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Super Bowl 2014 Ads: Lessons Smaller Brands Can Learn From the Big Spenders

February 05, 2014

In addition to 60-plus minutes of large men running around in shiny spandex, the Super Bowl also hosts the biggest spending in modern advertising. This year, digital trends moved from the small screen to the smallest screens, with multiple attempts at social, mobile and viral marketing. Some of these meta-marketing attempts were successful; others were… not so much.

We’ll dive into the lessons that brands without Super Bowl-size budgets can learn from this year’s crop of ads. But first, some “super” stats.

You may already be familiar with these numbers, but that doesn’t make them any less impressive (or outrageous?):

  • Super Bowl 2014 ads cost, on average, $4 million for every 30 seconds of air time
  • With 50 minutes of ads, Super Bowl ad spend is larger than the GDP of some small nations
  • Nielsen estimates 181 million Americans watched the game this year
  • The average audience for last year’s Super Bowl commercials was actually 1.6% bigger than the average audience for the game!

Now, here’s what we can learn from the brands that shelled out the big bucks, other than the fact that airtime is ridiculously expensive, Peyton Manning can look ridiculously sad, and hey Seattle, one ring isn’t five and we’ll get you next year. #Niners

Play QB: Include a Call to Action

While many of last year’s ads failed to promote any reaction other than hitting the “Mute” button, 2014’s offerings wisely included calls to action. Tons of ads featured URLS as well as prompts to visit a website, download an app or send a tweet. Check out this one for the upcoming movie Noah:

Super Bowl calls to action are like digital versions of phoning in to a radio contest – there’s really not much to lose. Although, to Noah’s producers – do we really need to be tweeting #thefloodiscoming during the big game? Sheesh. Way to be a “down”-er.

Stay Mobile: Remember Smartphone Users

Most, if not all, Super Bowl 2014 ads’ CTAs could be carried out from a smartphone. Smooth move, given that an estimated 91% of viewers use their smartphones during commercial breaks. Mobile networks actually have to amp up their bandwidth to make sure everyone gets to text, tweet and talk smack during the game.

Double Coverage: Include a Hashtag

Given the hashtag’s spread from Twitter to Facebook, Pinterest and other social networks (and television networks too), we weren’t surprised to see many businesses embedding hashtags in their commercials.

While none rivaled the success of Oreo’s 2013 #cookiethis and #creamthat campaign, Honda’s Bruce Willis-fueled #hugfest, the adorable #bestbuds of “Puppy Love,” and Tim Tebow’s #nocontract antics paired memorable ads with clever tags.

Notable Interceptions: Try to Go Viral

From Scarlett Johansson’s “banned” Super Bowl soda commercial to the freaky, demonic infant promoting the Devil’s Due movie, advertisers are really starting to figure out how to get users to share their branded content – for no charge.

It takes a lot to get people to pass along what’s basically a glorified commercial, but in many of the ads, the content was just too interesting to keep to ourselves.

Home-Field Advantage: Know Your Audience

Super Bowl ads often function as a barometer of the country’s social and financial climate. Back in 2004, the ads were heavy on “Dot Com” references and companies. A few years later, saving money and enjoying cheaper comforts were the name of the game.

Super Bowl 2014 ads included movie promos, car commercials and campaigns that appealed to the country’s cautiously optimistic mood. They’re sweet rather than sleazy, as in the case of this Go Daddy spot featuring a real-life, female entrepreneur – fully clad, no less. Coke’s America the Beautifulcelebrated multi-cultural modern living without getting overly schmaltzy.

Almost every ad kept it positive this year and that felt right. Accurately targeting consumer culture = big brand win.

Be Your Own Twelfth Man: Use What You’ve Got To Talk Up Your Brand

Last year, Papa John’s used the coin toss to optimize their marketing budget – pretty genius move. They got Super Bowl exposure without the Super Bowl price tag.

The contest required both pre- and post-game engagement, as well as a huge boost to Papa John’s email lists via the registration required to collect the free pizza. Check out the details of this low-budget, high-impact campaign.

Smaller businesses can also optimize local connections with integrated game day marketing that doesn’t cost millions. Whether your hometown team is playing or your city is playing host, Super Bowl-themed offers generate sales and hype on every level.

Make Your Product Your Center: Brand Yourself Immediately and Often

This sweet ad reintroduces Cheerios’ interracial family, and does a commendable job of making the product the focal point of the story – without boring the pants off of us. Brand retention during Super Bowl spots is often iffy. Cheerios solves this potential problem by putting both box and cereal front and center, and telling a touching, relatable story in the process. That’s no small accomplishment.