How to Really Judge the Winners of the Super Bowl Ad War

For years, Americans across the country have gathered together around water coolers at the office the Monday morning after the Super Bowl. However, instead of talking about how the quarterbacks played the night before, the conversations typically center on what the best commercials were.


These annual debates, and the ensuing buzz the most popular commercials generated, spurred the Super Bowl ad craze. Today, companies are paying the FOX network an estimated $3 million for a 30-second commercial spot estimated to reach nearly 100 million people.


Unlike in years past, the winners of the annual winter ad war are no longer determined during or immediately after the game. Instead, the victors are chosen both before the first kick off and in the weeks after the game. Today, smart companies are making the most of their ad bucks by starting their campaigns early, helping to build brand buzz during the weeks leading up to Super Bowl Sunday. At the same time, they’re also using their ads as a vehicle to create or spur interaction in the digital realm – again, both before and after the big game. 


So instead of judging the ads based on their Monday morning chatter, a better way to evaluate the winners is to look at which ones optimized the opportunity. Which ones thought outside the box and used their investment as a vehicle to engage the audience directly? Which ones really made an impact – both on the TV screen and digitally? Which ads were this year’s winners?


Winners, Round 1: The Brands who kicked off their campaigns before “Kickoff”


The key for Super Bowl advertisers seeking to maximize every opportunity available is getting creative early on.


Budweiser, one of the game’s staple advertisers, drummed up pre-game interest by running two 15-second “to-be-continued” commercials featuring their famed Clydesdale horses during the conference championship games. 


Mercedes-Benz cashed in on its ad investment early by encouraging fans to follow racing teams led by celebrities (Serena Williams, Rev Run, Nick Swisher and Pete Wentz) online as well as in person as the groups drove (and Tweeted) to the Super Bowl at Cowboys Stadium in specially equipped Mercedes vehicles. The winner wasn’t the team that got to Dallas first; instead the victor was determined based on a series of challenges during the journey and by which team generated the most Twitter activity (or “Tweet Fuel”).


Another great example: Volkswagen, which “leaked” its heart-stealing Star Wars ad early. The ad garnered nearly 10 million views before the game, and the accompanying buzz made sure viewers were looking for it and paying attention when it aired. This type of creativity gets people talking about an ad before it even airs and gives companies a way to maximize their investment outside of the 30-second spot.


Winners, Round 2: Companies scored extra points online


Of course it’s equally important that the effort incite engagement, and the digital space is a great platform to create and maintain an ongoing relationship with an audience. A great example of this tactic is E-Trade, which broke ground in 2009 as the only ad to tease its Facebook and Twitter presence in the allotted 30 seconds. The company also used bloopers of its famed surly baby to drive online traffic afterwards. This year, E-Trade is again using a series of online shorts from its Super Bowl ad to herd viewers to the web and to their site. (In 2009, E-Trade’s ad bloopers helped spark an 86 percent increase in unique visitors and a 19 percent increase in online brokerage applications the week after the game.) As E-Trade shows, the most successful ads should not just create awareness; they also should spur interaction and bolster business.


And the Winner is…

The best thing about the Super Bowl ads is that everyone has an opinion. However, the basic Super Bowl commercial is going the way of the dinosaur. Moving forward, we will have to consider not just the ad itself, but how the ad optimized the opportunity, when evaluating the game’s winners and losers.