Super Bowl LII Proves the Dawn of TV’s Next Golden Age, Not Its Death

Opinion: Take a step back from the channel-focused approach and optimize around audiences

More than 100 million viewers tuned in to Super Bowl LII
Aksonov/iStock

The Super Bowl has always been the “Big Game” not just for sports fans, but for the entire marketing industry. Many viewers watch the game solely for the ads, and marketers look to each year’s event as a barometer for the health of TV advertising.

2018 was no exception, as more than 100 million viewers tuned in, and advertisers shelled out $5 million for each 30-second ad spot.

But despite the fact that the game pulled in an audience of tens of millions of people—more than most brands can ever hope to have exposure to—many are proclaiming the “death” of TV. Some have even commented that the spectacle of Super Bowl ads “can’t save TV.”

These perspectives have it wrong. It’s true that television is evolving, but it’s not dying—far from it. TV has all of the impact it enjoyed years ago, and more. This is TV’s new golden age, and Super Bowl LII was proof-positive of that.

Truly surround-sound experiences

Consumers are now empowered to enhance, share and discuss their TV experiences in incredible ways. In fact, there were 2.4 million social media engagements about the Eagles and 1.1 million engagements about the Patriots on the evening of the game alone.

Multiscreen engagement creates more opportunities for consumers to reach around the world and discuss events and individual opinions, and it even inspires them to create and share their own related content across social channels.

These new behaviors are transforming the viewing experience and creating new opportunities for brands to reach consumers on TV—opportunities that are, in many ways, more powerful and impactful than they used to be.

In the past, TV ads, or even branded integrations in programming, were one-and-done. Maybe they raised enough awareness to motivate a desired behavior, maybe they didn’t. Now viewers have the ability to immediately extend their experience with TV content into the digital sphere, where branded content can achieve a multiplier effect and reach new audiences.

Consider, for instance, that there are people who know all of the key highlights from Sunday, including which ads were the best—without tuning in at all—because hundreds of millions of viewers have shared hundreds of millions of pieces of related content. In TV’s new golden age, the lines between screens will continue to blur.

TV becomes more like digital, as digital becomes more like TV

The value of social platforms has always been the consumer experience. Each platform has evolved tremendously since the birth of social media (to the point where it doesn’t make sense to lump them all into the same category anymore), but they all ultimately deliver value throughout different steps of the consumer buying journey.

TV advertisers are picking up on the importance of experiences and applying the best practices from social platforms to their own ad spots. Examples from this year’s Super Bowl underscore this trend:

Netflix aimed for direct response by advertising “The Cloverfield Paradox” and making it available for viewing immediately after the game.

Kraft leveraged real-time creative with its “real families” ad.

And Wendy’s mirrored its anti-McDonald’s social messaging in a TV spot.

While advertising critics can argue about the success of these executions, they’re all undeniably inspired by digital experiences.

The transformation isn’t one-sided. Online platforms are increasingly focused on video content and, as such, digital content producers and strategists are taking their cues from what has worked on TV.

Again, looking to the Super Bowl as an example, it’s hard to determine where the experience stops and starts across screens. Sponsored second-screen viewing opportunities like Facebook’s Watch Party, Snapchat’s behind-the-scenes looks at players and fans on the field and Skittles’ one-on-one approach to its Super Bowl LII ad all take a page from the TV playbook to deliver engaging TV-like content.

Beyond the creative itself, TV advertisers are adopting other tools and techniques inspired by the success of online advertising. TV ads are unquestionably headed to an audience-based future (in fact, the first TV ads to be bought programatically were Super Bowl commercials), and multiscreen campaigns have become the norm.

The end game is all about the audience

What does this really mean for advertisers and their investments? Should they shift dollars to social? Continue to invest in TV? The answer is to take a step back from the channel-focused approach and optimize around audiences.

Think back to your Super Bowl party. The most dedicated fans were likely not only glued to the TV screen, but also checking stats on their phone. Others who were more interested in the atmosphere were likely on their phones discussing the funniest ads, best celebrity cameos and maybe even the newest addition to the Kardashian-Jenner clan (an announcement that generated 1.6 million engagements on Super Bowl Sunday alone). From a range of ages, genders, political backgrounds and personal interests, the Super Bowl is relevant to different audiences in different ways.

The same goes for any and every touchpoint that a brand has with a consumer. Advertisers can customize and enhance cross-screen experiences for each segment by leveraging tools and insights to truly understand their audiences no matter where and how they’re engaging.

Super Bowl ads won’t “save TV” because TV doesn’t need saving. But it is evolving, and this year’s Super Bowl demonstrates how powerful TV has become in a new era of engagement.

Aaron Goldman is chief marketing officer at data science and media technology company 4C Insights.