How mobile has changed Super Bowl ads forever

Steven Loeb · February 1, 2014 · Short URL:

Mobile makes it easier for brands to get the message out without having to shell out the big bucks

I remember a time, I'd say around 10 to 15 years ago, when Super Bowl ads only aired during the actual Super Bowl. The ads were a really big deal to some people since they had, you know, never seen them before.

As technology has evolved, though, so has how we view the ads for the big game, making it more complicated for marketers to reach the right people, and to get themselves noticed.

Platforms like mobile, and social, have become especially important to advertisers over the last few years, in getting their ads seen by as many people as possible. They now have to make sure to leverage the role that mobile plays in order to stand out in a crowded field. 

It's exhausting just to think about, but such is the life of an advertiser in 2014.

So just how much has mobile, and the rise of the second screen, changed the game for Super Bowl advertising over the last few years? Immeasurably

The importance of mobile 

To see how mobile has affected the way ads are being produced for the Super Bowl, just take a look at how its rise has correlated directly with a huge spike in the number of times videos have been shared over the last few years. 

From 2010 to 2013, the period when mobile really started to take off in a big way, the amount of times that videos of Super Bowl ads were shared went up 30 fold, according to data from marketing technology platform Unruly in January. 

Not only that, but number of video shares nearly doubled from 2012 to 2013, going up by 89%. In that time, it went from taking 57 views to get one person to share, to only 31 in 2013.

Now, I should note that Unruly did not attribute the increase in video shares to mobile specifically, but is hard to not make the correlation. Video shares shot up as people had the opportunity to watch the ads whenever they wanted to. That, in turn, is helping the brands create bigger buzz and gain a wider audience.

Successfully leveraging mobile is only going to become more important for advertisers in the years to come. Worldwide mobile ad spending was estimated to have gone up 105.9% in 2013, and is expected to see further 62.1% growth in 2014, according to eMarketer

The earlier the better 

One trend that has certainly gained traction over the years is putting ads online, and mobile, weeks early. It's no longer enough to just show an ad during the game. Now they have to be shown before the game even airs.

Releasing early is an easy, and cost effective, way to help the brand reach a higher number of potential buyers. It is no coincidence that six of the top 10 most shared Super Bowl ads ever were released prior to the game.

The ability to watch anywhere, and share more easily, is already paying dividends for advertisers. Remember the "Clydesdales" ad from Budweiser last year? It was the one with the guy and his horse. Here is if you already forgot about it.

This ad is the third most shared Super Bowl ad of all time, with 2.7 million shares. The number one shared ad is the Darth Vader kid from 2011 with 5.2 million. 

Releasing ads early is "the smartest thing that a brand can do today,” Brian Kotlyar, Vice President of Marketing Dachis Group, told me, especially considering how expensive airing ads during the actual Super Bowl have become. 

"It allows them maximize their investment, especially consider the amount it costs to run an ad," he said. "It's $4 million for 30 seconds of air time, plus what it cost creatively to make the thing."

By releasing early, it can get tens of millions of views before the games even happens, as well as social media impressions, all increasing aggregate benefit of the ad.

"To just run it one time for 30 seconds doesn’t make sense. Putting it online early allows the advertiser to take the content and remix it, by making it shorter or longer, and create a wave of anticipation."

There is another benefit of putting the ad out onto the Web beforehand: it also helps the fans to remember them in the long run, according to Chris Cunningham, co-founder and CEO of Appsavvy. 

"Generally speaking, the ability to experience ads on smartphone and tablets, on your own time, is sometimes a better experience versus seeing the day of," he said.

If you're watching the game as a big party, or at a bar, then you probably will not even see the ads while the game is on.

"I don’t think that many people remember ads that air during the game," he said. "The ability to get one on one reception leads to more the being more sustained as it pertains to memory."  

New kinds of campaigns 

Beyond just allowing brands to gain a wider reach, mobile has also created the need for newer types of campaigns, which require increased engagement from viewers. 

Since more and more people are watching the game, while simultaneously going on their mobile device, brands have begun trying out new ways to get those people to engage while the game is going on."

What it comes down to is advertisers taking advantage of these new platforms and harnessing them to their own advantage. 

"Advertisers now have the ability to be more interactive," Amy Ferranti, Managing Director of Blast Radius, told me, specifically pointing to the prevalence of apps, such as song-matching service Shazam, that are connected to the ads in some way. They can feature interactive things, such as polls, games and easter egg videos, that are embedded into the ads. 

"Before it was enough for people to sit back and be passive, but now customers can pause and go back and see their favorite ads later," she said. "It gives advertisers the ability to engage with consumers during all different times during the game."

The most important secondary channel, though, is still social media. The brands that can successfully connect with fans via Facebook and Twitter are those that get the most out of their ads. 

"Last year saw the rise of the Twitter hashtag. In all more than half of Super Bowl ads mentioned Twitter," Kotlyar said. "It wouldn’t shock me if 75%, or more, included some sort of some social channel this year."

"The brands that are the most successful took the opportunity to do real time communication on social media," said Ferranti. "The best way to interact is to be real-time being present."

The example she gave me was the Tweet from Arby's about Pharrell's ridiculous-looking hat during this year's Grammy awards. 

"That is how you take advantage of real-time shareability," she said. "It humanizes the brand a bit."

Of course, it’s not enough just to create a viral campaign. It also has to be effective.

One that Kotlyar points to that did not work was last year's Coca-Cola desert race

"It was almost too complex, and it didn’t capture the imagination," he said. "Advertisers will continue to experiment, but maybe put less burden on viewer to participate."

The fact that the ad was accused of being racist probably did not help much either.

The cost of mobile ads

One of the interesting results of the rise of mobile, and airing ads online before and during the game, is that some brands are starting to see the benefit of taking advantage of a medium in which when they can get just as many views online, without paying the incredibly high amount of money it costs to run a short ad during the actual game.

For example, a brand such as New Castle beer, which cant afford to participate in the Super Bowl, can now run entire campaigns in social space, and can be lifted by all the hype and promotion around the big game.

This year, the company actually used its position as the underdog, compared to bigger brands, like Budweiser, to create a viral ad whose entire premise is that it can't afford to run an ad during the game.

The above, which you can see below, has been watched over three million times.

"They haven’t spent any of the $4 million it would take to run the ad, but are benefiting from the conversation," Kotlyar said.

"Some brands will always have big budgets and will use TV to get big awareness," Ferranti said. "Smaller brands, though, have to be more strategic, and use more grassroots, on the ground, efforts."

So does that mean that many brands will be priced out, and cause prices for running Super Bowl ads to come down? Not anytime soon, said Kotlyar.

"Probably in the long term, but not in any reasonable timeframe," he said. "TV ratings are dropping and there are not that many places big ads can go for big splash. The Super Bowl is unique in reach and power and is only getting more and more important."

Brands don't typically run big campaigns like this because it isn't worth it for smaller audiences, Cunningham said.

"There is more participation from the viewer than on a 30 second spot with traditional placements because the idea is that if youre going all in, the Super Bowl is the largest platform to do it," he told me. "If there's a time to get people to your site, or to your mobile app, that’s their best platform to do it."

Rather than prices for Super Bowl ads going down, what is more likely to happen is that the cost of running an ad online could wind up increasing, though it would have to go up quite a bit to be anywhere near the prices of airing during the game.

"We find that much of the Super Bowl action online is after the game, with brands repurposing Super Bowl spots and running them on tablets and smartphones," Ian Monaghan, Head of Operations at TubeMogul, said.

"Last year, we saw prices for digital video ads increase by 16.7% in the week following the game, likely due to high demand."

The downside of mobile ads

Ok, now that  I've spent this entire article talking about the positive effects of mobile on Super Bowl ads, what about the downside? Don't forget, kids, there is always a downside.

One potential problem is the speed at which people can now take an ad apart. Backlash can be swift, and harsh.

"It has always been the case that when you put your foot in your mouth you deal with it, maybe with a press release a few weeks later," said Kotlyar. "Today the reaction is instantaneous."

Even more problematic, though, is potentially getting lost in the shuffle.

"Because people have their mobile devices on them all the time, it is more of challenge to make the ads really good. In order to get attention, they have to be really memorable and unique," said Ferranti. 

"The ads either need to grab you emotionally, entertain you in unique way, or do something you've never seen before."

Who is innovating this year?

Ads have to be constantly evolving in order to keep viewer interest. And that means coming up with new ways to engage.

This year the company that seems to be doing the best job of taking advantage of mobile is H&M. The retailer is taking advertising to the next level by allowing viewers with certain Samsung smart TVs to buy products directly from the commercial.

Here's how it will work: a pop-up menu will come up on a small section of the screen while the ad runs, which can be accessed with the remote control.

Viewers would clearly be somewhat weary of clicking on something, and possibly miss part of the game, so here is the genius part: instead, H&M will give customers the option to send the information about the items to a secondary device, which the customer can then use to buy the products. 

They can also buy directly from the pop-up menu if they so chose, but I think most people will take advantage of the option to buy from their mobile device instead without risking falling behind the game.

It's an innovative, and new way to take advantage of the large audience that the Super Bowl offers while incorporating the second screen.

(Image source:

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TubeMogul, Inc.


Joined Vator on

Founded in 2006 by online video buffs who met while in graduate school and won the UC Berkeley Business Plan Competition, TubeMogul's objective from the start has been to empower online video producers, advertisers and the online video industry by providing publishing tools and insightful, easy to interpret analytics.

With TubeMogul, users upload videos once and TubeMogul deploys them to as many of the top video sharing sites the producer chooses. TubeMogul's integrated analytics then provide a single source of metrics on where, when, and how often the videos are viewed. TubeMogul's free beta service has been live since November of 2006. In January 2008, TubeMogul announced the launch of its Premium Products, which include a host of new professional features.


Chris Cunningham

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I co-founded appssavvy, an activity advertising technology company and serve as CEO. appssavvy's vision has pioneered a new advertising model focused on people's activity.