Super Bowl 53: Playing to the (Digital) Crowd

By Silvia Kusic (Digital Business Director)

While the Super Bowl may be the single most renowned day for sport, it also continues to be regarded as the most anticipated advertising event of the year.

Super Bowl LIII was no exception, with 100.7 million viewers across the US tuning in, and a record-breaking average cost of $5.25 million per 30 second ad (up 5% YoY).

While media consumption of the game has always been primarily through broadcast television, each year the digital footprint continues to grow. Compared to last year, linear TV audiences dropped by 5%, while there was an impressive 31% increase in those who opted to live-stream the game online.

On YouTube, searches for Super Bowl ads have tripled in the last two years for a total of 120m searches. This level of interest and additional media exposure showcases that the potential ROI for brands is far greater when considering audiences outside of those just viewing the game.

Competition is fierce, with brands pressured to be among those who produce a stand-out creative and capitalise on earned reach. It’s really only the top ads (of the 60 shown) that users care about – “best super bowl commercials 2019” was the 7th most popular Super Bowl-related search term on Google during game week, worldwide.

So, who won the advertising game this year?

When considering digital share-of-voice across YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter on the day of the game, the winners were:

1. Verizon’s The Team That Wouldn’t Be Here which honours the first responders who saved the lives of NFL stars.

2. Microsoft’s We Will All Win which promotes its adaptive game controller for Xbox by showcasing real stories from kids with disabilities and how the product has redefined how they play.

By the end of the week, however, the below brands overtook the initial front-runners:

1. Amazon’s Not Everything Makes the Cut, which showcases comedic, failed applications of Alexa. In total, this piece of content received almost 50% more views from digital channels.

2. Pepsi’s More Than OK, which features appearances from Steve Carell, Lil Jon and Cardi B.

While Verizon’s and Microsoft’s ads took the opportunity to share their deeper brand values and elicit emotional responses from viewers, this year’s themes differed from those we saw in 2018. Last year, we wrote that the Super Bowl ads emphasized social responsibility, but the majority of this year’s content was product-based, focusing on a brand’s core offering and shying away from any political messaging.

It’s fair to assume that companies’ played it safe after the recent backlash around controversial ads such as Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad or Gillette’s recent take on masculinity.

A year can make a significant difference, not only to how we view, but also the kind of content that is advertised at all. With brainstorming already underway for the next Super Bowl, it will be interesting to see what topics emerge in 2020, and if the digital reception of these ads continues on its trajectory of exponential growth.

Date: February 18, 2019