Pepsi Super Bowl Ad Cardi B
A screen grab from a Pepsi ad shows what viewers of the big game will see on TV, and on YouTube.

Published: January 31st, 2019

Are you ready for some football… commercials? Yep, it’s that time of year again when the only thing getting more buzz than the Patriots taking on the Rams this Sunday are the ad campaigns. And perhaps the biggest driver of that buzz is YouTube, the ubiquitous video-sharing site that continues to reign supreme as a key component of any Super Bowl marketing strategy. So while football fans are bingeing on wings and beer, marketers will likely need something a little stronger as they watch to see if their big-budget spots pay off with that extra “YouTube-bump” of viral magic.

The battle for Super Bowl LIII (53) ad supremacy has been raging online for weeks already, with major brands from Doritos to Pepsi to Stella Artois making the most of Super Bowl buzz by employing strategies that have become the norm, giving their campaigns life before, during and long after the final whistle blows.

Super Bowl ads are blockbuster events

The first-ever Super Bowl took place in 1967 when the Green Bay Packers battled the Kansas City Chiefs before a TV audience of just 51 million (last year’s event drew 103.4 million by comparison). But it would take until 1973 for advertisers to crack the Super Bowl hit code, with a 30-second Noxema Shave Cream spot starring Farrah Fawcett and Joe Namath. The flirtatious ad, which cost a reported US$42,000 (to compare again, a 30-second spot today is worth roughly US$5 million), resonated with football fans and is often credited as a turning point in Super Bowl advertising showing that commercials could be entertaining, provocative and memorable.

“Super Bowl ads and the marketing strategies behind them have drastically evolved over time,” YouTube’s Global Head of Curriculum Bob Cornwall tells ITBusiness.ca. “What started as a 30-second spot has turned into a blockbuster event.”

The teaser leads the way

And like any good blockbuster, the hype is almost as important as the feature presentation itself, something marketers have glommed onto with rigour when it comes to their Super Bowl advertising.

“Today, brands treat their Super Bowl ads like movie releases,” Cornwall continues. “They issue press releases announcing what celebrity they are featuring, they release teasers on YouTube, and they continue to find viewers after the game on YouTube.”

Many brands will even release their full Super Bowl ads, and sometimes longer exclusive versions of them, on YouTube prior to the game to maximize interest and longevity. According to statistics provided by Google, from 2008 to 2016 the number of Super Bowl ads released on YouTube before the big game has increased by 200 per cent.

This year, for example, as part of Doritos’ Super Bowl campaign, the brand released two teaser trailers on YouTube, a week apart beginning on Jan. 17. The humourous, big-production spots for their Flamin’ Hot Nachos brand feature the Backstreet Boys and Chance the Rapper, and have raked in a combined total of 3.4 million views so far. But that pales in comparison to the 3.3 million views the 60-second payoff ad that Doritos posted on the 29th has managed to accumulate in just two days. It’s speculated that Doritos will air a 30-second version during the game to drive further results.

Want more teasers? Google Search lists the following as the top five most trending:
1. Doritos featuring the Backstreet Boys and Chance the Rapper
2. Michael Bublé vs bubly
3. Pringles Sad Device
4. Pepsi featuring Cardi B, Steve Carell and Lil Jon
5. Stella Artois featuring Jeff Bridges and Sarah Jessica Parker

Come for the game, stay for the ads

It’s pretty clear by now that you don’t have to be a football fan to watch the Super Bowl. Further findings from Google state that 20 per cent of Canadian Super Bowl viewers aged 18 to 54 watch just for the commercials, which can sometimes be difficult to do in Canada.

One reason Canadian viewers often turn to YouTube for their Super Bowl ads is that up to and including Super Bowl 50 in 2016, something called simultaneous substitution – or simsub – of U.S. ads was in effect, essentially meaning that the Canadian broadcaster of the game would sell their own ads and air them in place of the American ads. This practice made YouTube all the more important for fans wanting to experience the same blockbuster commercials as our friends south of the border.

Simsub has had a bit of a rollercoaster ride, though. In 2017 the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission cancelled the practice, allowing Canadian viewers, for the first time, the choice of watching Canadian ads on the Canadian-owned stations (such as BCE-owned CTV or TSN), or the U.S. ads on the U.S. channels, if they got them. It’s no surprise that simsub cost Bell a reported $11 million that year as 3.4 million Canadians watched Super Bowl 51 on Fox instead.

Since then Bell and the NFL have been fighting to have simsub reinstated, but were unsuccessful last year in a game-time ruling to have it done before Super Bowl LII. Recently, however, the pair got their wish via the new USMCA trade agreement, which includes a pledge to do just that.

But unfortunately for Canadian marketers, the switch back isn’t going to happen in time for Super Bowl LIII either, likely meaning a substantial number of Canadians will, again, tune in to check out the ads on a U.S. station. A post on the CRTC’s website states that “Canadians will be able to watch U.S. commercials – starting at kickoff – if they subscribe to the U.S. station broadcasting the game (CBS for Super Bowl LIII).” However, the US commercials will only air during the game, specifically between kick-off and the final play, and will not include pre- or post-game ads. For those, you guessed it, you’ll just have to find them on YouTube.

Super Bowl ads enjoy life after the fourth quarter

Even with the ads airing live on Canadian TV, YouTube’s importance as a key piece of a brand’s marketing puzzle isn’t diminished at all. It’s quite the contrary. For one, if you missed the live airing of one during the game, no biggie – you can catch up online the next day, week or month.

“Watching the ads on YouTube after the game has become an annual tradition,” Cornwall says. “In Canada, searches for Super Bowl ads have consistently outpaced searches for both the halftime show and game highlights for the past five years.”

Beyond the aftermath of game day, Super Bowl ads, the good ones anyway, can enjoy a long life as they shift from being just an ad to transcending marketing and becoming a part of pop culture.

According to YouTube, the Top 5 Super Bowl ads of all time on YouTube are:
1. Old Spice (2010)
2. God of War (2013)
3. Red Bull (2014)
4. Game of War (2015)
5. Nintendo Switch (2017).

Together, these ads have generated over 120 million lifetime views – 8 million of which happened within the last year alone.

Take the now famous Old Spice – The Man Your Man Could Smell Like ad that debuted during Super Bowl 44 in 2010. Not only was it a huge success during the game, within three weeks of it airing it racked up 3.5 million views on YouTube.

And in the lead-up to future Super Bowls, as fans start searching Google and YouTube for the newest teasers and ads, they can’t help but get sucked down the rabbit hole of famous past Super Bowl ads, breathing life into that old content yet again. As of today, The Man Your Man Could Smell Like ad had nearly 56 million views with people still adding comments to it.

“If a brand isn’t leveraging YouTube in their Super Bowl marketing campaign,” Cornwall cautions, “they are missing out on a huge audience base, conversation and experience.” Let’s go, Doritos.

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