What can we learn from Spider-Man at the Dawn of the 4th Industrial Revolution?

Members of the World Economic Forum meet in Davos, Switzerland in late January every year. I have always enjoyed the thought-provoking panels, specifically those that inspire us to consider implications for business leaders and marketers.

In 2016, I noted on the blog that much of the Davos agenda that year had focused on the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the complex ways it will transform lives and livelihoods.

At this year’s meeting, talk about the 4IR continued.  This year’s focus evolved to include broader discussions of the ethical implications of 4IR’s ubiquitous connectivity and fast-paced fusion of physical, digital, and biological worlds. This emphasis on ethical values was both compelling and reassuring. It is a subject that business leaders will do well to contemplate.

Unprecedented Power for Companies:

The need to think about ethics at all springs from the unique position of today's companies. Many lead private-sector R&D teams instead of partnering with academic institutions. Their rapid development of 4IR technology (think: cognitive computing, AI, blockchain) gives them unprecedented powers uncircumscribed by academic protocols and the rigors of peer review.

For-profit entities now have the ability to decide what news we see, track our movements, direct where we go, and even predict how we will think.

These abilities could be problematic because most companies exist to maximize profit and have little formal incentive to consider their impact on human life and society or the health of the planet.

Enter the B-Corp, or “benefit corporation”. This is a hybrid structure that requires a company to state a purpose beyond profit and creates accountability to comply.

The idea, of course, is to go beyond pithy corporate mission statements (like Google’s ‘Do the Right Thing’ mantra) to engineer ethics into the DNA of a business.

Imagine a company contemplating the algorithm for a self-driving vehicle. If an accident is unavoidable, does the car take the course with the fewest potential casualties even if this puts the driver at risk? This is an ethical quandary. Most would favor saving the greatest number of lives but few would buy a vehicle that puts a driver at risk.

There is no easy answer. Yet, we can imagine how a company with accountability for both ethics and the bottom line will be better positioned to work through the issues.

Some forward-thinking tech firms, like Singularity University, have already organized themselves as B-corps. In a world where technology invisibly shapes much of life, the move from profit-driven to benefit-driven corporations could be transformative.

Unprecedented Power for Consumers:

If companies need to reengineer themselves around ethical values, the great news is that citizens are already there.

The 4IR world offers consumers myriad ways to influence businesses and they are using their clout for good.

On issues ranging from sourcing and sustainable packaging to fair treatment of employees, consumers prefer – I'll venture to say demand – to do business with companies that make ethical choices.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon wrote that, in the 4IR future, retailers will survive only if their business creates value for both shareholders and society. The most successful will build social and environmental sustainability into their systems because it is the right thing to do and because it is what consumers reward with their dollars.

It is exciting to see companies like Patagonia and eBay lead the charge. And, to know that firms like Facebook and Airbnb are grappling with ethics issues in real, visible ways.

 An Unprecedented Opportunity to Do More Good:

The dawn of the 4IR presents many more questions than answers: Will robots take our jobs? Will omnipresent tech somehow make us less human? Will AI-driven technology someday threaten our very existence? These questions are equal parts dystopian nightmare and sobering meditations on the fast-paced evolution of technology.

In light of the weighty issues, a recommitment to values – one of the things that make our endeavors most human – will be our best shot at navigating the 4IR world.

As I look toward the uncertain future, I’ll remember that Spider-Man's oft-repeated mantra isn't only for superheroes. The "great power" of the coming 4IR revolution does indeed bring "great responsibility".

Welcome 2017: Looking Forward & Back

It’s been unusually cold in Dallas and a great time to be introspective. Below I share a pair of insights I have percolating about the year ahead. Cheers to seeing these and other themes unfold in 2017.

 #1: Retail Brands Will Think So Consumers Don’t Have To

 In 2016:  I wrote about how Tesco’s IFTTT channel automates grocery shopping, paving the way for the ‘predictive grocery basket’ of the future.

In The Year Ahead:

To identify emerging trends, follow the money. AI applications are at a tipping point this year, with AI-generated retail revenue expected to skyrocket from $643.7 million in 2016 to $36.8 billion by 2025 according to Tractica.

Innovative retailers are already embracing their new AI-driven world. 2016 saw The North Face’s ‘expert shopper’ Lowe’s Pinterest-scraping interior decorator, and a Starbucks app that offers customized promotions by knowing when and where someone drives.

This march to AI-powered retail will fundamentally shift the role of brands and retailers in consumers’ lives from responsive to predictive.

Today, a brand (retail or otherwise) is a helper that makes it possible to fulfill my needs and wants. The best brands use data to offer curated selections or to delight with new, personalized suggestions.

As increasingly sophisticated bots and apps are launched in the year ahead, the role of retailer/brand will morph into that of a butler, which can proactively anticipate what I need and deliver. The most innovative will find ways to identify and fulfill needs and wants I didn’t even know I had yet.

This will shift the retail paradigm in diverse categories–from grocery to fashion, electronics and anything in between. Just ask Tesco’s grocery shoppers, whose carts are filled with items they are going to want–tomorrow.

There will be benefits for consumers, who will be able to shop more efficiently while offloading repetitive decisions. The upside for retailers and brands will be the ability to add true value to consumers while also driving frequency and desired purchase behaviors.

So, let’s look forward to a not-so-distant future in which we will all sit back while the bots do our shopping.

#2: Communities Will Find New Ways to Flourish

 In 2016:  Last year’s travels revealed that, even in our tech-driven culture, person-to-person communities are thriving around the globe. This is reflected in South Africa’s spazas, Brazil’s favelas, Shenzhen’s maker culture, and the social nature of global shopping days.

In The Year Ahead:

I will look for the ways in which the fundamental human need to connect and collaborate sparks new platforms and innovations.

Some suggest it will be the ‘year of the group chat,’ as people leave the increasingly corporate and drama-wrought spheres of Facebook and Twitter for smaller circles of virtual connections.

Because workers are people too, we will see the continued growth of enterprise-based communities like Slack. (Incredibly, the average user already spends 10 hours per day in app). While 2016 saw the office party go virtual, I wonder what other communal rituals might find online expressions in the year ahead?

The e-commerce sphere will continue to birth new commerce-based communities, like Amazon’s small-seller platforms, Handmade and Launchpad, and ShopClues, an Indian tech unicorn succeeding with a model that connects small-time sellers to rural communities.

And, I expect to see passion communities move from desktop to mobile, following so many other facets of daily life. This is something developer Amino Apps is banking on and investors are betting on their success.

Last year, seeing firsthand Detroit’s transformation from post-war auto hub to thriving tech town inspired me to think about how the digital world creates opportunities to reinvent community.

As we turn the page to 2017, retailers and brands – both established and emerging – will do well to think about how they can reimagine and facilitate communities for consumers craving authentic connections.

Best wishes for a healthy and happy new year to all. I’m off to get Alexa started on my to-do list…

Demystifying the ads: Crash the Super Bowl

When we recently said goodbye to Crash the Super Bowl with a send-off worthy of this landmark program, along with the emotions came a lot of memories to reflect upon. As we look ahead to introduce a bold, new legacy program for Doritos, one question nags at me: exactly what made the ads from our fans such a smashing success? I could point to any number of things, but arriving at a definitive answer still evaded me. So I reached out to the agency that created Crash, The Marketing Arm, and asked them to shed some light on the ad creative through the lens of behavioral economics. Here is what they had to say…

Advertising has strived to understand why consumers make the decisions they do in an attempt to tap into that mystery and drive preference for our client’s products. We get close, but if we were honest with ourselves, more of our successes have been driven by intuition than lessons learned from actual consumers. 
The intuition that we lean into in strategy development and big ideas resides in the same brain space as the intuition that drives consumer choice. The field of behavioral economics has brought a spotlight to intuition and built a framework to rationally explain it. 
If you ask any of the winners of the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl ads why they think so many people loved their ad, they would most likely say they just produced an ad they would like to see, or maybe “it just felt right.” But the biases uncovered in behavioral economics tell us that the ads felt right to make because of the unconscious biases that drive us all. And ultimately, we believe, those biases drove the popularity of the winning Doritos Crash the Super Bowl ads. 
We reviewed all the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl winning spots in the context of these behavioral economics learnings and identified the biases that most likely led to their popularity, a few of which are highlighted here.
Several of the winning ads leveraged the misdirect, a popular advertising framework used even outside consumer-created ads. The power of the misdirect lies within the biases our brains use to quickly classify a situation as safe or unsafe so that it may move on to another one of the 35,000 decisions it will need to make that day. 
The first bias that gives power to the misdirect has been labeled in the behavioral economics field as the stereotyping bias. Appropriately named, when we have experienced a type of person in the same way several times, our brain determines all people similar in appearance will behave similarly. 
So in Sling Baby (2012), as the viewer recognizes the grandmother and baby, their brain is unconsciously sending a message that these two are innocent individuals being bullied by a Doritos-loving boy. Because you believe this, when the grandmother uses the baby’s jumper as a slingshot, hurtling him to grab the Doritos, the shock of the inconsistent behavior causes your brain to pay attention and reassess the situation. Now you’re actively engaging with an ad that you were just about to ignore.   
Misdirection also makes use of the normalcy bias, the refusal to believe that something that has never happened before will happen, and Mouse Trap (2008) expertly demonstrates the power of this bias. After baiting a mousetrap with Doritos and placing it in front of a small mouse hole in the wall, a man watches patiently for what he (and we) believe will be a normal mouse to pop out. However, a giant, human-sized mouse bursts through the wall and attacks the man, stealing his Doritos. “Didn’t see that coming” is the shock-value response delivered by the normalcy bias.
We’ve all heard that puppies and babies are solid attention-getters, and many Crash ads leveraged that general principle. But it’s actually how they’re used that made these winners. We are all subconsciously biased to characterize animals as possessing human-like traits, emotions and intentions, a bias that behavioral economics has coined as anthropomorphism.
This year’s Doritos Crash the Super Bowl winner, Doritos Dogs, tapped into that bias, showcasing a group of dogs that crave Doritos trying to break into a grocery store to get them. A wily manager catches them every time, until they brilliantly scheme to dress as humans and purchase them like everyone else. If people had not been willing to believe wholeheartedly that dogs crave Doritos, it never would have made the final selection pool.
OK, that’s probably all the behavioral economics you want to hear about for now, so we have identified the biases inherent in other Doritos Crash the Super Bowl winners below. You will see that there is some overlap, but thankfully behavioral economics scholars have kept their labels pretty self-explanatory.

Stereotype Bias: Middle Seat (2015)
Normalcy Bias: Pug Attack (2012)
Anthropomorphism: Man’s Best Friend (2012), Goat 4 Sale (2013)
Ingroup Bias: Live the Flavor (2007)
Confirmation Bias: Time Machine (2014)

As usual, I can always count on my friends at The Marketing Arm to shed some strategic light on consumers’ behaviors. Thank you to everyone at TMA who contributed to this post & more importantly to the success of Crash the Super Bowl program for the past decade.

Snapchat. Not just an app, a tipping point

Once regarded as simply a platform for teens to share content they would rather not have linger, Snapchat looks to have finally broken out of its adolescent confines to move from niche social network to mainstream platform. Older generations are now snapping away their day, too, making a real impact on Snapchat's growth. “While the service has grown 59 percent in the last year to 40.3 million US adult users (as of November), it has grown 69 percent among people age 25 to 34 according to ComScore. Nearly 27 percent of US adult web surfers this age are on it" (Wired).

Why did teens take to it so quickly while adults took baby steps? Personally, I think that this is due to the fleeting nature of the platform. Our generation is the archive generation. Pictures were something that required an investment of time, effort and money. Remember the ritual of dropping film rolls off at the drug store, and then waiting a few days to pick them up? And paying for them on top of that? I think that commitment to our content has translated to the digital world. We want to save everything, backup everything. But today’s generation? Pictures, videos and other content are created and consumed on demand. Like life moments, they are simply building blocks that make up their day. When my daughter makes brilliantly funny snaps, I ask her if she's OK with them disappearing after 24 hours from her Snapchat Stories. She just shrugs and says “I’ll make more.” 
While the thought of losing great content admittedly makes me twitch a little, this is the reality of the next generation of consumers. Content is dynamic; it is on-demand, real-time and completely integrated into their lives. It’s not “online” or “offline” anymore. The divisions are not that distinct. I think it’s time we call it “inline." Technology cannot be separated from the moments that constitute our lives. It is our lives. As marketers, this is the new reality we need to face. We can tap into our customers’ lives as a useful, albeit fleeting experience, or rest on the sidelines trying to divert their attention and archiving our decline.

Ad blocking: an opportunity to do better

I recently came upon a post regarding ad blocking, a subject that I have always thought should be shifting how we as marketers look at our role, not just in the marketing landscape, but in the larger scope of consumer culture. It was an interview with a young ad blocking consumer that delved beyond simply “I don’t want to see ads.”

I love the lesson there. Ad blocking is nothing new, and honestly, who can blame a single twenty-something-year-old for feeling resentful that they are forced to watch a 30-second ad about baby diapers when all they really want to do is sample a few seconds of comedy or music to see if they even want to commit to watching a few minutes of entertainment? Think about that for a second. Two minutes is considered a serious time commitment for the ravenous entertainment consumers that make up Gen Y and Gen Z. Is it any wonder that in their eyes a 30-second pre-roll ad stretches on for an eternity? This is the Twitter generation, after all.

Just to dimensionalize what we are up against, ad blocking has grown by 48% in 2015, and Adobe cited 198 million monthly users deploying ad-blocking software. This is a trend that is here to stay, and ad-blocking developers will continue to innovate to shut out the noise of advertising.

It’s not just the time commitment that consumers find upsetting; it’s the total disruption of their online experience by irrelevant ads. Rather than kick and scream or whine about these generations taking content for granted, I think we need to embrace the pressure they are putting on us as an industry to deliver better work. We need to rise to the occasion and deliver content that is relevant and entertaining, which is the goal of any good marketing technologist after all. It’s time to fully embrace the switch to native advertising.

What I love about native and programmatic advertising is that it demonstrates a brand’s compassion for its consumers. By developing quality content and delivering it to the right consumer at the right time in a way that enhances their experience, we will build a stronger, more human relationship with our consumer base.

Google is really leading the charge in this space. They tested their programmatic ads for native content and mobile video publishers with eBay, and like magic, they saw a 3.6X increase in ad engagement with some campaigns delivering click-through rates up to 5%. As Google continues to release native advertising tools, they project that over 52% of all non-search digital ad-spends will be programmatic transactions.

By coupling these tools with real-time data, we have a powerful opportunity to enhance the lives of our consumers so that, hopefully, the desire to block ads will diminish. The key, I think, will be to keep it human, to keep it integrated with what they are seeking, consuming and enjoying; otherwise, we’ll end up back where we started, with consumers feeling like they are being force-fed disingenuous messages by a bunch of automatons. Do we want to continue to be the “necessary evil,” or would we rather be the thing they click the share button on? Not that difficult a choice when you put it that way.

Quotes I am thankful for

We all find energy in great inspiration. For me, that energy is just what I need when building out objectives for the coming year, or rising to the next big challenge. In the spirit of the holiday, I just wanted to share some of the advice and quotes that have meant the most to me in shaping my approach to business. 

Always do what you are afraid to do.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
To fight fear, act. To increase fear - wait, put off postpone.
— David Joseph Schwartz

Habitually getting out of your comfort zone is incredibly important for consistent success. I encourage my team to always follow a 70:20:10 planning approach that consists of 70% tried and true, 20% proven innovation and 10% new territory. 

Throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Explore. Dream. Discover.
— Mark Twain
You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
— Jack London

Take risks. Test yourself. Innovation is an overused word, but the fact remains that risk taking and new exploration are imperative for achieving it. When something fails, you learn from it, but when it works, expand!

There are times when you have to face your enemies, sit down and deal with it.
— Martin Scorsese

Compete. I believe business is about winners and losers. Be certain that those around you understand your relentless pursuit of greatness. 

What you do is what matters, not what you think or say or plan.
— Jason Fried, Rework
Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.
— Dale Carnegie
An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Strategy is a commodity, execution is an art.
— Peter F. Drucker

Execution and implementation within prescribed timelines is paramount to success. Don’t shortchange it. But also don’t iterate until hell freezes over – move on the idea and make it even better by simply executing it.

I do not have much interest in best practices… What we really need is to ask what is the next practice, so that we can become the benchmark companies, benchmark institutions around the world.
— CK Prahalad
Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.
— William B. Sprague

Speed is key to driving change – you must be faster than your customers and competitors. Don’t miss your moment, as fast actions done well are incredibly powerful. 

If you are honest about helping others rather than showing how smart you are, things are very easy.
— CK Prahalad

I believe wholeheartedly in giving back personally and professionally. Offer help to those who need a chance to succeed, and create opportunities for others along your path. What may be a small boost from you could create a world of difference for someone else.

Lessons from Ten Years of Crash The Super Bowl

Most of you have heard by now that we’ve decided this will be the final year for the Doritos® Crash the Super Bowl promotion (CTSB), marking the end of a decade of unprecedented industry recognition and success. For those unaware, CTSB provides consumers with the opportunity to create a Doritos® ad that might air during the Super Bowl, and is credited as being one of the first catalysts of the consumer-generated content phenomenon back in 2007. Like many marketing programs of significance, the story of CTSB -- from “almost didn’t happen” to celebrating its 10th anniversary -- is filled with interesting twists and turns, as well as valuable lessons that are worth sharing here.

Fight for Great Ideas

CTSB was created by our promotional agency, The Marketing Arm (TMA), and originally presented to the Doritos® brand team and PR executives in 2006. The initial reaction by the marketing leadership team was negative. They were primarily concerned that consumers would not be able to deliver creative that would be worthy of airing during the Super Bowl, by far the nation’s most important advertising platform. After considerable deliberation and debate, the brand team and TMA brought back the idea for consideration, and fortunately, it was approved.  

Don’t Play It Safe   
When Doritos® and TMA presented CTSB to the NFL for the first time, we learned that several other Super Bowl advertisers were planning to air consumer-generated ads. However, in each of these cases, the advertiser played it safe by limiting the role of the consumer and hedging their bets by having the ads filmed and produced by a traditional advertising agency. Doritos, on the other hand, gave its consumers complete control over creative and production. By handing over that trust to consumers to deliver outstanding ads, CTSB was widely recognized for transforming the marketing landscape. CTSB was the first program to truly empower consumers in a way that was authentic and meaningful.  

Stay True to Yourself

After the extraordinary success of the first CTSB program in 2007, which included a spot called “Live the Flavor” that finished 4th in the USA Today Ad Meter, the brand team decided to change the programming focus. In 2008, we asked consumers to create a music video instead of a commercial. While we are proud the music video that aired helped launch the music career of a very talented artist, it did not play as effectively as a brand advertisement aimed at generating brand equity.  Fortunately, Doritos also aired a consumer spot called “Mouse Trap,” created the previous year, that ranked 4th in the Ad Meter, which saved CTSB from extinction. This was the last time the brand would venture away from the core idea centered on consumer-generated commercials. 

These are just a few of the important lessons we’ve learned from this remarkable program, which has won every major industry award, generated over 32,000 ads for the brand from 31 countries, produced four #1 ads in the USA Today Ad Meter, and awarded more than $7 million to support aspiring filmmakers and passionate fans.    

Leading through an evolving consumer landscape

The environment in which we live and work today is neither simple nor static. It is patterned, but not predictable.  And while it is reassuring, simply managing the probable leaves us more vulnerable to being blindsided. Some problems do not lend themselves to rote methods, simple models, or sophisticated algorithms. However, when we treat them as different, complex, and uncertain, we can unlock solutions of immense creativity and power.

How do we as leaders make that a reality instead of an aspiration? I find that by exercising three simple habits of mind, we can consistently create an impact in the marketplace:

  • Hold opposing ideas without reconciling them. If it looks as though we’re confronting an either/or choice, we can reconsider our narrow framing and examine what we’re missing.
  • Don’t waste time arguing about the best solution; instead, pick several good solutions and experiment with them on a smaller scale. Data and technology enable this constant testing and learning.
  • Instead of hunting for the root cause, look to the edges of an issue for your experiments. The company's core is most resistant to change, but tinkering at the periphery can deliver outsized returns.

These are some of the ways I’ve consciously adjusted my thinking in order to more effectively adapt to our ever-changing marketing environment. I would love to know what habits of mind you’ve adopted to help navigate this change. 


Beyond Marketing

Just a thought to re-shift our perspective out of the marketing box for a moment…

I saw a powerful documentary short last weekend, Last Mile, that tells the remarkable story of a tech incubator operating behind the iron bars of San Quentin federal prison. Founded by venture capitalist Chris Redlitz, the incubator acts as a resource for inmates to stay current on rapidly advancing technology, learn business techniques, presentation skills, and in some cases even receive funding for their ideas. 

The United States currently incarcerates 1 in nearly 100 American adults. Research over the past two decades by stakeholders across various jurisdictions shows that there are better ways to protect our communities than mass incarceration. Yes, we will still need to be tough on crime, but in ways that emphasize personal responsibility, promote rehabilitation and treatment, and allow for the provision of victim restitution where applicable. I thought it was a powerful case of how the private sector and technology can come together to offer alternative and effective solutions to long-standing societal issues like prisoner re-habitation. When we think about return on investment, it’s important to sometimes think about what return really means. 


YouTube’s Legacy: The Rise of the Consumer Creator

Last week marked the 10-year anniversary of the first video uploaded to YouTube

Whether that feels like just yesterday or forever, and honestly it feels like both, it’s hard to imagine a world without YouTube and its stars. YouTube has risen from its humble beginnings to a business so big that it's as much a household word as any brand that has been around for generations. One billion unique monthly users? Yes. Six billion hours of video watched each month? Yes. Over 100 hours worth of video uploaded each minute. Yes. All, yes. 

Dominance in every way of the online video space is even a huge understatement. YouTube hasn’t only drawn massive audiences, it has become an arena for creating stars that often dwarf those being produced by Hollywood. Michelle Phan was one of the earliest YouTube adopters to find fame on the platform. Over the past seven years, she has uploaded more than 300 beauty tutorials and her more than six million subscribers and almost one billion video views have made her a star in every sense of the word. Most interesting thing about her? She put herself out there and the people made her a star. No middleman required.

Interesting parallel to this success story is the fact that we launched one of the first large-scale consumer User Generated Content (UGC) campaigns with Doritos Crash the Super Bowl in 2007. The creative brief was simple: create a 30-second ad celebrating your love for Doritos for a chance to have it air during the Super Bowl. Pretty much in the spirit of all things YouTube.

And the people liked it. Nine years later, that consumer love has generated:

  • 32,000+ Doritos ads created by consumers
  • A 6-month engagement program with consumers every year (submission phase, finalist phase, voting phase, reveal on Super Bowl)
  • $6MM+ in grand prize money awarded
  • Last year, the winning consumer won $1MM and a job on the set of Avengers
  • Submissions from 31 countries
  • #1 ad in USA Today Ad Meter three times
  • Top 5 ad all 9 Years per USA Today Ad Meter
New creators, new opportunities. Awarding this year's Crash The Super Bowl winner.

New creators, new opportunities. Awarding this year's Crash The Super Bowl winner.

You could say our Doritos consumers seized the moment and have given Madison Ave a run for its money.  The dawn of YouTube and Doritos Crash the Super Bowl fundamentally altered the creators and consumer equation, with technology being the great equalizer. Every person with a smartphone is a potential creator. 

The old “one percent rule” assumed that only one percent of an online audience creates content, while an additional 9 percent modify or edit the content, and the remaining 90 percent consume it. It’s called an old rule for a reason: we’ve been in the midst of a major paradigm shift. The internet is becoming more participatory, thanks to the development of democratizing tools; and this has paved the way for a lot more than one percent to be curators and creators.

Ten years ago, creating a webseries that would get millions of viewers without a significant investment was virtually Impossible. You would need to build a site, configure video players, host and serve content, then begin to work on cultivating an audience. Today, a little desire and a smartphone is all one needs to become a content creator. YouTube (and likely many more to come after it) has eliminated the barriers that used to come between creative inspiration, content and distribution.  

As someone who has seen firsthand what eliminating those barriers can accomplish, I actively support it as a marketer; however, more importantly, I am truly inspired and excited by it as a consumer. 

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.