The Secret Behind Successful Super Bowl Ads

By Lindsay Macdonald - January 24, 2019
8 mins read time
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The Super Bowl is coming up, and it’s exciting. I’m here for Tom Brady forever and always until the end of time and beyond, but if you don’t like the Patriots, then just keep reading and forget I opened with that line.

It’s going to be a good game, but I am — and always have been — a bigger fan of the annual Super Bowl commercials. If you’re also a marketer, you just might feel the same way.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what the commercials will be like this year given the rollercoaster state of marketing and advertising throughout 2018. Brands tried out a whole lot of new strategies this past year, from switching to a first-person social media persona (@Netflix: “I! Am! Relatable!”) to attempting to add commentary to political conversations (Nike? Pepsi? Gillette?) to relying on a robust branding strategy as a result of really knowing the target audience. (You knew I was going to mention Glossier in these parentheses, didn’t you? But I bet you didn’t think about sparkling CBD beverage brand, Recess? Ha!)

Implementing marketing tactics like these work for some brands, and for others they backfire. Getting content right isn’t just about putting forth a message that’s free from typos and broken links, it’s about sharing a fully developed brand voice that’s fluid and adaptable — while still being able to authentically connect with audiences.

To me, that’s the best part about Super Bowl commercials. The Super Bowl is an incredibly expensive one-way ticket to an enormously varied audience, and some of the people watching just aren’t part of the audience that brands are trying to reach. Bumble obviously isn’t looking to attract the married-person demographic, but they’re still slated with a Super Bowl spot and a Serena Williams feature.

The brands that produce successful Super Bowl ads are the ones who can remain true to their customer base while making the rest of the audience understand why those customers use their brand’s product. In fact, 78 percent of consumers look at Super Bowl ads as a source of entertainment, yet only 10 percent reported that Super Bowl ads actually influence them to buy advertisers’ products. The ads are more of a reminder of the brand’s personality and less of a call-to-action (and that’s actually ok).

One strategy is becoming increasingly more widespread across Super Bowl ads in an effort to increase engagement: relying on user-generated content (UGC) to connect with audiences. Starting in 2006, Doritos positioned itself as the poster child for UGC-centric Super Bowl ads with the Crash the Super Bowl campaign. The ads were highly successful year after year for an entire decade until Doritos retired the campaign for new ventures. Ever since, other brands have been catching on to Doritos’ UGC ad strategy. The content is authentic and entertaining (and, for the most part, free), so what is there to lose?

The list of brands who have purchased a spot in Super Bowl LBIII has been released and quite a few are opting for this user-generated content strategy.

Natural Light

Yes, I mean Natty Light. This year, Natty Light is partnering with Cash App for a contest to bring in user-generated content with a combination of #NattySB, #Sweepstakes and #NattyStories hashtags. The two brands will pay 151 fans $351 — the average monthly student loan payment — through the app to help winners throw a game-viewing party and splurge on snacks and, of course, Natty Light.

Leveraging the customer-created content that is produced by a social media sweepstakes, Natty Light can tell an authentic story from the perspective of their customers who swear by the product. Natty Light knows the demographic that makes up a significant portion of its audience, and the rest of the Super Bowl viewers know it too: college students.

Natty Light is also slated to air an ad in five U.S. cities with the highest amounts of college debt: Columbia, South Carolina; Jackson, Mississippi; Little Rock, Arkansas; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia. The ad will show real winners from their sweepstakes last year and feature videos posted by contestants on social media.

A recent Stackla report revealed that 76 percent of people say they would post on social media after a positive experience purchasing a beverage or dining out. There’s a ton of authentic fan content already out there for the beer, so when Natty Light asks their customers to participate in the brand’s visual strategy during the Super Bowl, it’s not without reason.

Anheuser-Busch

The popular beer giant, with brands like Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Stella Artois and Bon + Viv Spiked Seltzer, has purchased five minutes and forty-five seconds of ad airtime during the Super Bowl — making it the largest advertiser during the event. How will they evenly engage the audience across so many brands with so many different audiences?

In the past, Anheuser-Busch has leveraged multiple UGC strategies to engage with audiences leading up to and during the Super Bowl. Last year, Anheuser-Busch released a Bud Light-branded, Dilly Dilly Trilogy-themed Snapchat game and two animated filters, as well as geo-targeted filters specific to the winning and losing cities.

According to Digiday, one of the Snapchat ads was a 45-second interactive game called “The Battle of Beer Run,” in which a knight runs through a battle to collect Bud Lights for his townspeople. Bud Light began running the game on Snapchat roughly two weeks before Super Bowl Sunday. As with the other Snap ads, a user can swipe up into a “Dilly Dilly” commercial when they were done playing the game.

During the game, Bud Light rotated animated filters of “Dilly Dilly” signs and clinking Bud Light bottles, and after the game, Bud Light ran geo-targeted filters based on the winner’s home city. The winning city showed a “Friend of the Crown” filter, and the losing city showed a “Thy Men Shall Persevere” filter.

These interactive marketing strategies before and during the Super Bowl were a way to reach “the right platform for Millennial consumers,” according to Margot Weiss, Senior Digital Brand Manager at Bud Light. Knowing their audience, Anheuser-Busch used social apps to its advantage and invited the target audience to participate, and even play, with their Super Bowl branding.

In 2019, with so much advertising runtime, Anheuser-Busch can be expected to follow suit with interactive branding and user-generated content. They have also reported the possible use of aerial footage of the actual crowd during breaks in the game. Who else is looking forward to these ads and real-time videos of fans drinking Anheuser-Busch beers?

Kraft

This year, Kraft is giving families an opportunity to appear in their Super Bowl ad by sharing photos of their game-day parties in real-time on social media with the tags #FamilyGreatly and #KraftEntry. The Kraft team will be reviewing the content in real-time to help create the ad that will play in the second half of the game according to Anne Field, Director of Brand Building for Kraft. The Kraft team is gearing up for their brand’s Family Greatly campaign with the user-generated content they source from the game — content they can keep in their portfolio for marketing projects to come.

Last year, Kraft brand Devour turned heads with a suggestive ad campaign centered around “food you want to fork.” Looking to focus these ads on a real person, Kraft held a contest looking for a “bold, confident male, aged 25 to 42” to star in a “half-time commercial during the biggest football event of the year.” Contestants needed to create a video to audition, and the winning video was featured across Devour’s social media channels.

By launching the competition to find the star of the commercial — and rewarding the winner with $100,000 — Devour stirred up the right amount of buzz for the brand. Instead of running the ad during the Super Bowl halftime, Kraft aired the commercial on a different network at the same time as the halftime show. This year, Devour will be the first frozen food brand to run a commercial during the Super Bowl (on the same network this time).

“We wanted to turn the category on its head to make it relevant and exciting again by pulling together this fan-centric celebration of the Devour brand’s humor that always has a bit of a surprising twist,” said Emily Kerschner, Brand Manager at The Kraft Heinz Company.

This year, Devour returns with a spot on during the third quarter of the Super Bowl. Will the ad feature reruns of the user-generated content that Kraft sourced and featured from last year’s competition? I sure hope so.

Yellow Tail

I’m excited to report that Yellow Tail is embracing UGC with open arms in their Super Bowl slot this year.

Yellow Tail has asked users to submit a six-second video about “what makes them happy.” Cute! Yellow Tail will feature two winners in its Super Bowl ads and one of those winners will even win an all-expenses paid trip to their “happy place” — all in an effort to support the brand’s “Tastes Like Happy” campaign.

By asking users to submit quick, six-second videos, Yellow Tail is taking on the popular trend of short-form content to engage with customers and the game’s audiences alike. People trust people more than they trust brands — an altruism that shoots user-generated content to the top of any and all authenticity rankings.

Will we see a UGC-sourced Yellow Tail proposal in their Super Bowl ad? Fingers crossed.

Pringles

Pringles, up against chip rival and UGC master Doritos, is mixing things up in 2019 — literally. Centering its ad strategy around #PringlesStack, Pringles is encouraging customers to share pictures of their favorite uncommon Pringles flavor combinations across social media. Now, fans from the two cities competing in the big game can also tweet with #PringlesStack leading up to the game for a chance to win a free Pringles delivery to their Super Bowl party.

Taking a chapter from the Doritos game book, Pringles means business when it comes to user content. It has reported that there are 318,000 possible flavor combinations that the audience can try and share, so to make it easy for customers to mix and match, they created an entire website dedicated to stacking. And yes, I spent a lot of time on it. Thanks for asking.

For example, I created this questionable flavor stack of Loud Spicy Queso, Ranch and Jalapeno Pringles. In response, Pringles gave me this wonderful gif that I saved to my computer. 🙂

Pringles has stacked (no pun intended) its Twitter feed with Super Bowl and #PringlesStack content. It’s only a matter of time before the timeline is flooded with that UGC, so keep a close eye.

The Puppy Bowl

Yes, I saved the best for last. Although not technically a Super Bowl ad, Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl is a coveted event, and it garners a pretty significant audience (over 3 million viewers last year).

This year, UGC is the underdog (pun! in! tended!) of the Puppy Bowl. The cutest competition on the face of this beautiful Earth is encouraging fans to create Puppy Bowl trading cards leading up the event that feature their own four-legged friends. Dog parents and dog enthusiasts that create the cards can share them across social media with the #PuppyBowlXV tag to “make their furry friend an official player.”

So cute. Warms my heart. Below are a few Puppy Bowl trading cards from the Stackla team to you, including Lola, our frequent office dog and unofficial Mayor of San Francisco. We love UGC!

(Psst, you can follow them on Instagram at @lolatheflyingshihtzu, @sir_charles_doyle, @_livinloki and @clover_junebug 🐾🏈)

In conclusion, UGC is expected to be the star of Super Bowl commercials in 2019. I’m looking forward to seeing how these brands and others incorporate fan content into their ad strategy. It is #TheYearofUGC, after all.

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