Among this year’s crop of Super Bowl advertisers are brands that have found their fame on social media — particularly on TikTok.
Makeup brand NYX, skin-care label Cerave and candy line Nerds, for instance, are making their national debuts this year. E.L.F. Cosmetics, which advertised regionally during last year’s game, will make its national debut, and language-learning app Duolingo will air its first Super Bowl spot in regional markets.
Buzzy brands on social media don’t always reach the general market, but buying a Super Bowl spot promises just that.
Brian Camen, senior director of content and public relations at Nerds’ parent company, Ferrara, tells Campaign US it was time for the brand to “show up on the world’s biggest stage” due to “tremendous growth,” particularly of its Gummy Clusters product, the subject of its Super Bowl ad.
“Given that Super Bowl viewership is 115 million, we know we’re going to be able to reach anyone of all ages that has a mouth,” he says.
For these brands, the Super Bowl provides an avenue for building mass awareness as social media becomes more targeted, notes Fred Schank, SVP, brand experience, at The Marketing Arm.
“Social platforms have gotten so honed in on serving an exact target audience using the data that they have, so [brands] lose out on…people who they may not think are part of their target demographic but that might have an interest in their product,” he says.
Brands pay a pretty penny to advertise nationally on the Super Bowl stage precisely for this unparalleled awareness play, he adds — especially those brands making their Super Bowl debuts.
“This is our biggest stage for a brand to get into new audiences,” says Shayne Millington, chief creative officer at McCann New York, who worked with NYX on its Super Bowl LVIII campaign. “Brands are made at the Super Bowl.”
These brands with social-first marketing strategies might end up reaping the highest reward at this year’s Big Game due to their approach to cultivating fans and sustaining brand hype.
Social media fandom fuels success
As advertising during the Super Bowl has become increasingly gamified, brands are competing for sustained attention rather than counting their commercial slot alone as a success.
“Brands that just play within the 30-second media buy are not going to win, it's just going to get missed,” says McCann’s Millington.
A winning Super Bowl strategy involves a drip campaign of teasers to build interest, releasing the ad before it airs live and maintaining an online presence during the game to ensure people on secondary screens — and those who don’t tune into the game at all — are talking about the campaign.
In a multiscreen, social media-driven world, brands need cultural resonance and to “actually connect with [consumers] on a more meaningful level beyond that one moment, ” The Marketing Arm’s Schank said.
Brands that have already cultivated an online presence and a devoted social media audience have the upper hand.
Social-first brands are testing their concepts on social media with teasers, building curiosity among their online audience. Nerds’ teaser uses Addison Rae to get fans curious about who she’s teaching a dance routine to, and CeraVe has sparked rumors that Michael Cera will be in its spot after he was seen signing bottles of its face wash. Meanwhile, Duolingo has cultivated mystery around its ad by remaining elusive on any detail beyond the fact that it will be five seconds long.
“It’s too risky — for the amount of money that is spent and the effort that goes in — to just hope that people will see your spot,” says Millington.
They know how to capture Gen Z’s attention
While celebrities are in no short supply in Super Bowl ads, TikTok native advertisers are tapping Gen Z-favorite celebrities to attract the demographic. For example, Pepsi brand Starry cast Ice Spice and Dorito’s signed on Jenna Ortega for their spots.
Social-first brands not only have this age bracket’s attention, more importantly, they understand how they want to interact with brands. With more Gen Z-ers set to tune into this year’s Big Game — nearly a quarter of the demographic are planning to tune in this year for a chance to peek at Taylor Swift — it’s an important audience to capture.
“Some of the older brands are trying to find their way and they don't see the Super Bowl as being the place to reach Gen Z, necessarily,” notes Millington. But for brands that built their brands on TikTok, it’s “much easier to jump into the conversation.”
“Gen Z is redefining what fandom means around football, and the advertisers that are doing it well know that watching football isn't just on the TV — it's with memes, social conversation and opinions in real time through TikTok,” says Millington. “We're shifting away from traditional broadcast and into more interactive and personalized experiences.”
Makeup brands like NYX and E.L.F. are also well-versed in reaching females, who will be watching the Super Bowl in droves this year, bringing = viewership to a 50-50 gender split — again impacted by Swift’s presence. But females are often ignored in Big Game advertising, notes Millington.
“When entering the Super Bowl, you have to look at how women have been traditionally portrayed in this medium — and it’s not great,” she adds. “They’re marginalized, often the butt of the joke but never have they been part of it.”
This is a missed connection, as women are more likely than men to watch the Super Bowl just for the ads, according to a study by The Marketing Arm.
More risk, more reward
A 30-second commercial slot during the Super Bowl costs $7 million this year, which means brands are under pressure to create something that resonates broadly. As a result, many will cast universally recognizable celebrities, feature dogs or other animals or play up a feeling of nostalgia.
But social-first brands “don’t play by the normal rules,” says Millington. “They’re scrappy, they’re funnier, they can take more risks, they’re more current, they’re drafting off of culture.”
This might work to their advantage in a sea of predictable storytelling.
Schank notes that, while traditional Super Bowl advertising has “historically been long-form storytelling ads,” brands that got big on TikTok are used to scrappier creative and more disruptive formats.
“I would suspect these brands would stay true to their form, in the way that they bring a less produced type of content,” he adds. “I wouldn’t think they would switch their tone or the way they present themselves, which is something [Super Bowl viewers] are not going to be used to.”
It’s no surprise, then, that first-time Super Bowl advertisers that grew big on social media are casting talent that doesn’t fit the traditional celebrity mold.
Nerds, for instance, chose Addison Rae for its spot, who is most famous amongst younger generations for being a social media influencer. While she might not be the most universally recognizable person, Rae reaches a massive audience — in fact, her Instagram and TikTok followers combined equal the Super Bowl’s total viewership, Camen points out.
NYX’s ad stars Cardi B, who may have once been universally palatable but lost favor amongst conservatives after releasing sexually explicit singles like “WAP” and “Bongos.” Not to mention, she also rose to fame on social media.
These brands, perhaps because of their own social media success, have leaned into casting celebrity talent that rose to fame on social media as well. E.L.F. Cosmetics cast TikTok star Benito Skinner, among other celebrities like Meghan Trainor and the cast of Suits, in its Super Bowl LVIII spot. In the ad, Skinner is playing one of his online characters, Kooper the Gen Z Intern.
These casting decisions also indicate a desire among these brands to reach their genuine fans — Rae has shared her love of Nerds prior to the Super Bowl partnership, for instance, and Millington notes Cardi B has loved NYX since before she was famous.
“When you have a conceptual tie to the celebrity you’re using, you’re showing that the brand understands culture, is aware of its fans and wants to grow but also to create a community within that. It shows that Gen Z is seen, rather than if we just plopped a celebrity in and hope for the best.”
The broad appeal and reach of the Super Bowl means that even if not all viewers are in on the joke, these brands strengthen connections with their current fans while introducing themselves to new audiences.
“See[ing] the brand on TV during the Super Bowl, it’s going to help build cultural resonance,” notes Schank. “It’s now showing up in more places in their lives and is going to create that continued build of recognition and alliance to that brand.”