Were non-traditional commercials the true winners of the Super Bowl?

111.5 million viewers tuned into the Super Bowl last Sunday night, making it the most-viewed broadcast in history. Many viewers, however, do not tune in for the football. For the only time each year, many viewers watch a program for its commercials. So this is a no-brainer for ad-executives, right? For one night each year people solve the main problem that advertisers have- they actually want to watch commercials.

It isn’t that black and white though.

A 30-second spot during the big game reportedly went for $4 million dollars, a record high, and many commercials exceed that 30 seconds, costing even more money. Many times these commercials are worth the pricy investment, because, of course, the brand of beer you should drink totally depends on the number of cute puppies in the commercial. However, the big advertising stories of this year, which proved to be a disappointing year for entertaining commercials, were the non-traditional advertisers.

First consider Pepsi. Pepsi for years was known for their over-the-top, star-studded commercials during the Super Bowl. This year, however, they opted for a bit more, and instead of a commercial during the Super Bowl, they turned the Super Bowl into their commercial. It was the “Pepsi Halftime Show”, and they made sure everyone knew it. Pepsi, in America’s mind, is now associated with the game of football- a product’s dream.

That strategy is impossible for any company that isn’t rolling around in extra hundreds of millions of dollars.** Instead, the big winners were the companies who decided to use unorthodox, cheaper ways of advertising during the big game.

Consider Esurance, known for its yearly talking-baby ads, who switched it up by buying the first commercial after the Super Bowl, saving them $1.5 million. They announced during the ad that they are giving away the money they saved to someone who tweets using the hashtag #esurancesave30. Within the first minute they had 200,000 entries. As of 11:00 AM on Monday, the ad had received 1 billion impressions and 2 million entries. Esurance had less than 10,000 followers before the ad ran. They are now up to 261,000, an unheard of increase.

Also consider JC Penney, a company who did not even purchase ad space during the big game. Instead they relied on the people of Twitter to spread their message, tweeting two seemingly intoxicated tweets.

This led to a frenzy of mentions on Twitter (myself included). Minutes later they posted an explanation:

It was all a ploy to advertise their Team USA mittens they are selling. JC Penney got a major amount of traffic to see their product for absolutely no money. Sneaky, huh?

Finally, winners wouldn’t be winners without the losers. Coca-cola became a major talking piece on Twitter after their “America is Beautiful” commercial featured the song “America the Beautiful” sung in other languages.

Twitter immediately blew up with the hashtags #boycottcoke, and promises to switch to Pepsi from now on because “in America we speak English”. While extremists claiming the Coca-cola company is working with terrorists are not exactly the majority, the message “boycott coke” is an outcome that is never desired.

With these wins and losses it will be interesting to see if more companies attempt non-traditional advertising next year.


For a look at more of this year’s Super Bowl commercials click here.


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