The Super Bowl Is Turning Into Digital Advertising’s Biggest Day

Brands invest in online campaigns, not just TV spots

As Super Bowl audiences demand more second-screen content and as online ad opportunities expand, brands are aggressively growing their presence beyond merely multimillion-dollar TV spots.

It's about so much more than simply posting longer versions of an ad online, with marketers investing heavily in full-blown digital campaigns that run during the Big Game.

A kickin' energy drink launch supported by TV and social 

Mountain Dew, an official Super Bowl sponsor through parent company PepsiCo, will air a spot during this year's pregame show as part of its "It All Starts With a Kick" campaign in support of the launch of energy drinks Kickstart Pineapple Orange Mango and Strawberry Kiwi. The campaign will be extended during and after the game via YouTube, Twitter, Vine and Snapchat.

"Mountain Dew has always been a digital instigator, and this is an area that we will continue to lean in on," said Jamal Henderson, Mountain Dew director of brand marketing.

Dan Greenberg, CEO of the ad exchange Sharethrough, noted that digital campaigns in the run-up to the Super Bowl can build buzz for a brand, as well as the spot it will air during the telecast. Out of the more than 50 advertisers that ran a Super Bowl-related campaign via Sharethrough last year, 75 percent also bought a TV spot. "It's beyond promoting the video assets—it's about promoting a much larger story," Greenberg said.

First-time Super Bowl advertiser dedicated 60 staffers to its corresponding digital campaign. As part of its campaign, the Israeli-based website-building startup created fictional businesses for five former NFL stars, paying close attention to subsequent chatter on their Facebook and Twitter feeds. It created "Favre and Carve" T-shirts in response to demand from fans asking about Brett Favre's new charcuterie shop. director of strategic marketing communications Eric Mason notes the company got out online early, leading CBS to include the campaign in its special "Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials" on Jan. 26, even though the TV ad hadn't yet aired. "The product of the Super Bowl ad has changed for us," Mason said. "We bought an ad, but that started a Super Bowl campaign."

As David Burfeind, chief knowledge officer of The VIA Agency, points out, augmenting a TV spot with a robust online strategy can also extend the momentum of a Super Bowl spot after the fact. Reacting in real time, as Oreo famously did with a tweet during the blackout of Super Bowl XLVII, has proved to be a hot marketing tactic. With that in mind, sources say Snickers is planning a real-time campaign on SB Nation during the Super Bowl featuring "satisfying moments" from the Big Game, complementing the brand's Super Bowl spot and creating a second-screen experience for fans hungry for more content. "As advertisers look at these moments, social has become bigger for them," said Vox Media vp of advertising Joe Purzycki. "As a publisher, we've had to evolve to help partners tell the story about quality content consumers are interacting with during the big day."

One thing seems certain: Gone are the days when an advertiser could rely on the lift from a mere TV spot. Burfeind cited Radio Shack's '80s-themed commercial in last year's Super Bowl—and recent reports of the chain's imminent demise. "Winning a popularity contest doesn't mean operational growth," he warned. "Your success as a Super Bowl advertiser hinges on other things that go beyond the success of your spot."