Should Brands Rewrite Any Plays In Their Super Bowl Ad Playbook?

We saw Super Bowl ads with ani­mals, babies, humor, and celebri­ties. But what can brands real­ly do to make the most of their ads?

Greg Jarboe By Greg Jarboe from SEO-PR. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Last year, some of the best Super Bowl ads of 2015 put new plays in the marketer’s play­book. This year, it appears that many of those plays need to be total­ly rewrit­ten.

3 Myths About Viral Super Bowl Ads

Myth 1: Animals, Babies, Or Dancing Make Videos Go Viral

Up until this year, danc­ing and ani­mals did­n’t appear to work any bet­ter than oth­er cre­ative devices at gain­ing high­er rates of shar­ing. Babies did out­per­form most oth­er cre­ative devices, but only when the video evoked intense emo­tions. Of all pos­si­ble cre­ative devices, videos that dis­played per­son­al tri­umph appeared most like­ly to deliv­er shar­ing suc­cess.

Myth 2: Hilarious Videos Are Shared More Often

Humor is sub­jec­tive. Brands need to be extreme­ly fun­ny to impress con­sumers worn down by a glut of ads that try to be fun­ny (and usu­al­ly are not). In fact, the “Bud­weis­er Clydesdale’s “Broth­er­hood” Com­mer­cial” and the Ram Trucks “Farmer” Com­mer­cial, the two ads from Super Bowl 2013 that attract­ed the most shares on Face­book, Twit­ter, and the blo­gos­phere, evoked a dif­fer­ent set of emo­tion­al trig­gers from the rest.

Myth 3: Celebrity Endorsements Increase Sharing Potential

Few view­ers cite celebri­ties as a key dri­ver of why they would share an ad. None of the top 3 ads from Super Bowl 2014 fea­tured celebri­ties. This is not just restrict­ed to the Big Game. Up until August 2015, only 13 per­cent of the top 100 most shared ads of all time in Unruly’s Viral Video Chart fea­tured stars.

So, What Happened During Super Bowl 50?

Nat­u­ral­ly, we saw tons of Big Game ads that fea­tured ani­mals, babies, or danc­ing; a pletho­ra of Super Bowl ads that were – or tried to be – fun­ny; and more celebri­ties than you could shake a stick at. So, I inter­viewed Devra Pry­wes, Unruly’s VP of Mar­ket­ing and Insights in the U.S., to see what brands can learn about mak­ing the most of their Super Bowl moments.

Greg Jarboe:

You’ve been fol­low­ing social video ads dur­ing the Big Game for sev­er­al years. What was the biggest sur­prise for you in this year’s list the most shared ad of Super Bowl 2016?

Devra Prywes:

I had high hopes for the ads this year after the shar­ing records from the 2015 Big Game. We saw a win­ning year last year because adver­tis­ers hit hard on the emo­tion­al inten­si­ty of their spots, span­ning a gamut of emo­tions from hap­pi­ness and hilar­i­ty to pride and nos­tal­gia. This year the ads seemed “light” — they were, for the most part, light-heart­ed and light on emo­tion­al inten­si­ty. This is the sec­ond year the Face­book video for­mat has been avail­able for the Big Game and I was shocked to see that adver­tis­ers didn’t uni­ver­sal­ly use both for­mats, espe­cial­ly as the Face­book for­mat trends much more quick­ly than YouTube’s. This year Face­book video often had 4–5 times more shares, and some were 50x high­er! I also was pleas­ant­ly pleased to seem T‑Mobile hop­ping on memes in a real­ly authen­tic way. I loved see­ing Steve Har­vey and Drake par­o­dy their cur­rent memes (Harvey’s recent Miss Amer­i­ca mis­step and Drake’s hit song). T‑Mobile had 3 ads (includ­ing the 0:30 and extend­ed ver­sion of “Restrict­ed Bling”) in the top 10 most shared ad of Super Bowl 50.


Dori­tos announced some time ago that this was the last year for its “Crash the Super Bowl” con­test. But, this year, “Ultra­sound” topped Unruly’s chart. Should Dori­tos recon­sid­er retir­ing “Crash the Super Bowl” or go out a win­ner?


That’s a deci­sion for Dori­tos to make — they can def­i­nite­ly repli­cate this suc­cess with­out crowd­sourc­ing the con­tent. They topped the leader­board this year because they hit the holy grail for video shar­ing – they made a strong emo­tion­al con­nec­tion with view­ers, trig­gered many social moti­va­tions (or rea­sons peo­ple share videos), and launched their ad in advance of the Big Game. The Crash the Super Bowl pro­gram helps to spread the word as the cre­ative teams help to spread the word for their con­tent, but this word can eas­i­ly be spread with paid dis­tri­b­u­tion.


Dori­tos and Poké­mon released their ads well before Super Bowl Sun­day, but many of the most shared ads came as a “sur­prise” dur­ing the Big Game. Is this the new new best prac­tice? DP: No. Wait­ing to sur­prise view­ers is a dan­ger­ous strat­e­gy. We see adver­tis­ers get burned by this year over year. T‑Mobile’s Steve Har­vey and Ver­i­zon meme made it into the top 10 because it was an authen­tic use of a hot meme (and all-around awe­some!). T‑Mobile cap­tured mul­ti­ple trends per­fect­ly in a “mic-drop” moment. The top shared ad, by far, is Dori­tos’ “Ultra­sound” which was an ear­ly launch­er! And, the major­i­ty of “sur­prise” adver­tis­ers are in the bot­tom por­tion of our ad track­er.


We saw a lot of ani­mals and kids in this year’s Super Bowl ads, includ­ing a Pup­py­Mon­key­Ba­by. Is this the new new best prac­tice?


For every ani­mal and baby video that trends, there are hun­dreds that nev­er see the light of day. Moun­tain Dew seems to have tak­en what peo­ple con­sid­er to be viral gold and cre­at­ed a (very creepy) mashup. The impor­tant take­away for pup­pies, mon­keys, babies and oth­er cute beings is that it isn’t enough to have a baby or an ani­mal in your video – it’s how that baby or ani­mal makes you feel. If you have a strong emo­tion­al reac­tion, the con­tent is high­ly like­ly to trend.


We also saw a lot of celebri­ties in this year’s Super Bowl ads, includ­ing Helen Mir­ren. Is this the new new best prac­tice?


Celebri­ties are not a best prac­tice for video shar­ing. Now brands may have many rea­sons for hir­ing celebri­ties for their ads, includ­ing hop­ing for a halo effect for the celebrity’s per­son­al brand to rub off onto them. There were many celebri­ty ads this year, and video shar­ing was down more than a third com­pared to last year’s game. While Helen Mir­ren was spec­tac­u­lar in Budweiser’s PSA, the gag­gle of celebri­ties did not help this year’s Big Game to go viral. Celebri­ties will def­i­nite­ly dri­ve up the already high Super Bowl media bud­get – and should come with a cau­tion label. They can ampli­fy shar­ing in a strong ad but can­not sal­vage a weak ad. Celebri­ties can also be polar­iz­ing (think Kim Kar­dashi­an in T‑Mobile’s 2015 Big Game spot which had a share rate of less than 1 per­cent) and dis­tract­ing (like Bob Dylan and Liam Nee­son dis­tract­ing view­ers in the 2014 and 2015 Big Game spots for Chrysler and Clash of Clans respec­tive­ly, deliv­er­ing some of the low­est brand recall scores among Super Bowl ads).

Greg Jarboe

Written by Greg Jarboe

President, SEO-PR

Greg Jarboe is President and co-founder of SEO-PR, an award-winning content marketing agency that was founded in 2003. He’s the author of YouTube and Video Marketing and also a contributor to The Art of SEO, Strategic Digital Marketing, Complete B2B Online Marketing, and Enchantment. He’s profiled in the book Online Marketing Heroes, a frequent speaker at industry conferences, and writes for Tubular Insights and The SEM Post. He’s an executive education instructor at the Rutgers Business School and the Video and Content Marketing faculty chair at Simplilearn.

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