The Unlikely Heroes of the Super Bowl Advertising Game


Aishwarya Krishnamurthy

January 26, 2015 5 min read

Updated on May 2, 2017


Technology has decreased the distance between brands and consumers, and never more so than in an event like the Super Bowl. Instead of just releasing their commercial on the night of the game, in 2014, we found that brands started releasing teasers, or in some cases their entire ad, well before the actual event. While official brand sponsors try to get the most bang for their buck, it is often ambush marketing, or real time marketing, that captures people’s attention.

Whether an official sponsor or not, brands understand the importance of having a well thought out strategy for the Super Bowl telecast. And with as many as 111.4 million viewers in 2014, and even more predicted this year, brands have come up with creative, and sometimes legendary ways to make sure they leave no stone unturned when it comes to their Super Bowl Social Media Game.

Each year we comb through the social media campaigns of top brands during the Super Bowl and come across unlikely heroes – star performers that we just couldn’t have predicted. Here are some of our favorites.

The Spotlight Stealers – How To Win The Super Bowl Without Officially Taking Part

No article related to Super Bowl advertising would be complete without mentioning The One That Started It All – Oreo’s Dunk in the Dark tweet.



In a move that caused a seismic shift in social media marketing, their tweet during the blackout at the 2013 Super Bowl epitomised the viral potential of real time marketing. Brands quickly realized that with the popularity of the second screen, they could no longer just broadcast their content, they needed to join the conversation.

According to Nielsen’s social guide, conversation about the Super Bowl (including the game, halftime show, and brands) generated 25.3 million tweets from 5.6 million authors, equating to 1.8 billion impressions and a unique audience of 15.3 million accounts. Those are numbers that brands can’t stand to ignore. After the ‘Oreo Moment,’ brands – whether official sponsors or not – learned the importance of making their voice heard in the cacophony of brands on Twitter.

The success of the tweet also brought about the hype of the ‘next Oreo moment’ which has engulfed the advertising world ever since. With the knowledge that the apparently serendipitous tweet was the result of a carefully architected social-media strategy, brands were now going all out to prepare for anything that the event threw their way. They were planning for the unplannable.

While this resulted in a ton of noise, it was actually at the Super Bowl the very next year that a brand was able to reach the same virality with a single tweet – JCPenney.



The JCPenney Super Bowl post actually received more retweets and favorites than Oreo’s Dunk in the Dark post

While the brand’s misspelled tweets was first mistaken as drunken tweeting by the designated live tweeter, it turned out that the brand was executing a carefully thought out strategy. The stunt pulled in engagement from thousands of users, not to mention other brands, who were quick to jump in on what probably seemed like the “Oreo Moment” of that year. Well, JCPenney had the last laugh.

The Takeaway Is To Give Away – Traditional Marketing Still Relevant In The Digital Age.

The cost of a 30-second Super Bowl spot makes as much news each year as the advertisements themselves. Do the words “record high” and “$4.5 Million” sound familiar? That’s because every roundup of Super Bowl advertising feels the need to mention the amount that some brands are willing to spend on a single commercial. And this number is just for the airplay, we’re not even getting into how expensive these commercials are to produce!

Forbes recently predicted that “NBC will need an average television audience of at least 120 million for this year’s Super Bowl in order for advertisers to get the same bang for the buck as last year’s NFL championship game.” With these kind of numbers, no idea is too big or too elaborate for the Super Bowl, and brands seem caught up with outdoing each other. Unsurprisingly 8 of the top 10 most expensive Super Bowl commercials were from 2014, and we don’t expect a change of pattern in 2015 either.

However, one of the unlikely heroes of last year’s Super Bowl may have won over the entire Twitterverse with the oldest gimmick in marketing – a giveaway.

By booking the first spot after the game, insurance provider Esurance saved $1.5 million, and chose to give those savings away with an online sweepstakes. In a perfect integration of traditional TV and digital marketing, the 30-second commercial, featuring The Office star John Krasinski, announced the offer while all entries were accepted on Twitter with the use of the hashtag #Esurancesaves30. The ensuing blitzkrieg saw the hashtag used more than 2.39 million times with 200,000 entries streaming in within one minute of the spot airing!

With the evolution of digital marketing, we often find that brands produce content for content’s sake. At Unmetric, we’re more interested in how brands are aligning their social media content strategy to their overall business objectives. In this instance, according to Darren Howard, VP of marketing at Esurance – “The goal was to raise brand awareness”. With AdAge reporting that the campaign generated 1 billion impressions, and the brand’s Twitter follower count grew from 8,900 to 155,000 overnight, it seems like everything went brilliantly according to plan.

The Times They Are A Changin’ – Destroying The Myth of the Ideal Advertiser

With several auto brands – traditional heavyweights in this arena – choosing not to participate in 2015, one of the more interesting advertisers to join Super Bowl XLIX in my opinion is Victoria’s Secret. Going into the 2015 Super Bowl, the audience is almost equally split between the sexes and according to Bloomberg Businessweek “No matter how you measure it, female viewership has grown much faster than male viewership in the past several years.”

This year, subtle shifts in content strategy reflect how brands are adapting to include this growing demographic in their messaging. From Mindy Kaling for Nationwide insurance and Amy Purdy for Toyota, brands are actively addressing the supposed gender divide by including more women in their ads.

In their third time at the Big Game, Victoria’s Secret has found a way of producing content that is (somewhat) football related, that speaks to both their male and female audiences, and is very clearly aligned with their business objectives. The brand has a 30-second commercial for the game, and a 90 second online video.

The ad features VS angels like Adriana Lima, Candice Swanepoel and Behati Prinsloo playing a game of football while the title cards remind men not to “drop the ball” on Valentine’s Day by forgetting to include Victoria’s Secret in their Valentine’s Day gifts. With Valentine’s Day being one of the busiest purchase times for the lingerie brand, the video not only draws attention to their Valentine’s Day collection, but also to the day itself – a cheeky reminder that both men and women will undoubtedly appreciate.

The Super Bowl is one of the most important events in the advertising year, and these campaigns are great examples of how a well planned strategy can not only boost brand awareness and steal share of voice, but also aim to fulfill business objectives. At the end of the day – a brand can spend millions, and bring out a host of celebrities and puppies. But if they can’t calculate a tangible ROI, it’s going to be brands like the ones mentioned above, who walk away as winners.

How to Leverage Events

You’ve just read about the unlikely heroes of brands capitalizing on the Super Bowl, now read our new free whitepaper on how brands like yours can leverage the Super Bowl this weekend.


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