How comms tech helped savvy marketers use Super Bowl uncertainty to their advantage

Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, site of Super Bowl LV. (Photo credit: Getty Images).
Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, site of Super Bowl LV. (Photo credit: Getty Images).

Lessons from Cheetos and other brands on going beyond the paid spot.

Nearly a year into a pandemic, the show went on. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, Tom Brady proved that age is just a number and Super Bowl ads took over the airwaves — and our social media channels.

With more than a full week to digest the Super Sunday campaigns, experts highlight the importance of purpose in brand messaging, noting that companies that chose not to air an ad may have had the strongest message of all. Others are focusing on how big brands carried out large campaigns in spite of the pressures of coordinating remotely on one of the biggest nights of the year. And others note the unpredictability of this unique Super Bowl. 

“The Super Bowl served as this full circle moment, nearly a year into the pandemic, where we saw that despite all of the challenges, we were still able to drive meaningful campaigns around key sports and cultural moments,” says Chris Console, SVP at BCW Sports.

However, savvy marketers can use that unpredictability to their advantage. Erica Samadani, SVP and co-lead of MullenLowe PR, notes that “if one thing is predictable during a pandemic, it’s that it’s unpredictable and you need to be ready to pivot your strategy at a moment’s notice. In the best of circumstances, you can use changes to the news cycle and conversation on social media to your advantage.”   

While the pandemic had an impact on how ad planning happened, it also had an impact on what happened, as well. 

“Many companies made a strong stance of not spending money on the Super Bowl, which inevitably raises the bar on those who did choose to advertise,” says Paul Dyer, CEO of Lippe Taylor Group. “In particular, while we’ve grown accustomed to celebrity-stuffed spots for the Super Bowl, this year shined a spotlight on the brands that didn’t seem to realize 2021 was a different kind of year.”  

Lisa Rosenberg, president of consumer brands at Allison+Partners, agrees, noting that “the events of the past year have made it even more evident that purpose equals power.”

“Consumers are craving authentic and meaningful content from brands they support, which forced big time Super Bowl players to reevaluate priorities and determine the best use of their resources,” she explains. “Whether that meant sitting out the Super Bowl for the first time in 37 years, like Budweiser, or leveraging an unexpected, regional approach like Reddit, brands across every industry are taking a hard look at their marketing strategy.” 

The brands that did choose to advertise during the big game leveraged the fact that competitors were absent from the airwaves. Samadani remarks how the Boston Beer Company, maker of Sam Adams, was able to grab attention due to Budweiser’s absence. By mimicking Budweiser’s Clydesdales, MullenLowe “helped the brand pivot and seize the moment in real time, grabbing countless headlines for a commercial that most people, if they watched the game, wouldn’t have seen otherwise since Boston Beer Company only made a regional media buy.”

Other brands followed tried-and-true methods to gain traction with viewers. Samantha Halpern, SVP of brand business at Marina Maher Communications, explains how releasing its spot before the Super Bowl and engaging with influencers across platforms like TikTok, Twitter and Instagram, made Tide’s activation a success. By meeting people on social media to include their own take on the brand’s “dirtier than it looks” spot, they were able to create a dialogue, culminating in a charity sweepstakes to win the hoodie personified in Tide’s ad.

Kate Charles and Nicole Weltman, chief planning officer and SVP of digital at Lippe Taylor, respectively, suggest that cutting through the noise has gotten more challenging, meaning that brands need to be more inventive to gain traction. 

“A Super Bowl spot on its own will rarely give the ROI in today’s landscape, so marketers need to think about how to extend the narrative in earned [media],” argues Charles. Weltman notes that “Easter egg moments,” which provide viewers with the opportunity to “engage with the content outside of the spot itself,” are becoming more prevalent. 

They highlight the Cheetos Snap to Steal activation. It capitalized on second screen viewing and led to huge engagement and coverage, from Cheetos being the No. 1 searched brand on Google to earning coverage on the late night shows.

While the circumstances of this year’s Super Bowl may have been different from years past, experts used the same range of tools to gather insights and analytics when planning campaigns and real-time reactions. At Allison, Rosenberg notes staffers relied on social listening, influence, and measurement tools. Their arsenal ranged from Brandwatch, Tagger, Sprout, Khoros and Sysomos, to research platforms like Statista, GWI and Mintel. More broadly, the team communicated and tracked their campaign via a war room.

BCW Sports also leaned on a virtual war room to coordinate game day activity. 

“The community management team focused specifically on consumer comments coming in on brand owned content; the PR and crisis team had direct ownership of social and earned media tracking through tools using keywords and terms that give us the ability to track comments, posts and articles in real time,” says Console.

Samadani explains that MullenLowe used its proprietary conversation and analysis tool called Speedbag to “stay ahead of trending themes and topics.”

What does Super Bowl Sunday portend for the future of marketing and communications and comms tech? For one, the insights suggest that the importance of social media certainly isn’t waning. This is all the more true in a time when people’s viewing of a game or show on a streaming service has become even more intertwined with their use of social platforms. 

“When viewership waned at certain points in the game, social media got an instant boost,” Console notes. “This kept marketers on their toes to make sure their social game plans were evolving to react with audience sentiment and conversation.”

Brands may also no longer be confined to what was traditionally seen as their lane. 

“We saw a cross-section of first-time advertisers and marketers taking advantage of the Super Bowl landscape, particularly from brands and categories not always thought to be obvious partners with sports,” he adds. “The eclectic lineup of brands across all sectors has sparked new conversations on leveraging activations in sporting events where brands may not have previously appeared.”

Beyond an increased desire to see more purposeful advertising more broadly, consumers are also seeking increased representation and inclusiveness.  

“We’ve experienced an unprecedented year of demand for inclusion and all of the top 10 ads on USA Today’s admeter had BIPOC and LGBTQ+ talent in the spot or highlighted other forms of diversity,” notes Charles.

“This tells us two things: no. 1, Consumers are not only noticing brands who are more inclusive, but actually rewarding them for it,” she continues. “No. 2, token inclusion is not enough. Many of these diversity placements are criticized for exploiting inclusion since few members of the decision makers behind the spots were from these communities.”

This story first appeared on PRWeek US.

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