To Win Big, A New Playbook Takes Shape


To think, the first Super Bowl commercials were discounted. Executives in the late ‘60s worried the new NFL championship wouldn’t catch on and sold 60-second television spots for only $85,000. This year, 30 seconds of airtime will cost around $5 million.

And that’s just TV. Today, for brands to win on Super Bowl Sunday, they need a coordinated digital strategy as much as modern NFL teams need the forward pass.

Even just a decade ago, digital or social promotions around the Super Bowl were rare. A commercial would air during the game. Press might laud or lampoon it. And maybe it’d be on YouTube on Monday. That was it.

Now, digital is a must. “You have to break through the clutter in an interesting way,” said Derek Rucker, a professor of marketing at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, in a Chicago Tribune article.

If it takes money to make money, it now takes advertising to advertise.

So Super Bowl advertisers pre-release their commercials on YouTube. They promote the ad’s message on social before and after the game. They buy Snapchat filters. And they use paid tools, like search ads and promoted posts, to catch consumers rushing to re-watch their favorites.

This year, P&G rolled out a hashtag, “Halftime #BathroomBreak,” for its tongue-in-check Febreeze ad nearly a week before the game. Snickers is planning a big splash: a live TV commercial filmed during the game. That alone got them a story in the Wall Street Journal. They’re also planning to livestream the film set for 36 hours beforehand and are spending several hundred thousand dollars just to promote the livestream. And, Ford is pushing customer and employee stories on social to amplify the message in its big, 90-second ad.

It’s all about building the buzz: Super Bowl Sunday or not. Americans are too flooded with information.  Whether you’re advertising to 150 million football fans or to decision makers in Washington, D.C., one splash won’t do. You need a wave.

That’s why, according to the New York Times, companies running Super Bowl commercials are paying as much as 25% of the cost of the ad to promote it. At today’s prices that’s more than $1 million to amplify.

Some Super Bowl mainstays have decided that’s too much. But to cut back, they’re not dropping the digital push. They’re dropping the commercial.

A year after running a popular Super Bowl commercial with Dachshunds and condiment costumes, Heinz skipped TV and went all digital. They’re promoting a petition to make the day after the Super Bowl a national holiday.

Can it work? It has before. In 2013, during an interrupting stadium blackout, Oreos famously tweeted that viewers could still “dunk in the dark.” With 16,000 retweets, and no TV commercial, it became one of the game’s most memorable advertising moments. And during last year’s Super Bowl, Volvo had fans tweet during competitors’ commercials to win a new Volvo XC60. The hashtag, #VolvoContest, trended globally with more than 100,000 mentions and the new car saw a 71% year-over-year sales increase. All without spending the millions to buy a commercial.

The stakes may not be as high as Super Bowl Sunday, but to cut through the noise in a chaotic D.C. or on a little-known issue, this new digital playbook is a winner. And when the new President is motivated by what he sees gaining traction on Twitter and TV, a balanced approach is all the more important. So build the buzz, amplify the message and embrace digital channels. It’s a winning strategy on any given Sunday, or Monday, or Tuesday…