Super Bowl 2017 advertising: social media is on the sidelines

My favorite Super Bowl moment: the Schuyler sisters, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, and Jasmine Cephas Jones, sing America the Beautiful before the game.

My favorite Super Bowl moment: the Schuyler sisters, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, and Jasmine Cephas Jones, sing America the Beautiful before the game.

Even when the actual football is as exciting as it was Sunday, I still watch the Super Bowl for the ads. It never fails to bring out the most interesting, creative, and funny spots, where most brands just want to stand out. This year a 30-second ad spot cost a bit over $5 million and over 113 million Americans watched the game. Last year 112.6 million people watched, easily making it the most watched show in the US for 2016. As a comparison, in second place for 2016 was the post-game show, which drew around 70 million viewers. In third place was the exciting 7th World Series game, which drew a bit over 40 million people. There is nothing like the Super Bowl for getting a lot of Americans watching the TV at the same time.   

To figure out what the advertising world thinks of the web and the second screen viewers are holding in their hands as they watch the game, I noted social media, hashtags, and URLs for all 109 ads shown from right after the national anthem and right up to the beginning of overtime. I noticed a few interesting trends:

  • Social media handles are (almost) nowhere to be found, with only 3 brands including them in the final end-slate. T-Mobile was the only brand that mentioned Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and they ran four different ads. Other than T-Mobile, Pistachios and Positive Coaching Alliance included Twitter handles. No one included Snapchat.
  • Hashtags are a bit more important but also down in popularity. I counted hashtags in 29 ads, about 27%. Danny Sullivan at MarketingLand says that according to his count, hashtag use is down from a high three years ago of 57% to 45% last year and 30% this year (a note below on why his count differs from mine). Some hashtags were specially created to match the Super Bowl ad, such Febreeze with #BathroomBreak, Airbnb’s #WeAccept, Tide’s #BradshawStain and all four of T-Mobile’s, but many were the “generic” brand hashtag, such as Skittle’s #TasteTheRainbow, Sprite’s #WannaSprite, and all those for movies and TV shows. Yet it is interesting to note that brands aren’t interested in driving the conversation to social media, especially Twitter, as much as they had in previous years.  
  • This isn’t to say that social media didn’t play a part. T-Mobile and Verizon started a weird Twitter war some time in the 4th quarter and there were “5.1 million tweets about #Gaga’s performance, and Lady Gaga was mentioned on Twitter 2.1 million times between 7:50 and 8:40 p.m. EST.” So don’t discount the second screen quite yet.
  • URLs were added to 33 ads, around 30%, slightly higher than hashtags.

I’m surprised that the number of hashtags was significantly down and the number of handles was almost nonexistent. Sure, social media has mostly been a tacked-on afterthought on television ads, but for the advertising world to say that it has lost importance over the past few years when both Twitter and Facebook played a huge part in the 2016 elections is astounding.

Also, a note about the count. Danny Sullivan, who has been tracking social media and web mentions for a few years now, counted only 66 ads. He says that “we tried to count only ads that were nationally shown, as best we could, viewing from Los Angeles. Promos for shows on FOX or from the NFL were not included, nor were very short 15-second ads for “The Walking Dead” and Fiji Water.” I omitted promos for my local Fox affiliate but there were some ads that Mr Sullivan didn’t count that I’m pretty sure were national, such as Fitbit, Tide, and Samsung Gear VR. He also counted ads from the kickoff and I counted them from the anthem. By Mr Sullivan’s count, 30% of the ads had hashtags and 41% had URLs. He saw 5 Twitter mentions and 4 each of Facebook and Instagram (he counted every one of T-Mobile’s 4 spots as different mentions). These are still very low numbers.

Finally, the most intriguing and unexpected ad of the game might be a portent of things to come. The ad, for 84 Lumber, ran right before halftime and chronicled the journey of a mother and daughter from Mexico to US. The ad ended before the pair reached the US and called for viewers to continue watching online. The reason for the suspense: “Fox rejected the ad for being too overtly political” as the pair’s journey ended at a big wall. Unfortunately, 84 Lumber, a building supply company, certainly a non-traditional Super Bowl advertiser, wasn’t prepared for viewers to do exactly what they wanted them to do: watch the full ad on their website.

The onslaught of viewers just goes to show that even though they’re watching the big game, viewers are more than willing to look at content on their phones. It will be interesting how ads will look in two years. Will brands push the conversation to social media or will they create more opportunities to continue stories online?

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