. While the broadcast crew tried to keep fans entertained with analysis and highlights, viewers quickly turned to social media to help pass the time. And that’s when Oreo sprang into action.
They found a way to hop into the conversation without coming across as forced or hokey. Everyone was talking about the blackout on social media, and even casual fans knew this was not an everyday occurrence. Oreo shared a message that was on brand and perfectly identifiable with everyone watching the game.
Other brands have taken to social media specifically to go head-to-head against competitors advertising during the big game. During Super Bowl XLIX, Volvo didn’t have a commercial slotted for the broadcast. But that didn’t matter—the company had something up its sleeve.
During its “Volvo Interception” campaign in 2015, it encouraged people to hop onto Twitter to nominate someone to win a Volvo XC60 luxury crossover by using the hashtag #VolvoContest. The catch? Fans had to tweet during other car companies’ advertisements. Volvo was able to interact in real-time with people, all while taking the spotlight away from its competitors. The five winners surely appreciated their tactics, too.
Do you have a favorite commercial or campaign from the Super Bowl? Has a brand you’ve worked with done something special for it? Let us know in the comments below.