Until just a few years ago, the unveiling of a major brand’s Super Bowl campaign was, for many people, as exciting as the game itself. Advertising firms were known for being tight-lipped until just days before kickoff, with some keeping complete secrecy until the commercial’s debut.
Now, Super Bowl marketers utilized YouTube and a focused social media strategy to build anticipation and audience engagement around campaigns in the weeks leading up to the match between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. With some questioning if a traditional television ad during the Super Bowl is worth $4 million, the hope is to make the record-setting ad spend stretch as far as possible.
Advertisers did this in a number of different ways. Some released a short clip on YouTube that teased the full-length Super Bowl commercial. Volkswagen did this in 2012 with barking dogs hinting at a Star Wars theme. This year,Best Buy, Calvin Klein, Tide, and Samsung all followed suit.
The most notable came from Mercedes. Its ad teasing—in more ways than one—at Kate Upton washing a car in slow motion has racked up 5.7 million views on YouTube in less than two weeks.
Another strategy was to use social media to let fans dictate their ad experience. Doritos created five videos and encouraged people to vote for their favorite on Facebook. The top two ran during the Super Bowl. Coca-Cola had one ad with three different groups of characters in a race, and encouraged viewers to vote before and during the Super Bowl to decide the winner.
Most companies released the entire commercial on YouTube. The list is too long to name everyone, but an interesting trend is that automobile companies seem to be the most willing to release the ad early. Audi, Toyota, Hyundai, and Kia all had their full-length ad online well before the Super Bowl. Fiat has five. Volkswagen’s spot this attracted a bit of controversy, generating even more buzz.
Not all are convinced of the value of early release. According to Ad Age, some the ads’ impact is lost when the shock and awe is removed. Last year, Chrysler’s “Halftime in America” starring Clint Eastwood was a complete surprise and was arguably the Super Bowl’s most successful commercial.
Chrysler was able to repeat that success again this year, but the surprise ads from M&Ms, Oreos, and Blackberry all had a more difficult time generating audience excitement. According to most reviewers, the top ads all employed digital video and social media in the campaign.
Of course, social media does not guarantee a hit. Marketers still had to create great content that resonates with consumers, and there is always the possibility of negative public opinion “going viral.” But combining excellent content with a digital video and social media allows brands to more directly engage with consumers before and after the Super Bowl. That engagement can give the ads a much longer shelf-life, and helps make that money the brand spent a lot more worth it.