Last year, the cost of a 30-second spot in the Super Bowl finally tipped the scales at a whopping $5 million with more celebrities featured across last year’s ads than ever before. We can assume, this was why only four brands, made their first time Super Bowl ad appearances, the fewest over the last decade. And yet, even as costs increased and brands upped their production budgets to match, last year’s ratings and reach saw a sharp decline from the year prior.
Fast forward to today. As soon as the new year began, the ad blitz ensued. In attempts to stand out, brands have curated moments to unveil ads early, they have ignited buzz by teasing use of favorite characters from TV’s past, contributed to the football conversation without buying a spot at all, or bucked the TV format altogether (looking at you, Skittles).
In a moment that’s become so populated, it’s easy for brands to ask the question: will the Super Bowl make an impact?
Yes. We’ve likely reached peak Super Bowl, but even with this climate, I believe that by returning to the basics of advertising and prioritizing powerful creative ideas in the right channels, the Super Bowl can have meaningful impact on brand growth.
1. Take advantage of this unique cultural moment with scalable potential
Only a few mass reach moments exist today, and a TV spot within the Super Bowl is one of them. Whether it’s a national or a regional buy targeted to key markets, leveraging the big game is a great way to cement a brand’s meaning in culture.
In a post on his blog Melting Asphalt, Kevin Simler introduces a theory called "cultural imprinting." He describes it as "the mechanism whereby an ad, rather than trying to change our minds individually, instead changes the landscape of cultural meanings — which in turn changes how we are perceived by others when we use a product." For an idea to be adopted and for the brand to have a reflection back on the buyer, the ad has to be seen by the masses.
This explains why it’s so difficult to shift perception with just digital or social only buys that reach individuals in one-to-one moments. The ability to reach an audience over 100 million in a single setting ensures that what a brand stands for and how it reflects back on the buyer is widely accepted.
Yet, scale alone won’t make the brand famous. In recent years, many Super Bowl advertisers have focused solely on entertainment value, borrowing celebrity equity or relying on shock value that won’t create salience after the big game is over.
Looking back at some of the game’s most iconic ads, campaigns like Snickers’ "You’re Not You When You’re Hungry" or Apple’s "1984" broke through because they were grounded in unique, singular brand truths that have become part of everyday conversation and engrained in brand DNA. If you want to connect in culture, you can’t be shy about who you are.
2. Plan for how you’ll capitalize on consumer interest
While a digital presence alone may not be enough, extending across channels has been common practice since 2011 when Volkswagen became the first advertiser to unveil their ad "The Force" early online, generating 17 million views before airing it during the game.
After dropping a cultural bomb with a Super Bowl TV spot, digital and social extensions can further ignite the campaign by making the content accessible for people who connected with the brand message and want to share or comment on it as a reflection of their beliefs or interests.
Brands have also found success driving engagement by contributing to the multidimensional on-and-off-field stories sports fans now demand with real time war rooms that push out content to connect the brand idea with what’s happening within the game.
Taking a stance on cultural topics and encouraging audiences to do the same like Always famously did by extending their brand idea with social posts that invited consumers to share what they do #LikeAGirl, has shown to be another effective way to further fuel consumer interest stirred by a Super Bowl TV Spot.
3. Use the Super Bowl as your launch moment, not the only moment
While presence within the Super Bowl often leads to an immediate impact in metrics like GoDaddy’s spikes in traffic or Kia’s reported increase in awareness and sales, it’s important that brands plan for how they’ll extend conversation, leveraging the momentum they generated at the Super Bowl to help fuel the rest of their year.
Continued presence is essential to sustaining metrics and staying top of mind, so brands should ensure their idea and budgets can endure beyond this single moment alone. One of the greatest benefits of advertising within the Super Bowl is the ability to make your Super Bowl presence the start of something meaningful by re-engaging these communities days or months after the final touchdown.
While news of this year’s biggest productions will continue capturing headlines in the short term, it’ll take more time to see the impact of this year’s biggest winners -- the campaigns with lasting influence on the brand’s business thanks to a big idea and thoughtful execution across channels and flight dates. These are the ones worth celebrating.