Observations from Super Bowl 49

WOW… what a game that turned out to be! For a guy like me, it’s hard to pick which floored me more: the game itself, or the record rating of 49.6, which beat last year (47.6), as well as the previous high from New Orleans (48.1). 

Aside from Katy Perry’s “flamin’ hot” entrance, dancing sharks, a heartbreaking call (depending where your team loyalties lie), and an insurance ad that left people speechless (momentarily at least), the most noteworthy thing about year’s Super Bowl was how much more digital-first it was than ever before. I think we can all agree on one thing  -- “watching” the Super Bowl no longer means what it used to.

The Broadcast Has Gone Broadband
The most noticeable difference was that much of NBC’s broadcast of the game didn’t involve broadcasting. 

  • First-ever free streaming to laptop, PC, or tablet
  • Instant posting and curation of the ads to a Tumblr page as they aired
  • First-ever livestream of the halftime show

This marks the beginning of a redefinition of the Super Bowl “stage” and “moment,” since audiences can no longer be considered “captive” as they jump freely from platform to platform. 

Tech Takes Advantage
This change in content consumption and engagement is why we saw tech media brands like YouTube and Facebook leaning in with new offerings.

  • YouTube hosted for the first time a YouTube SB Halftime Show, with YouTube stars, fake spots, stunts and other entertainment to lure attention (and future marketers). I am anxious to see how much viewership it attracted versus the 118 million who tuned into the Pepsi Katy Perry Half time show on NBC.
  • Facebook, interestingly, conducted real-time tracking of user posts during the game, and used that data to offer hyper-targeted ads to advertisers.  Again, a first. But I have to wonder if this is truly a scalable game changer or if it merely adds more meaningless second-screen clutter. 

It’s the Game Around the Game
For us as advertisers, capitalizing on our large SB investment has now clearly become more about the social world surrounding the big game, than the in-game time itself. This is exactly why we saw so many brands leaking teasers of their ads. In fact, last year:

  • 45% of Americans sought out ads before kickoff
  • 160 MM Super Bowl ad views were recorded on YouTube before the game even began

Of course, our Doritos team had to bring some levity to the mad rush to release ads early. In signature Doritos style, as always.

Hacking the Super Bowl
Let’s face it, “teasers” have become table stakes. The best advertisers attempted radically different creative strategies to break through. 

  • Bud Light built a life-sized Pac-Man experience in LA and used pics and videos of the set to promote their spot, “Coin,” in which one unsuspecting dude was invited to play.
  • PepsiCo launched a reality show featuring Food Network star Anne Burrell, and eight culinary students in a cooking competition.
  • Hacking or Crashing the Super bowl is something, we on the Doritos team have pioneered for the past 9 years. Doritos consumers were engaged for 5 months leading up to game day. The engagement we got from asking consumers to create the ads, narrowing down the 10 finalists, and then asking the consumers to vote on the ad that should air on Super Bowl Sunday has always made it a stand out “hack” of the super bowl. http://crashthesuperbowl.doritos.com/finalists
 The 10 Crash the Super Bowl finalists at the Doritos suite getting ready to find out in real time who the winner was.

The 10 Crash the Super Bowl finalists at the Doritos suite getting ready to find out in real time who the winner was.

  • Carnival and GoDaddy borrowed a page from the Doritos playbook and employed voting to engage audiences around their Super Bowl efforts. Carnival had fans vote on one of four spots to air, and GoDaddy had people vote on the name of a puppy in their ad (“Buddy” won). 

Getting Serious
I also noticed a creative trend with brands getting more serious, making a statement to the Super Bowl audience rather than eliciting a laugh. In social media, the strategy of these brands was to start real conversations about real issues. 

  • Toyota had an ad this year called “To be a Dad” which strikes a more serious, emotional chord. 
  • Dove had a spot called “Real Strength,” a recut of a Father’s Day spot with a new hashtag. 
  • That aforementioned insurance ad from Nationwide warrants a mention here too, since it forced everyone to think of their own child dying. 

As I take these observations back with me to Dallas to derive new insights and strategies, I can’t help but welcome this changing landscape and the challenges it brings. We may have lost the traditional paradigm of audiences “glued to the TV set,” but in the long run, being able to transcend platforms and engage on their terms means to me that the experience can only become more real, which only creates stronger, more genuine connections.