Unruly / Blog / Super Bowl 50: What Worked And What Didn’t

Super Bowl 50: What Worked And What Didn’t

The most anticipated event of AdLand has come and gone.  Aside from a few standout ads, Super Bowl 50 was advertising “light.”

Sharing of the top 10 ads was down 36% compared to last year. The Super Bowl was low-scoring on the field, and the creative standard was generally low-scoring as well.

Super Bowl 50 was Super Bowl Lite: light-hearted, light in substance, and light in emotional intensity.  This last bit was the fatal flaw – emotional intensity is the secret sauce to making people lean in to watch, and then share, an ad.  But you’ve got to pack an emotional punch to earn a share, and this year’s “ad bowl” just didn’t deliver an emotional wallop.

Ads from the 2015 Big Game set a Super Bowl viral record because they made a strong emotional connection with viewers, using a gamut of emotions, from happiness and hilarity to pride, nostalgia, sadness, amazement and fear.

This not only kept viewers on their toes, it also helped the ads stand out from one another.  The average emotional intensity this year hovered somewhere around “meh”.


So what went wrong?

Advertisers didn’t universally release on multiple platforms:  The advertisers that didn’t release both a Facebook and YouTube version of their video missed a huge opportunity to trend. Facebook shares were often 4-5 times higher than shares on YouTube – and we even saw some that were 50x more viral. A multi-platform plan is crucial – including making your ad discoverable to your target audience on the Open Web outside of these walled gardens.

A gaggle of celebrities couldn’t drive sharing: Advertisers may have many reasons for hiring celebrities for their ads, including hoping the halo effect of the celebrity’s personal brand will rub off onto their brands. But let’s do the math.

There were many celebrity ads this year, and video sharing was down more than a third compared to last year’s game. Celebs add cost to an already high investment. They should come with a caution label as Unruly data has shown they can actually be polarizing. Don’t believe us? Let’s take a closer look:

  • In 2014, Bob Dylan starred in a 2-minute long Chrylser ad which only received 7% brand recall;
  • T-Mobile hired Kim Kardashian last year, but she is so polarizing that the ad only received a 0.29% share rate;
  • Liam Neeson shined in last year’s Clash of Clans ad – but maybe a little too brightly. It had the lowest tested brand recall of 2015.


Advertisers applied 20th Century practices to this 21st Century opportunity

Marketers seem to still be approaching their Super Bowl content with an “if we build it, they will come” mentality. Field of Dreams premiered in 1989 – so this is quite a dated mentality.

As TV networks continue to shift their content delivery to match the shifts in consumer behavior (with ESPN making the most recent recent move of streaming live sports to their app) marketers need to adopt a content strategy (vs. a device strategy). In 2015 the Super Bowl became a digital-first advertising event: online views of the Big Game ads outpaced the broadcast views 4 to 1 and the marketers that approach delivering content across multiple screens holistically will rise to the top.


And what went right?

Doritos won Super Bowl MVP. While Peyton Manning was out enjoying a few Budweisers, Doritos stole the crown from the “King of Beers,” who had topped the podium for three years in a row. Doritos ran a spot that surprised, amused and entertained viewers. They also launched the ad early to rack up a large number of video shares ahead of the Big Game broadcast, and its Crash the Super Bowl entry had a motivated creative team helping to generate awareness.  

An ad which isn’t viewed cannot be shared – so the more views this ad received, the more it was shared. This ad was #1 on our top shared ads chart prior to the Super Bowl Sunday, and rose again after the publicity from the broadcast. @Doritos, now that you’ve announced you’re dropping the Crash the Super Bowl program, you can substitute paid distribution for the promotional push.


Revenge of the memes: Several Super Bowl advertisers jumped on current trends in a way that was authentic to their brand. T-Mobile launched 3 meme-fueled ads.  Drake parodied his “Hotline Bling” song and meme and shared T-mobile plan benefits in short and extended versions of the spot.

Steve Harvey parodied his Miss Universe gaffe to help T-Mobile call out a Verizon reporting error and ALSO parodied the visuals in the Verizon ad by dumping thousands of pink balls on the competitor’s prop. Mountain Dew’s #PuppyMonkeyBaby was a mash-up of several memes rolled into one. These 4 ads all landed spots in the top 10 most shared ad of Super Bowl 50.



Hyundai worked the content stack. The automaker had 4 different creatives, all of which launched early, and had the potential to appeal to four different audience demos. People gravitated to the ads that were most personally relevant to them (not all 4 were shared equally, by the way) and the brand overall won more than 400k shares across the board.


As advertisers begin to prepare for the 2017 Big Game, they need to remember 2 key things:

1. Make highly emotional ads that people want to lean in, watch, share and remember.

2. Launch them in a way that mirrors their target audience’s video consumption behavior (on TV and on multiple devices and platforms online).   

Let’s hope that advertisers give us a Super Bowl to enjoy and remember when it airs on Fox next year!