The Super Bowl is the most-watched television event of the year by far. And, it’s getting even bigger, with last year’s telecast breaking the record for the most-watched TV event ever, with over 111 million viewers. According to Nielsen (the audience-measurement standard bearer for traditional television since the 1950s), four out of the last five Super Bowls hold records for the most-viewed television events in history. And sometimes, depending on the score, we remember the commercials more than we remember the game.

This is not news. Everyone knows how big game day is, especially brands, who shell out upwards of $4 million for a 30-second spot. But, according to a study (conducted by research firm Communicus) and analyzed by AdAge after last year’s game, the worth of that price tag has come under some tough scrutiny. The study suggests that up to 80 percent of those ultra-expensive advertisements do not result in increased sales.

Now, let’s pivot away from television for a moment and speak to what ZEFR knows best: culture, YouTube, and social media. After all, Nielsen’s been doing this since the 1950s. It’s time to take a more modern approach and see how brands might benefit from the Super Bowl in other ways beyond the TV screen, not just by elbowing their way into the crowded and expensive live broadcast.

Here are just a few ways ZEFR found for brands to capitalize on the Super Bowl by increasing sales and awareness without, necessarily, shelling out that $4 million on game day.

Before the Game: Generating Hype

Pepsi, of course, will have more exposure than nearly all other brands during the Super Bowl, considering they are the sole sponsor of the eagerly anticipated and oft-scrutinized halftime show. But Pepsi also knows that the best place to begin fanning the flames of anticipation is where 2015’s halftime star Katy Perry’s fans live and breathe right now: YouTube.

Another interesting case of pre-game hype generation is Doritos, whose “Crash the Super Bowl” contest is now heading into its eighth year. Doritos has turned its fans into content creators, with this year’s winning fan-made advertisement garnering its creator $1 million, an unspecified job at Universal Pictures, and their ad broadcast during the game. This has resulted in an overwhelming presence on YouTube, with contestants uploading their homemade ads, hoping against all hope to be the chosen ones.

Super Bowl XLIX

We know that YouTube consistently attracts as many (actually more, over time) views than the Super Bowl itself. Taylor Swift alone has nearly one billion views… just for her two newest videos. That’s nearly 10 times as many viewers than the Super Bowl. With that in mind, what better way to make certain your ad spend for the live event is worth the price tag than by making an ad for your ad and uploading the teaser to YouTube?

During the Game: Reacting in Real Time

No matter how tightly orchestrated an event such as the Super Bowl is, things still go wrong. For example, 2013’s Super Bowl XLVII (aka, Blackout Bowl) was briefly interrupted by a stadium-wide power outage. While the event itself was thrown into brief disarray, the 34-minute break in action between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers created the kind of opportunity only the immediacy of social media could respond to in real time. Oreo came out as the big winner, thinking on their feet and creating a Twitter storm that a $4 million ad spend could only hope to replicate. The lesson here is, if you’re a brand that is able to react quickly, it’s never too late to develop a social media strategy for the Super Bowl.

After the Game: Join the Party in the Video Archive

At ZEFR, we often use the “watercooler” metaphor and how YouTube has managed to create a new kind of conversation the day after major events. Why just talk about it when you can watch it again? And again. Perhaps the greatest influence of this has been on the longevity of memorable Super Bowl ads. Despite that alarming figure of 80 percent of viewers not buying the products advertised during the game, now the advertisements can live on… infinitely. Arguably, YouTube is helping brands to eke out every last remaining penny from that $4 million ad spend by not only allowing the spot to be uploaded (for free) to the platform but also piling up the free earned views for weeks, months, possibly years after the game has aired.

Super Bowl XLIX

Budweiser’s enduringly popular “Puppy Love” advertisment keeps getting impressive view numbers almost a year after it aired during Super Bowl XLVIII.

Also, fan-uploaded compilation videos not only earn lots of views, but keep that conversation going, which is so important to brands who have invested so much in the live event: “Which ad did you like the best?”

Movie trailers often debut during the big game as well, then go to live on YouTube, starting a film’s YouTube campaign that lasts all the way until the film’s release, which sometimes isn’t until the following summer.

Can’t Afford a Ticket to the Game? Have Fun Outside the Gates.

Some brands might follow Newcastle Beer’s lead and eschew gameday altogether. Cleverly titled “Mega Huge Football Game Ad,” Newcastle recruited film star Anna Kendrick and managed to avoid that $4 million price tag altogether, using YouTube to make light of the entire affair.

Fourth and Goal: Ready to Go for It?

With YouTube, and social media in general, there’s always a way to work your way into the major events on traditional television that other brands are still spending millions for a mere 30 seconds. In the new media landscape, no brand has to be left out of the game. Super Bowl XLIX is a huge opportunity for brands to gain exposure before, during, and after the teams have already hit the locker rooms. As Oreo so deftly proved, if you don’t have your strategy ready yet, it’s never too late.

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