These brands won the Super Bowl with gen Z and millennials

Bud Light, PepsiCo, Verizon, Tide and TurboTax were a yard ahead of the competition

Rewind to Super Bowl XL in 2016. Cam Newton and Peyton Manning were gearing up for battle at Levi’s Stadium, while Kenny Mitchell and I were marketers at Gatorade looking for an authentic, engaging way to turn the iconic orange cooler moment into something that would resonate with our Gen Z and Millennial athlete target. We struck gold. We made a bet to expand outside traditional mediums, using Snapchat’s Augmented Reality Lens format to pour millions of gallons of Gatorade on fans’ heads -- with a surprising degree of realism and fun. It was the first time a brand used Snapchat as a major marketing vehicle for the big game. It paid off beyond our wildest expectations. 

The Gatorade Dunk Lens received over 160 million impressions in less than 48 hours, making it one of the most viewed Super Bowl ads in history -- and it didn’t even run on TV

The takeaway was unmistakable: advertisers making massive investments in key cultural moments should extend beyond expensive TV buys to drive impact. During the highest-profile marketing moments of the year, brands win big when they explore mobile formats that deliver extended reach and active vs. passive involvement. In the US, interactive engagement is especially effective during live TV moments in which the entire country participates. 

By focusing on broadcast channels alone (TV or digital), advertisers risk spending millions on a fleeting moment of fame in a crowded environment without truly capturing the attention of Gen Z and Millennials – who now influence over a trillion dollars in household spend.

Fast forward to yesterday’s game, many of the world’s biggest brands made the strategic decision to complement their TV investment with high-profile, media-efficient extensions. In the Super Bowl of Augmented Reality, Verizon, TurboTax, Tide and three PepsiCo brands (Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Doritos) all created AR extensions of their Super Bowl TV spots. Universally, the rationale was to extend audience reach in a way that would increase engagement for the entire campaign. 

"Tide always looks for new ways to tell our stories beyond traditional media," said Henry Molski, Communications Manager at P&G, North American Fabric Care. "Integrating our Super Bowl plan into Snapchat allows us to bring our new product, Tide Power PODS, to an innovative medium and reach new audiences that want to be a part of the discussion on Super Bowl Sunday." 


Combining a well-executed TV spot with mobile ad formats focused on active participation is the winning playbook for marketers, whether they care about increased media efficiency or connection within culture.

"While the Super Bowl is a major live TV event unlike anything else, the 2nd screen experience is increasingly growing in importance with respect to how consumers experience the game," said Todd Kaplan, VP of Marketing at PepsiCo. "As brands look to connect with and engage these consumers, it is critical to maintain a level of authenticity to each of the platforms, by continuing to innovate and find new ways to add value to their overall experience."

In 2016, the impact of AR was difficult to measure beyond impressions and press, but now smart marketers are leveraging the full performance suite they expect from mature digital ad formats: in-depth targeting, goal-based bidding, optimization and full-funnel measurement. The best part is advertisers don’t need Super Bowl sized budgets. The minimum buy is now $20 and creative can be built within minutes. Progressive, results-based marketers are already reaping the ROI rewards of always-on AR.

When it comes to penetrating new audiences, or strengthening relationships with current customers, interactive ad formats are equally important for major cultural moments and the everyday. Brands are challenging each other on how they can leverage their creativity to build stronger, more memorable connections with their audiences. Now that the secret is out, we will see who wins the Super Bowl of AR in 2021. There are already a few brands leading the Power Rankings.

Jeff Miller is the senior director of creative strategy at Snap Inc.

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