No matter the final score, the Super Bowl is always TV's biggest live event. And this year's game delivered for marketers across platforms. Super Bowl spots are a high-profile — and costly — way to advertise, but the growing audience for digital video and social media are helping to extend brands' investment well behind the fourth quarter.
As more consumers cut their cable cords and opt for digital video services or mobile app viewing, they're still tuning into big events like the Super Bowl. Cord-cutters are disrupting the traditional paid-TV industry, but when it comes to the Super Bowl, advertisers are still drawing a massive crowd for their linear TV ads and benefitting from added exposure on digital platforms. Simply put, it's a game-winning plan.
This year's Super Bowl LIV in Miami, between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs, lived up to its billing — going down to the wire and attracting 102.1 million multi-platform viewers across Fox, Fox Deportes, NFL, and Verizon digital, up 1 percent from Super Bowl LIII in 2019, according to Nielsen. The linear TV telecast attracted 99.99 million viewers, up 2 percent from CBS's presentation of Super Bowl LIII, but the second-lowest linear audience since 2010. An estimated 69 percent of U.S. homes with televisions in use were tuned into this year's Super Bowl, Nielsen reported. The average cost of a 30-second spot for this year's game was about $5 million.
Connected TV and streaming services are amplifying the Super Bowl's audience by bringing these cord-cutters and "cord-nevers," who have never subscribed to pay TV, into the fold. Live sporting events such as the Super Bowl are an essential ingredient in growing the CTV audience.
Media analysts often cite live sports and tent-pole entertainment events as reasons that some Americans hold onto their cable subscriptions. Unsure if they'll be able to watch their favorite teams or see the biggest stars with streaming video, these pay-TV customers stick with their tried-and-true providers. Streaming services and apps allow for easy on-demand and binge viewing, but live events have been more difficult to watch through those channels.
That's changing quickly, as platforms such as FuboTV, Hulu + Live TV, Roku, and YouTube TV enable customers to access local stations and a full menu of cable networks — which makes these marquee live events (and their ads) available for live viewing, and provides brands access to these consumers. With CTV, marketers get troves of detailed data and measurements on demographics, devices, and location.
The growing presence of live sports streaming was on display in Super Bowl LIV, with YouTubeTV as the presenting sponsor of the pre-game show and Hulu's talked-about ad, featuring New England Patriots' legendary quarterback Tom Brady, reminding fans that they can watch their favorite live sports on the service. In another sign of CTV's importance, Roku and Fox reached a last-minute carriage deal that allowed Roku users to watch the Super Bowl on Fox-owned properties.
"Streaming is here to stay and is an important part of the composition of the audience," says Tal Chalozin, cofounder and chief technology officer of video adtech firm Innovid. The company works with a large roster of brands, including Budweiser, P&G, and Jeep to measure the delivery of ads on digital video.
Chalozin points out that even as streaming options grow, it was actually last year's Super Bowl LIII on CBS that first offered brands innovative ways to track streaming viewers and showcase streaming capabilities.
For the 2019 game, for example, Innovid worked closely with CBS Interactive and Kellogg's to develop a streaming ad for Pringles that CTV viewers could interact with; the ad allowed viewers to change the city name mentioned and Pringles chip flavor combo for a personalized experience. The campaign took six months of development, planning, and testing, and used the latest advertising technology, Chalozin explains.
Another important development in last year's game was that CBS enabled advertising tech that enabled Innovid and others to track delivery of streaming ads.
"That allows marketers to get some understanding of who saw ads on streaming, on what device, and the locales they're watching in," Chalozin says. "You can also do retargeting based on homes that watched."
For this year's Super Bowl, Chalozin said Fox opted not to activate the adtech needed to track delivery to streaming, leaving some advertisers without access to important streaming data.
In today's multi-platform media world, the Super Bowl telecast is just one piece of a big game ad campaign. Brands and their agency partners work on building buzz for the messaging beforehand, releasing sneak peeks and retaining that glow afterward on social and digital media. To track results, Chalozin notes, brands watch Google searches after their ads run and during breaks in the game to see how they're trending, and closely follow YouTube views and shares for their spots.
On their own, brands are increasingly activating digital media to amplify their campaigns. Avocados From Mexico, for instance, created a digital campaign called #AvoNetwork, with interactive contests and prizes tied to its cheeky Super Bowl spot. The ad spoofed a home shopping channel selling avocado-related products, such as a baby carrier and bike helmet for avocados.
Doritos and Sabra hummus tapped into the red-hot social platform TikTok to super-charge their Super Bowl ads. Doritos' "Old Town Road" spot featuring Little Naz X was a top-trending video on TikTok; Sabra's Super Bowl ad featured TikTok star Charli D'Amelio, who sprinkled clips of the ad in her feed.
Across social media, the Super Bowl was a top-trending topic, with Nielsen reporting 43.9 million total Super Bowl–related interactions across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Halftime show star Jennifer Lopez generated 2.2 million engagements, while Chiefs' quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the game's most valuable player, accounted for about a half of a million engagements.
This kind of social media activity and digital engagement can help brands evaluate the success of their Super Bowl spots. "There is a lot of science to Super Bowl ads now. If you don't seed an ad before and after, you're missing 80 percent of the noise," Chalozin says. "A funny ad is not enough anymore."
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