So the long march through the NFL season has led at last to Super Bowl Sunday, and in 2016 this highly-anticipated, much-hyped, last-of-its-kind event had an especially golden glow. It was bigger than the Bronco and the Panthers, bigger than Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, bigger even than Beyoncé and Coldplay. It was Super Bowl 50, a half-century anniversary, as CBS had been reminding us relentlessly for months. And with 50 years of momentum behind it, the NFL and its partners have pushed out a year-long marketing effort meant to culminate in a celebration for the ages. With an estimated 120 million viewers who followed the action from the comfort of their homes, it’s no small wonder that their campaign targeted not just football fans, but consumers nationwide.
For advertisers, the Super Bowl has proven to be one of the most valuable properties in sports history—30- second spots during Super Bowl 50 sold for an average of $5 million, up roughly $500,000 from 2015. From Super Bowl XL (2006) through Super Bowl XLIX (2015), the Big Game has generated $2.38 billion in network ad sales from more than 130 marketers, buoyed by the fact that the average rate for a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl broadcast has increased by 76 percent during that time.
It’s no fumble, considering that according to the 2015 Nielsen results NBC’s Super Bowl XLIX broadcast pulled an average audience of 114.4 million viewers, surpassing the previous year’s Super Bowl to become the most watched television program of all time. The game peaked at 120.8 million viewers during its final minutes. Katy Perry’s performance was also the most watched halftime show in the 49 year history of the event.
Meeting customers on the mobile field is one way to take advantage of the Super Bowl media blitz without committing $5 million for a 30-second ad during the game. Many companies are doing online advertising before and during the game. In recent years mobile has intercepted a good majority of big-screen viewers—screen passing, to put it in football terms—and has turned them into small-screen interactors. These days, mobile is everything and companies that plan to stay in the game need to meet their customers on their field.
Ads are long publicized and teased prior to and post-game via the mobile web to create anticipation and attract more viewers and pay off in greater engagement. It’s anticipated that the mobile web during the Super Bowl will bring in close to a 500 percent increase in ad revenue, and with smart TVs many people may skip the game altogether and go directly to the ads. The mobile web was used as a marketing tool to maximize the effectiveness of TV ads and as a tool to bring on actual product engagement, like sales .
Ads showcased at the Super Bowl—and the brands behind them—seem to be at the forefront of shifting advertising trends and consumer behavior. In fact, according to this 2013 report from AdWeek, CBS anticipated generating between $10 – $12 million in second screen ad revenues alone. Yet one of the most memorable ads during the 2013 Super Bowl was not a TV ad at all, but a tweet from Oreo reminding people that “you can still dunk in the dark” during that game’s infamous blackout. Newcastle Brown Ale‘s “If We Made It,” a full campaign about what the beer company would have done if it had created a Super Bowl ad, made it one of the most talked-about Super Bowl advertisers of 2014, without having an actual presence during the telecast.
Spending money on a Super Bowl spot creates momentum, or, as Nick Reed, Co-founder of digital agency Shareability says, “You can create a digital campaign that creates a movement. A movement can create real change. For a fraction of the cost of a Super Bowl spot, you can create a movement that captures and capitalizes on all the excitement surrounding the Super Bowl. That momentum can last long after Sunday.”
Last year, more than 65 million people were talking about the Super Bowl on Facebook. According to the social media company, 85 percent of Super Bowl TV viewers were on their mobile phones while watching the game. “Eighty percent of our revenue is mobile,” said Matt Idema, a marketing executive at Facebook. “It’s significant and it’s grown year over year. We are a mobile ad company. The reach that mobile devices have, and the fact that Facebook and Instagram are two of the most important mobile platforms, means you can get a lot of reach and engagement on mobile even if you’re not buying a Super Bowl ad.”
Last year, Volvo’s “Greatest Interception Ever” campaign asked viewers to tweet #VolvoContest during commercials from other car companies for a chance to win a Volvo XC60. Hashtags will be big in commercials this year, too. It’s likely they’ll be splashed across the screen in most ads, because advertisers know that if they can get viewers talking about the commercial online, it will lead to more consumer engagement, giving companies a louder bang for their buck. Mobile pushes users to actual action, while proving an ‘on-the-go’ ‘physical’ experience.
According to Kantar Media’s analysis of paid commercials shown during the game, hashtags have overtaken URLs as the most popular call-to-action. Last year, 57 percent of non-promo ads (34 of 60) contained hash tags while slightly less than half had URLs.
It’s no secret that the recent surge of ad blockers has presented an industry challenge. While largely a mobile website issue (versus apps), the message from users is loud and clear: Mobile advertising needs to be better. That’s what made the 2016 Super Bowl so important for mobile. It’s a time when friends and family gather together to talk touchdowns and taglines—a tremendous opportunity to reframe the conversation around mobile ads.
Was mobile the ad revenue game changer? Was mobile the call-for-action button for Super Bowl 50? Was the game played by hash marks or hash tags? Was this year truly a golden year? It’s too soon to tell, but we were ready, with smartphone in one hand and seven-layer-dip-laden chip in the other. Our eyes were on the screens. We were part of the (advertising) game, not just spectators but movers and shakers as well. Who knows, maybe in this golden year mobile viewers will prove to be the real MVPs.