Review of Super Bowl Ads Across Device Types

Super Bowl XLVIII has come and gone. As per the last several years, I’ve taken time to reflect on the most intense marketing vehicle (eyeballs+dollars+creativity/time) known to mankind and how technology, messaging, and content (with a focus on mobility) are aligning with the brand and consumer objectives.
Methodology: I took a fresh approach this year compared previous years. This year, I put myself in the role of receptive consumer, a fan of football who was simply going to watch the game. Instead of feasting on the teasers for all the commercials leading up to the Big Game, following hashtags and forming preconceived perspectives that might color my attempts at game-day objectivity, I read only sports websites, watched a few previews, and generally followed what was presented to me as interesting. I took a few notes during the game, TiVo’d the entire thing, then reviewed each of the commercials throughout. This is the first part of my thoughts on the big game. (On Friday I’ll have more.)

For me, this was a year of what I hope would be the new normal (for marketing, not the game outcome) – and that’s a very good thing. As a media opportunity, the Super Bowl clearly retains its status as a primary focus of impact (eyeballs + dollars). Now let’s explore how that “impact” translates across brands and their ads.

Impact: Gross and Disgusting… If you found yourself about to hurl watching the GoDaddy.com kissing commercial, it will be easy to understand the refreshing leveling off toward moderation and integration. Using that scene as a reference, there is a clear path to what I found exciting about the Big Game efforts this year. If you take that same scene and have the Hot Model happily embrace the Geek, peck him on the cheek and confess a secret crush, you have a much different outcome. Because we root for the underdog, we like to see him winning – and we love to see the Hot Model exhibit human qualities that make her approachable. Similarly, what I witnessed this year more than ever was a moderate mixture of just the right elements for campaigns as a whole.

Social Impact… There were very few (1-2 total by my count) direct requirements in the broadcast to engage with the brand via novel or unique tactics like Shazam, Snaptags, augmented reality, or other activations which take education, dwell time, and possible user error to complete. What did dominate were easy-to-follow social efforts like Twitter hashtags, Facebook URLs and more. Several examples of this include:

  • Sodastream and Mio – Both up-and-coming beverage-related brands had memorable ads on the broadcast. Additionally, each had integrated display buys on sports-related properties (I spot-checked top 5 sports sites), each showed well in both mobile and desktop paid search listings for “view superbowl ads” and “watch all super bowl commercials,” as well as on YouTube. Additionally, each had considerate treatments of rendering depending on the device I was using (iPad tablet and an old reliable Motorola DroidX smartphone).

Following the hashtags for these and other brands is relatively passive from a consumer standpoint and opportunities to interact further abounded with app downloads, Facebook likes, SMS programs, email subscriptions, sweeps, and other deeper levels of engagement. This also opened up a huge “earned” opportunity when the blackout occurred during the game and generated an additional 30 minutes of exposure to brands that had already socialized their hashtags and Facebook destinations. Those that were actively monitoring their efforts were able to react (e.g. Oreo) and garnered retweets, mentions, additional press, and more value for their investment. They did this with on-context, relevant, authentic, in-the-moment messaging and content which can easily be extended into channels like site personalization, email, SMS, and even push notifications. Powerful stuff.

The operative assessment here for me is nothing was forced or garish about most of the brand’s efforts. I was given the option to go fairly far if I opted to with just the right proportion and sequence. It was just right for a “first date” and definitely left me open for a follow-up.

Finally, Size Does Matter: Overall, I was roundly impressed with the acknowledgement that desktop, tablet, and phones offer different opportunities, both for content and for mindset. What a difference a few years makes. Likely attributable to the unprecedented shift from Wintel to iOS/Android/etc., but more likely because CEOs are now are heavy users of tablets and smartphones. As a result, decent-to-great experiences were the majority. Add to that the strong evidence that a tablet and mobile touch with a consumer is highly valuable and the C-suite now seems aligned with both marketing and tech. Examples of this include:

  • Multi-device commendation goes to Century 21 – I found the spots lacking, but it’s clear the brand knows multi-device is its current reality and future. Excellent experiences on all fronts and specific to each device in both rendering and addressing content. Very friendly UX across all.
  • Special Achievement Award goes to Snickers – Over the past 3 years, I have been blown away at the mobile unfriendliness of their very popular and entertaining campaign. This year, however, they turned it around and presented a non-flash, device-appropriate experience that was clean in design, strong in impact, and a really nice surprise overall.
  • The “Left Me Hanging” Award goes to Hyundai and Mercedes Benz – Both made big investments in multiple, well done ads which support multiple vehicles in their stables. Rich production and nice assets across campaigns; however, Hyundai’s epicplaydate.com advertised in the Flaming-Lips spot didn’t load on my iOS tablet (Android phone was fine) and subsequent models advertised redirected back to the same non-functional site. Could have been a music download conflict with iTunes (you could download the track on the desktop and phone) but it was surprising just the same. Last year, “404 errors/failures to connect” ruled the day for me. Mercedes was the only brand I had a #FAIL issue with this year as their mobile site was unavailable multiple times I tried to bring it up on my phone. Good to know it wasn’t forgotten and a nice testament to the delivery infrastructure for most platforms and internal IT departments.

Overall, this drastically improved hit rate for cross-device readiness is tremendous to see. As devices and connectivity continue to proliferate, seamless brand availability is an absolute requirement.

Stay tuned for more reviews and highlights on Friday.

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