This Year’s Super Bowl Ads Ignored Huge Social Opportunities

Salesforce exec says the dearth of calls-to-action 'was marketing malpractice'

A couple hours after New England beat Seattle on Sunday night, I was beat. But my exhaustion had nothing to do with the hour, the game or the fact that Bill Belichick won his fourth championship for a team not named the Cleveland Browns. I'm officially tired of watching Super Bowl advertisers waste their money in pursuit of branding over consumer action and engagement.

You see, this is the third year that I've watched, cataloged and analyzed the calls-to action (CTAs) in each and every Super Bowl ad, and since 2013, consumers have only become more mobile and increasingly social. And yet, Big Game commercials have become less mobile and less social. Before I explain, let me break down my process for you.

Jeff Rohrs

This year, 137 commercials aired in my Cleveland locale from 6 p.m. ET until the end of the commercial break after the final whistle. Of those commercials, 24 were NBC promos, six were NFL spots and three were ads from my local affiliate.

Interestingly, only one of the NBC promos contained a call-to-action for any of the shows promoted. It was #HeroesReborn, which appeared on screen for one second during the promo for the "Heroes" series reboot. Of the NFL ads, only the Play60 spot contained a CTA (the URL for Amazingly, it was my local NBC affliate, WKYC, that had the boldest CTAs—both a hashtag #WKYCTheMoney and a push to download their mobile app.

Subtracting the NBC, NFL and affliate promos, 104 paid advertisements ran in my home market. Below is a breakdown of the CTAs included in those 104 spots, including takeaways from reviewing the data and watching the game.

  • A whopping 51 percent of advertisers elected to simply run their ad without asking viewers to do anything with a call-to-action. Folks, I'm sorry, but this was marketing malpractice. I love branding as much as the next person, but the Super Bowl is such an expensive platform, you must do more than boost brand recall. You need consumers to buy, opt-in, subscribe, amplify—anything to make your ad last beyond its 30 seconds.
  • This year's Super Bowl ads contained more phone numbers than calls to download mobile apps by an 8-to-5 margin. The ratio of SMS calls-to-action was worse—8 to zilch. Attention brand advertisers: All marketing is now direct thanks to the smartphones, tablets and laptops that consumers constantly utilize. And in order to generate direct results from a TV commercial, you must ask the viewer to do something specific on their device. You can't begin a customer on a journey unless you prompt the first step.
  • Hashtags are lazy marketing unless you build something around them. The average time a hashtag was on screen during a Super Bowl commercial was less than one second. One second! Not even the most adept-at-texting millennial can capture and type a hashtag that fast. But just GoDaddy, and the Twentieth Century Fox marketers for The Kingsman movie seemed to understand that concept. Theirs were of the only spots in which a hashtag appeared on screen for the entire ad. Otherwise, only Budweiser (#UpForWhatever) and Procter & Gamble (#LikeAGirl) leveraged well-established, pre-existing hashtags in their ads.
  • Truly social engagement was no where to be found in the TV spots. While Facebook rebounded somewhat from last year's near shutout in ad CTAs, subtract all the hashtags and one could argue there wasn't a single, true social call-to-action in any of the Super Bowl ads. However, if you were on Facebook during the game, you probably saw a lot of friends talking about the game and the ads. And therein lies the potential social magic. Just like Google doesn't need to advertise during the Super Bowl to benefit from all the related search and YouTube traffic, Facebook, Twitter and now SnapChat (appearing in its first CTA thanks to Universal Studios' Pitch Perfect 2) also need not be mentioned in order to have lots of on-site or in-app activity that drives advertising revenue.
  • Pre-released ads on YouTube had better CTAs. In this year's Big Game, around 80 percent of advertisers teased their spots on YouTube, Facebook and elsewhere. You can argue whether this trend is spoiling the surprise of seeing ads for the first time during the game, but no one can argue with the outcome—especially Budweiser. The King of Beers was the undisputed leader in Super Bowl pre-releases, with its "Lost Puppy" ad garnering more than 20 million views on YouTube before the game began. Moreover, Budweiser and others employed the opportunity to acquire more YouTube subscribers. In Bud's case, each of its ads included a subscribe link throughout. That means the Super Bowl helped them build a bigger audience for the next content it posts to YouTube.
  • And, kudos to BMW America. Their "1994 Internet" ad with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumble was not only funny, it contained an Easter Egg that warmed this email marketer's heart. The email that they discuss in the 1994 Today Show clip actually works! Email it to get your own reply or, if you're the cheating type, go here to see what BMW hid for the tech detectives.

Did you find any other gems among the Super Bowl ads? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section.

In closing, here's another thing that's on my mind: There's 364 days until my Cleveland Browns appear in Super Bowl 50. Watch out for the #DawgPound.

Jeff Rohrs (@jkrohrs) is vp, Marketing Insights at Salesforce.