Commentary

Super Bowl Ads Heavy On Humor, Still Light On User Engagement

In most respects, Sunday night’s Super Bowl was a blowout. The Denver Broncos left thoroughly defeated, Fox lost 10 million pairs of eyes compared to the year before, and, for some reason, 31% of Super Bowl advertisers seemed to forget that social media, mobile and the Internet existed as a way to further engage the audience they just spent more than $4 million to get in front of. Analyzing the circumstances behind the first two occurrences is outside of my purview (although, even I know that anytime you’re -4 in the turnover battle, you’re asking for trouble), but examining the social and mobile audience engagement in this year’s advertising is totally up my alley. 

First, let’s get a little context. Looking back at last year’s event, social and mobile marketers had many reasons to be excited. A 2013 study by Marketing Charts showed a 300% year-over-year increase in social media activation based around the Super Bowl with 88% of that activity originating from mobile devices and Twitter being the dominant platform. Even more promising was that all of this activity was generated by a relatively small amount of brands exploiting mobile and social integrations in their advertising. ExactTarget’s post-Super Bowl ad roundup noted that for non-CBS/NFL spots that ran during the game barely half of the ads included a corporate URL and less than half included any kind of social call-to-action.

Now, back to Sunday night—a night primed to validate the trends and industry excitement around social media and mobile activation—after carefully analyzing all 112 commercials (by my count anyway), I was left somewhat disappointed with the overall findings. While there was marked growth in mobile audience engagement, we expected a far higher percentage of social and mobile integrations than actually came to pass. Here are some of the highlights.

1. Hashtags and website URLs still dominate mobile engagement.

Maybe it’s Twitter’s cachet of being the immediate, real-time news and engagement platform, but there is no doubting the numbers and its impressive rise as the tool-of-choice for advertisers looking to drive audience engagement.

By the numbers:

  • Over 41% of ads included a hashtag up 8% from 2013
  • Over 35% used a website URL down 18% from 2013
  • However 69% of ads included some kind of call-to-action up 19% from last year

2. 31% used no CTA at all.

This is puzzling because, according to Nielsen’s “Cross-Platform Report,” over 39% of people use their smartphones and tablets at least once a day while watching TV, 62% say they do multiple times a week with 84% claiming they do so at least once a month. Combine this with Twitter’s research that tell us that TV spots with hashtags or other social/mobile CTAs have a 1.6 times greater engagement rate than clips without, and it forces one to wonder why any team tasked with creating a memorable and engaging advertisement wouldn’t utilize these proven tactics.

3. However, for brands that did include URLs, mobile optimization is improving.

Of the 40 ads that included a website URL, 85% of them were optimized for a mobile experience as compared to a paltry 48% from last years Super Bowl. As consumers increasingly turn to their mobile phones as the first option for engaging others in personal, professional and commercial situations it is good to see so many brands improving and optimizing their mobile strategies.

By the numbers:

  • Movies, telecoms and wireless carriers were the biggest purveyors of an in-ad website URL with
    • 100% of telecoms following driving users to a website URL
    • 84% of movie ads following suit

4.  Facebook was essentially absent from the proceedings.

Less than 3% of the 112 commercials we studied contained a Facebook CTA. This is down more than 10% from last year. Whether Facebook is a viable advertising engagement platform is yet to be seen, but the 2014 Super Bowl advertisers don’t seem to think so.

In short, our findings show that Super Bowl marketers are embracing mobile and social integrations in their advertising, but not at the clip one might expect. We believe this inherently high-stakes situation calls for pulling out all the stops, and it beggars logic that advertising teams still don’t use all of the resources at their disposal to ensure the success of their advertising by improving mobile and social engagement.

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