Superbowl Ads 2018: social media has left the building

My favorite Super Bowl moment: Leslie Odom Jr singing America the Beautiful
Source: NFL on YouTube

Every year I recruit our Super Bowl party viewers to help me tally the number of hashtags, URLs, and social media handles and pages mentioned in the ads. This year we tallied mentions from just before America the Beautiful and to right after the final Hail Mary attempt by the Patriots. All in all we counted 80 ads as we didn’t include NBC show promos or local ads. Of those 80, a scant few had social media handles: 3 for Twitter, 1 each for Snapchat and Instagram, and none for Facebook. This is more or less consistent with previous years. Also consistent with the last few years is the percentage of ads including URLs, still surprisingly high at about a third of all commercials. Are advertisers afraid that viewers won’t find the site on their own, and if so, will a second on the screen really motivate going to the site?

My unofficial social media mentions tally

The real trend this year seems to be the continued decline of the hashtag. In previous years, more than 50% of ads had a hashtag, supposedly to encourage discussion of the brand on any (and every) social network. This year hashtag mentions continued their steady decline with only 10 ads, 13%, mentioning one.

The last second of the Tide ad, with hashtag
Source: Tide on YouTube

While one of the most talked ads of the Super Bowl, Tide, featured the hashtag #TideAd, it didn’t really need to as it was talked about everywhere anyway. Says Adweek: “But as of Monday morning, the top two brand stories trending on Twitter were Tide’s successful attempt to blanket the Super Bowl with ads referencing other ads and the backlash over Dodge Ram’s decision to use a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech to sell trucks.” Which may mean that advertisers have realized that in order to create a memorable and talked-about ad, it is no longer necessary to include social media promtps, it’s only necessary to create a good ad.  

I’m struck by this weird contrast between the steady mention of URLs in commercials vs. the decline of hashtags. If it’s no longer necessary to direct the conversation with hashtags, why the continued insistence of including URLs? What are the odds that a viewer will remember a URL, even a short one, flashed on screen for a second or two? If there’s a belief that viewers will even read the final frame, would it be more effective to just reinforce the brand name?

Finally, it’s interesting to note that even with the constant and ongoing upheaval in viewing habits, the Super Bowl has remained a reliable ratings magnet. This year it garnered a 43.1 rating, which really hasn’t changed that much in the last 40 years. In fact “the past ten Super Bowls rank as the ten most-watched all-time, and the past eight rank as the eight most-watched programs in U.S. television history.” The Super Bowl is probably the last show that Americans watch in such overwhelming numbers and consistently across the years. It’s no wonder advertisers, and agencies, love it.


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