Super Bowl 2016: Brands turn to social for added value

With a record 114.4 million Americans tuning into last year’s match, it’s clear the Super Bowl remains a huge draw for advertisers. However, with Super Bowl ad slots now pricier than ever before, many brands are changing the way they advertise around US sport’s biggest event.

Since 2006, the Super Bowl has generated $2.38bn of network advertising sales from more than 130 brands, according to Kantar Media. But getting a slot doesn’t come cheap.

The average rate for a 30-second advertisement in the Super Bowl has increased by 76% during the past decade, reaching $4.4m in 2015. And this year’s Super Bowl, which will see the Carolina Panthers take on the Denver Broncos on 7 February, is expected to cost brands well over $5m per slot.

The rise of digital

To combat the rising costs, brands such as Pepsico, which is the sponsor of the event’s famous half time show, are shifting more of the conversation to digital. For this year’s Super Bowl, for example, 40% of Pepsi’s ad spend will be on digital.

“Close to 40% of our investment will be on digital because that’s where consumers are having conversations,” explained Pepsi CMO Seth Kaufman in an interview with Ad Week.

“That’s not to say that we’re ignoring the television screen—obviously, we’re spending big dollars on the Super Bowl game day. But that itself is not enough to have a two-way conversation with a consumer.”

To tap into this shift, Google recently announced it would be trialling a real-time advertising platform at this year’s Super Bowl as it aims to steal brands away from Twitter’s Live Moments platform.

While at least four major brands (Amazon, Marriott, Pepsi and Budweiser) have confirmed they will advertise on Snapchat, which is hosting its first sponsored Super Bowl Live Story in partnership with the NFL.

snapchat two
Snapchat has launched a major partnership with the NFL. Its Live Stories platform allows brands to tell stories direct to users during the Super Bowl

Changing formula

Granted, there’s a Super Bowl advertising formula: lovable not too good-looking celebrity? Check. In a script that makes them seem like a regular, insecure person like the rest of us? Check,” says Brent Choi, chief creative officer at J. Walter Thompson New York.

“But today, social media has to be part of the equation. You can guarantee reasonable success with the magic formula — or you can try to risk it and go in a different way. In recent years, Chrysler’s ‘Halftime in America” or Ram Trucks ‘So God Made a Farmer’ broke through. Terry Tate’s Office Linebacker for Reebok and Volkswagen’s Little Darth Vader both took approaches that were different and made a huge impact.”

This approach to create something more unconventional could be wise. According to Reuters 160 million people now watch the Super Bowl worldwide, which makes producing a bold creative with international appeal crucial.

Value for money

But above all, brands are looking for a way to make their ad dollars stretch further according to Jonathan Akwue, UK CEO at social and content agency Lost Boys.

“Given the astronomical amount of money trading hands, brands now have to eek out as much value as possible and social channels can provide that,” he explains.

“That’s why we’re seeing original Super Bowl ad teasers as brands want to create a series of mini events before the main event. The NFL has launched a significant partnership with Snapchat, which shows where things are heading in the future.”

Over the last decade, Doritos has hosted its popular ‘Crash the Super Bowl’ campaign, which gives entrants who submit a video the chance to win an ad during the game as well as $1m.

It will, however, end the campaign after this year’s Super Bowl. “Our Doritos target is [now] Gen Z consumers and they’re already content creators,” says the brand’s CMO Ram Krishnan. “You don’t need a brand to play a role in that anymore.”

seth rogen
Comedians Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen are heading up Budweiser’s Super Bowl offering

The future of TV

So if brands are changing their approach to directly go after Generation Z, could the big TV ad spectacle of the Super Bowl diminish? Not completely, according to Kaufman.

“A marketer paying between $4.5 and $5m for a 30 second spot in the Super Bowl is going to try and get as much bang for the buck as possible, and rightly so,” he adds. “But the TV broadcast still has enormous value – no other event attracts viewers that specifically watch for the ads – it is more than 50%, according to Nielsen.”

In the UK alone, 81% of viewers will watch the Super Bowl on TV this year [Kantar Media]. Akwue believes the spectacle of TV advertising remains strong but says brands will look to social media to inject more creativity around the Super Bowl.

“A lot of the Super Bowl is just brands showing off to their peers and saying: ‘We can afford to play!'”

Jonathan Akwue, UK CEO at Lost Boys.

“But if you look at the Bud Light ad with Seth Rogen or Liam Neeson popping up to sell TVs it all feels very safe at the moment. What Doritos has done is significant as it’s realising its role as an amplifier has diminished. Moving forward, brands will now look to social media to stray a little from the TV formula of Super Bowl advertising.”

Choi counters: “There’s also an angle in brands that decide to hijack the Super Bowl. For example, Newcastle Brown Ale, which for the last two years has released unofficial ‘Super Bowl’ ads, to great effect.”

For this year’s Super Bowl, its 50th anniversary, Adobe will launch a new advert ‘The Gambler’ showing a CMO nervously watching the Super Bowl with a twist – he’s not betting on the big game, he’s gambling on one of the highly coveted ad slots.

In particular, the advert appeals to marketers to optimise a campaign across all touch points in order to succeed or risk failure altogether – like the fictional CMO in the ad.

And with brands gambling nearly $6m on a Super Bowl ad slot this year, marketers will be hoping to avoid a similar fate.


Early bird entry for the Marketing Week Awards closes on Wednesday 3rd February. Click here to find out more about the awards, or enter now.



    Leave a comment


    Discover even more as a subscriber

    This article is available for subscribers only.

    Sign up now for your access-all-areas pass.

    Subscribers get unlimited access to unrivalled coverage of the biggest issues in marketing and world-renowned columnists, alongside carefully curated reports and briefings from Econsultancy. Find out more.

    If you are an existing print subscriber find out how you can get access here.

    Subscribe now

    Got a question?

    Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

    If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here

    Subscribers get unlimited access to unrivalled coverage of the biggest issues in marketing and world-renowned columnists, alongside carefully curated reports and briefings from Econsultancy. Find out more.

    If you are an existing print subscriber find out how you can get access here.

    Subscribe now