Jason Cross, a  Consultant in our US  Marketing, Sales and Service practice explores how companies are optimising the use of social networking sites to increase brand awareness during the Super Bowl

As most Americans can tell you last Sunday, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-26 in the Super Bowl. But…were the Packers the real winners on Super Bowl Sunday? It could be argued that the advertisers will feel the longer term benefits. 

Let’s do some simple analysis looking at the numbers for the most viewed show on television within the United States. The Super Bowl, for those of you who aren’t followers, is the Championship game in the National Football League, the pinnacle of football within the US. The Super Bowl has made a significant mark on American culture and the game day event has been dubbed a de facto American holiday, “Super Bowl Sunday”. Last year, the viewing statistics reached record highs, as 106.5 million Americans logged on to watch the New Orleans Saints overpower the Indianapolis Colts, making it the top advertising slot in the US calendar. This past Sunday, the viewing mark reached new records, as an average 111 American viewers were logged on watching the game at any given point. In fact, the Super Bowl is the second most watched sporting event in the world, behind only UEFA’s Champions League final. Some other record numbers include an estimated 700 million people worldwide are on Facebook or Twitter, and the National Football League alone has more than 4.3 million followers on these channels. Think there is a marketing opportunity here? Yes! The demand for one of the 68 TV commercial slots in the Super Bowl is not wavering, even with the $3 million price tag per 30 second slot (that’s $100,000 per second!). To justify the advertising expense, companies are looking to optimise the “best of both worlds” by looking for methods of extending that promotion beyond the 30 second slot. Let’s explore how companies are balancing the effectiveness of using social media as a means to advertise before, during, and after the 60 minutes of football have been played.

Thomas Harpointer, chief executive at AIS Media, an Atlanta-based digital marketing agency, stated that he would be surprised if “a minimum of 50 percent of the advertisers didn’t have a solid online social-media tie-in,” and added that “It would be a terrible mistake if they didn’t.” In a study by Alterian, a campaign management site, Twitter dominated social channels the day after the game, hosting 68% of all conversations. It was automobile and beverage companies who took advantage of this opportunity by dominating the commercial space. Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser) challenged customers to guess the storylines of its three Super Bowl commercials from photos posted to its Facebook page. If the storylines were guessed correctly, a 4th commercial (internet only) would be available on Super Bowl Sunday. This initiative drew a slew of followers, as more than 1 million fans were following on Facebook. The three commercials drew rave reviews during the game, and the 4th one, “Severance Package”, does not fail to impress. By logging onto Facebook and “liking” the Bud Light page, a customer is able watch all four. This provides a seamless interaction point for Bud Light to connect with customers. Following suit, Chevy Cruze has a dedicated section on their Facebook page to its Super Bowl commercials. Chevy advertised the Cruze model during the game, and used its real-time Facebook update capabilities in an intimate feminine voice to serve as a differentiating product offering from competitors, thus ensuring the impact of these ads is extended.

Demonstrating how the conversion flows is a critical element. Mercedes planned the “world’s fastest Twitter fueled race,” awarding two new cars to teams of two persons each who are able to generate the most Tweets, Facebook ‘likes’ and social-media currency by game day. This initiative to generate buzz about the company was compounded by the rollout of new sleek Mercedes models during the game. However, Mercedes failed to incorporate their contest online with the aired commercial. The connection between the Twitter race and the commercial content was unclear. I believe that future Super Bowl commercials will not be so subtle in incorporating their social media advertising within their television presence. Nor should they be subtle. The easier a connection is forged between two marketing initiatives, the more companies will reap the synergy benefits from increased viewer numbers.

The theme of rewarding the most active fans on interactive platforms was not one of a kind this year. Audi used a similar strategy in rewarding its ten most active users with glamorous trips and prizes. According to Scott Keough, Chief Marketing Officer at Audi in America, this effort was part of the strategy in “trying to use social media to glue everything together.”

Over the past decade, the Super Bowl has been known to have memorable commercials that leave customers buzzing about the commercial storylines for days. This year, companies did not fail to bring the humor back to the Bowl, and USA Today performed its annual “Ad-Meter” to determine America’s favorite commercial. According to the poll, Bud Light’s “Dog Sitter” and Doritos’s “Dog Revenge” were the top rated commercials with each given a rating of 8.35 out of a possible 10 points (interesting fact: the original videos are uploaded to the company’s Facebook page rather than YouTube, ensuring more ‘likes’). Coming in third place was Volkswagen’s “Darth Vader starts 2012 Passat” with a 7.95 rating. To create buzz, Volkswagen released the video early on YouTube and had more than 13 million views even before the game started. A Chrysler commercial starring Eminem driving through the city of Detroit and introducing the 200 sedan provides a short story of how the city survived going through “hell and back” was “the big story of the night” according to NM Incite, a company that tracks online buzz. What is most amazing about these commercials is not so much the planning and content within the advertisement. Rather, it is the customer reactions online via blogging that make or break these company Initiatives. Some of the most memorable aspects of the Super Bowl do not revolve around a single punt, pass, kick, touchdown, or interception from either team playing in the game. Advertising commercials are a big part of the hype and can  provide a positive spark to even the most die-hard of fans of the losing team. Companies have taken note and look to incorporate more online interactive touchpoints before, during, and after the main event. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of viewers used a mobile or online medium while watching the game. Ingenuity in creating buzz about a commercial and effectively transitioning that to online fans and followers should not be understated.

So what are the lessons learned for advertisers? It’s simple:

–          Identify the top events which provide an opportunity to push customers to your online source, and ensure there is a clear hook to ensure the transition. This fits for any nation.  Highly anticipated soccer matches and final rounds of tennis matches can be a great fit.

–          More branding and interaction points translate to more word-of-mouth marketing.

–           Increased buzz marketing for positive commercial exposure (we have yet to experience the results of Groupon’s highly controversial advertisements during Super Bowl Sunday) will ultimately lead to greater sales and higher profits.

To repeat Harpointer’s simple, yet eloquent statement, social media acts “as glue” for Super Bowl advertising.

While coaches and players prepare for the biggest game in their lives, Chief Marketing Officers and their teams prepare for an equally important opportunity for ultimate success, while the rest of us kick back, rip open a bag of Dorito’s and crack open a chilled Bud Light.

The figure above is an example scorecard for the Social Media response for advertisements during the 2010 Super Bowl.