The Changing State of Super Bowl Advertising

Brandon Carter
Brandon Carter

Super Bowl 50 Vince Lombardi trophy in downtown Chicago

photo courtesy of Mobilus In Mobili.

In at least symbolic terms, CBS’s decision to stream Super Bowl ads online right after they air on TV is a big moment for advertising and the way it’s distributed.

Economics aside, it’s at least tacit acknowledgment that consumers are moving from traditional means of viewing via cable to streaming platforms, and that those habits are still meaningful targets for Super Bowl advertisers.

According to a recent study, 51% of consumers who saw Super Bowl ads in 2015 saw them online, not on TV.

With so many viewers watching the ads online rather than on TV, the same study found that Super Bowl 2015 saw a record number of online video ad shares, attracting a total of 9 million shares (and 483.6 million views) overall – a 73% increase from 2014.

CBS clearly got the memo. In selling online impressions and TV reach in one package, they’ve acknowledge the shift has already happened.

How will brands adjust going forward?

The Long Tease

One of the greater ironies in Super Bowl advertising is that, oftentimes, the ads themselves are old news by the time they air. For a few years now, brands have started teasing their ads before the game, with the optimal window appearing to be one week in advance. According to Outbrain data, for example, interest in Super Bowl ads last year was 50% higher one week before the game than it was in 2014.  Liberated from the 30 and 60 second formats in TV, brands can also present longer edits of their ads on YouTube, or else show different but related content altogether to generate some anticipation for the real deal.

CBS’s move means that trend will likely continue. But now there are other distribution platforms, and with that, formats to consider. You can bet that both Instagram and Snapchat will host more clips before, during, and after the game than they did last year. So will Outbrain, for that matter.

Furthermore, brands are starting to find that all this online attention doesn’t come cheap. In the early days, when teasing your ad was still novel, it was easier to stand out.  As more brands enter the mix, and more ads and related content appear online, it’s no longer enough to seed the content on your social channels and pray it earns shares. In addition to the hefty price of a TV spot, brands are starting to spend comparable amounts in online distribution, too.

super bowl ads drew 50% more interest the week before the big game than the same time period in 2014.


Which begs the question; if a Super Bowl spot carries a price tag approaching $5 million, and generating meaningful engagement with the ad before and after the game can cost six and seven figures, at what point does Super Bowl advertising cease to be cost-effective?

The answer may depend on how your Super Bowl investment impacts your marketing the other 364 days of the year.

A Launching Pad for Longer Campaigns?

As some Super Bowl ad vets step back from the game this year, several “rookie” brands are setting out to make a name for themselves with the deployment of new messaging strategies.

One brand that’s generating interest is Sun Trust Bank, a little-known brand that will be using its Super Bowl spot to address “financial confidence” for Americans.

This from CEO William H. Rogers Jr.

We’re investing in this ad because the Super Bowl is a unique and proven forum to launch a national conversation. We want to be the spark that motivates people to take action, and give them tools and access to information to move closer to financial confidence.

The idea of the Super Bowl as a “launch” and a “forum” for a national conversation implies that after the Super Bowl, the conversation isn’t over. And the idea itself — of motivating people to take action and give them tools and information to gain financial confidence — sounds like a solid foundation for an entire content strategy, not just an ad or an opportunistic tweet during the game.

A strategy more and more brands may start to embrace.

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Brandon Carter

Brandon Carter

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