Can Smaller Brands Score Upsets With Super Bowl Ads?

Opinion: Analyzing the social media response to last year’s 77 commercials

Social media has become the de facto water cooler for Super Bowl ad discussion mstahlphoto/iStock
Headshot of Lou Jordano

A Super Bowl ad is a huge investment for any brand, but especially for smaller companies. The question is: Are they worth the cost? And are they equally beneficial for small and big brands?

Crimson Hexagon analyzed the social media conversations about the 77 major commercials from last year’s Super Bowl to understand the impact of a Super Bowl spot in terms of conversation volume and brand awareness.

The attention paid to the Super Bowl, and the conversation surrounding it, have changed significantly in the age of social media. This is true for football fans, who now have the ideal venue to talk endlessly about the game itself, but it’s also true for the brands that advertise during the big game.

Since ads have become such an integral part of the Super Bowl, social media has become the de facto water cooler for Super Bowl ad discussion—viewers are not just tweeting about the game, they’re also tweeting about the ads and the brands behind them.

These conversations are the perfect way for brands to gauge the return on investment of their expensive Super Bowl spots. With 40 percent of American households tuning into the Super Bowl, brands pour big bucks into having 30-second spots year after year. Last year, numbers reached a record high of an average of $5 million per spot. These brands range from big, world-renowned (Budweiser, T-Mobile) to small, barely heard of (84 Lumber, Yellow Tail).

Although the direct link between profits and Super Bowl ads is hard to prove, airing an ad during the big game can have great payoffs, like greater brand exposure and improved brand perception.

But, of course, with such a steep price tag, brands need to know if the colossal investment is worth it. Importantly, this is not a one-size-fits-all question—what is “worth it” for one brand may not be for another. And perhaps the biggest factor in this ROI discussion is the size and reputation of the brands themselves.

In other words, should all brands expect the same bump in brand awareness and sales from a Super Bowl spot?

David vs. Goliath

Before we get into the data, let’s set the stage a bit. When a brand airs a Super Bowl ad, it is hoping to generate a great deal of conversation. As we discussed earlier, social media has become the default venue for these branded discussions. Without a doubt, social media is a great measure of brand popularity. A brand that is highly discussed on social media can cultivate a greater following and better engagement with customers than a brand that is barely mentioned on social media.

For larger brands, their concerns may revolve around whether or not their ad led to a boost in revenue. For smaller brands, the exposure itself is what matters.

To better understand what brands (both big and small) should expect from a Super Bowl spot, we at Crimson Hexagon looked at the top ads during last year’s Super Bowl through the lens of branded conversation volume. We separated the bigger brands from the smaller ones and mapped their respective social media conversation for the weeks before and after the big game.

By looking at all 77 ads that aired during last year’s big game, we were able to pick out the brands that had an ad at the Super Bowl. We obtained the post volume for those brands (in the context of Super Bowl 2017 discussion). By sorting the brands by post volume, we singled out the top six large and small brands with ads that aired during Super Bowl 2017.

Small brand, big impact

We then looked at conversation about the brands separately in order to analyze how the brands were discussed overall, not necessarily only in the context of the Super Bowl. By creating separate monitors for the 12 brands, we can assess how much of an impact having an ad at the Super Bowl has on brand buzz.

We compared the brands’ average daily post volume from Oct. 1, 2016, through Jan. 25, 2017 (before the Super Bowl), to the post volume from Feb. 4 through 6, 2017 (right before, during and right after the Super Bowl). Once we obtained the average daily post volume for those time periods, we calculated the percent change in average daily post volume.

Looking at the results, smaller brands had a far higher median increase in average daily brand discussion volume because of the Super Bowl. Smaller brands had a median increase of 5,962 percent, while larger brands had a median increase of 327 percent.

For smaller brands, 84 Lumber benefited the most from having an ad at the Super Bowl. Average daily brand discussion volume for 84 Lumber increased by 248.785 percent.

Looking at whether having an ad at the Super Bowl had long-term impact on the brand popularity, the discussion volume for 84 Lumber and Bai increased after their ads aired, compared with discussion volume for those brands the previous year.

While you can always expect rival brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsi to have a presence at the Super Bowl, and Budweiser returns year after year, smaller brands can surprise audiences. And for them, the Super Bowl gives them incomparable brand exposure.

Lou Jordano is chief marketing officer at social media analytics platform Crimson Hexagon.

@LouJordano Lou Jordano leads the marketing team at Crimson Hexagon.