Don’t Leave It on the Field: Stretching the Value of Big Game Ads

With ad spots running advertisers $7 mill a pop, it’s clear that these creatives need to both shine and rake in value long after this football-focused weekend — and Connected TV makes that possible.

Don’t Leave It on the Field: Stretching the Value of Big Game Ads

6 Min Read

Whether you’re excited about the football or the ads (or a possible Taylor Swift sighting), you’re among the millions who looked forward to watching Sunday’s game.

Last year’s Big Game was the most watched of all time, with a record-breaking 115 million viewers. That viewership spread across a number of platforms, and Connected TV was one of the standouts beyond traditional linear TV at around 36.7 million households. For context on how momentous this turnout is, the last time the game had such a huge viewership was in 2015, when 114 million folks tuned in.

And it seems 2023 was just marking a turn in the tides. This year’s game is already expected to beat that record by a mile. It’s been projected more than 200 million people would watch 2024’s game — well over half of the US population. 

For advertisers, all this just means that the 2024 iteration is an even bigger opportunity than usual to get seen. (43% of viewers watch just for the commercials, after all.) And with that power comes an even greater price tag than ever. Advertisers spent at least $7 million for the ad placement, let alone the talent and production costs. In fact, at last year’s game, advertisers spent a total of $85.36 million — and that figure’s projected to reach $86.04 million in 2024.

It’s clear that, to justify such a huge expense, advertisers want — need — to make the most of their time in the sun. So let’s take a look at what brands have pulled off with Big Game ads in the past, then explore some data on what viewers expect to see this year. 

Lessons From the Ads of Games Past

A recent Marketing Brew article featured expert opinions on the tactics brands have employed in the past to achieve an advertising touchdown. Unsurprisingly, one of the tried-and-true strategies involves serious star power: 70% of Big Game ads in any given year feature celebrities. Even better if that celeb is funny — after all, humorous ads often see the highest performance. But brands should be careful to avoid stars who are too famous if they don’t want their brand to be overshadowed. 

Brands have to also be careful not to wait too long to reveal themselves in these ads. We can probably all remember an example of this kind of misstep — watching an emotional ad that tugs our heartstrings, only for it to be revealed as a commercial for something that seems to come out of nowhere. Instead of retaining the intended message, viewers just feel confused. And speaking of emotional ads, brands should be careful when taking that route. Playing to emotions can work, but the line between heartfelt and cheesy is thinner than you may think, and crossing it can fumble your whole play. 

Finally, while it’s important that brands don’t make fun of things people like (as Mekanism learned the hard way in 2017 with their low-performing ad that poked at “The Real Housewives”), having fun with the format is a-OK. Some of the most memorable ads of past years have been those that break from the traditional ad formula and cause viewers to sit up and pay attention — even if it’s just to watch a color-changing QR code bounce across an empty screen. 

Viewers are Rooting For: 

Advertisers obviously had a lot of historical do’s and don’ts to work with when developing their ads for this year’s game. But what were viewers hoping to see when they tuned in on Sunday? An Ad Age-Harris Poll survey found that this year, humor is in — it curried the highest interest at a total 69% across all age groups. Themes that may have been popular during past games, like heartfelt (32%), patriotic (31%), and purpose-driven (24%) ads, have fallen out of favor.

The specific content that viewers wanted to see in the Big Game ads, on the other hand, is a lot closer of a race. The top spot, perhaps unsurprisingly, went to “animals,” a category favored by nearly half of respondents. Animals were followed closely by athletes (42%), TV and movie characters (42%), and celebrities (41%).

And since marketers can be viewers too, it’s also interesting to note that in a MNTN Peeks Poll conducted for last year’s game, marketers clearly expected beer brands to be the big winners of the day. This year, our Peeks Poll also asked marketers which themes will win big at this year’s game. Humor is a standout as the top response, with emotional/heartwarming and weird/mysterious trailing behind in second and third place. The lowest ranked theme: Patriotism.

Brands are Stretching Their Ad Buys Further

The game might be a big moment for big brands, but it’s clear plenty of other brands are saving their ad buys for longer campaigns instead. As Kantar’s Kerry Benson told Marketing Brew, “The pressure on the marketing team that’s behind it all is huge. There’s just a lot at stake. It gets highly scrutinized by not just consumers, with things like the USA Today [Ad Meter] … We all know that the Super Bowl isn’t just a 30-second ad anymore; it’s a campaign in and of itself.” Some of these campaign-extending plays started well before the game, as seen with DoorDash’s plan to deliver all of the stuff from Sunday’s ads to one sweepstakes winner. And we just learned what Michael Cera has been up to with those CeraVe bottles: it’s probably all a “super” stunt.  

On the day itself, television isn’t the only screen that viewers engage with. Viewers watch with their phones in hand — and use them for a variety of purposes, like texting (47%), browsing social media (43%), ordering food (25%), and playing games (25%), according to AdColony. For advertisers, that behavior is a boon — after all, 69% of those viewers are also using their mobile devices to discuss the ads they see, and 51% will even search for the ads on their phones to watch them again.

That’s why advertisers need to make sure they’re extending their message beyond that initial linear buy, and adopting an evergreen approach to TV advertising. One easy way to repurpose their creative from the game is by running that spot on Connected TV. CTV’s digital origins give advertisers the ability to measure the marketing metrics that matter most and the flexibility to optimize campaigns for performance in real time.

Connected TV is a Game Changer

Of course, Connected TV isn’t just a tool for huge advertisers looking to stretch the dollars they spend on a Big Game ad. Brands of all sizes are taking advantage of the power of CTV — which has turned the TV screen into a performance marketing machine that goes beyond tentpole events and awareness plays. After all, 115 million viewers may be an eye-popping stat, but how many of those individuals are actually prospective customers for the brands being advertised? 

Connected TV, on the other hand, helps advertisers get straight to the point. (The point being consumers who will actually convert.) By working with a CTV advertising partner like MNTN Performance TV, marketers can take advantage of audience targeting capabilities that help pinpoint ideal segments, and reach them at the right time and through premium inventory. And — unlike linear buys — advertisers can even call an audible and tweak their creative plays and audiences in real time based on how their ad performs. Basically: every day can be as impactful as the Big Game for marketers running performance-driven campaigns on Connected TV.

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