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Early this football season, the National Football League began shifting tactics to engage younger fans on social media as people reallocate their attention from TV to digital content that is fun, snackable and highly visual.
With Super Bowl 57 quickly approaching, Big Game advertisers—who spent up to a record-breaking $7 million for 30-second spots this year—want to maximize their investment in line with this trend, with their in-house social teams and marketing agency partners doubling down on digital content.
Another sign of the times: Many brands with an in-game Super Bowl spot will not buy Twitter ads like in past years due to new brand safety concerns on the platform. This means brands will be counting on their organic social media more to drive millions of additional impressions, supplementing the approximately 110 million viewers expected to tune in to the Big Game on Feb. 12.
This year, three advertisers in particular are doing stellar work to power their visual campaigns with creative digital content. Let’s take a closer look.
M&M’s sketches a winning play
Marketers for the Mars-owned candy brand seemingly benefitted from unusual publicity in the days leading up to its 30-second Big Game spot: In mid-January, M&M’s drew the ire of well-known media members yet again and responded by putting its squad of spokescandies—animated versions of M&M’s—on “indefinite pause.” This comes after a January 2022 redesign meant to be more inclusive across gender identities.
That’s not to say it wasn’t all part of M&M’s Super Bowl stunt. Shortly after the media chatter heated up, M&M’s revealed former Saturday Night Live cast member and actor Maya Rudolph as its new spokesperson, at least temporarily. The brand then activated its digital content to support the effort, even renaming the candies “Ma&Ya’s” after Rudolph and starting a new Twitter handle, which gained close to a quarter million followers in its first two weeks. It also launched videos on YouTube, TikTok and Facebook.
On the design front, M&M’s created a logo featuring a sketch of Rudolph from the shoulders up, satirically suggesting the Ma&Ya’s brand is here to stay. The logo is also imprinted on the pieces of candy in limited-edition packages that can be purchased leading up to the Super Bowl.
What M&M’s does right: The candy brand stayed above the media fray with engaging digital content that serves as breadcrumbs leading up to its Big Game ad.
In the online videos, Rudolph’s M&M’s character shows the audacity to believe the popular candy needs her face on it, deftly meshing with the mindset of the billionaire divorcee she plays on the Apple TV show Loot. It’s great casting by the candy’s ad agency, BBDO New York, which uses simple visuals that combine core colors and brand cues.
Its digital content series entertains viewers as they wait until Feb. 12 to discover how the brand will connect the dots between Rudolph’s role with the M&M’s’ spokescandies.
This visually smart campaign has been perhaps the buzziest among Super Bowl advertisers: M&M’s four tweets since the Rudolph reveal have collectively garnered more than 53 million views on Twitter alone. The same four posts generated millions more impressions across social and inspired 69,000 Instagram likes, representing 331% more engagement than M&M’s previous four posts on the social platform.
Michelob Ultra zeroes in on golfers
This low-calorie beer brand has themed its entire episodic Super Bowl campaign around a sport other than football. To bolster the effort with star power, Michelob enlisted an impressive cast: tennis legend Serena Williams, popular Mexican boxer Canelo Álvarez, former NFL quarterback and CBS football announcer Tony Romo, soccer star Alex Morgan and Scottish actor Brian Cox.
So far, the sports and entertainment notables have appeared in a trio of social ads for Michelob Ultra’s fun motif that embraces the iconic 1980 comedy film Caddyshack. Leaning into Instagram and Twitter, the brand’s campaign is dubbed #UltraClub and takes those celebrities to Bushwood Country Club, Caddyshack’s fictional golf course. The characters dress the part, including purple plaid pants, pink polo shirts and retro golf hats that befit the leisure fashion of 40-plus years ago.
What Michelob Ultra does right: The brand’s videos open with a refreshing wide shot of sprinklers on a sunny, serene golf course. It’s a perfect visual for establishing the continuity of an episodic ad series, encouraging viewers to think of the casual habit beer commercials intend to inspire.
It’s also interesting that Michelob is using its Big Game ad to bolster its broader commitment to golf, finding a way to make that core marketing strategy fit on the NFL’s stage.
While more Michelob Ultra videos could emerge heading into the Super Bowl, the scene has been set for the final episode on Game Day to bring the campaign’s story to a close. Michelob Ultra has already accrued millions of video views via social channels (5.9 million on YouTube alone), but given Caddyshack’s generation-defying appeal, its marketers should see the biggest buzz during the game when the 30-second ad airs.
Downy Unstopables uses memorable ‘masking’
While candy and beer are natural for a party-driven event such as the Super Bowl, Downy Unstopables proves that fabric softeners can have fun, too, having started its Big Game content initiative two months in advance on Dec. 12.
Across social media, the brand rolled out a series of sneak peek videos for its “Believe” campaign, which revolves around a masked celebrity in his laundry room who doubts Downy Unstopables’ scent-changing abilities and whose identity will be disclosed during the brand’s Super Bowl commercial.
In Downy’s social posts, the celebrity’s face and shoulders are covered by a blue hooded sweatshirt, providing viewers with a visual reference for the series’ other pieces of content. The pitch: Downy Unstopables’ scent-booster beads can hold up against odor for several weeks.
What Downy does right: The blue hooded sweatshirt is seen in every video episode, serving as a strange-but-effective visual focal point for Downy’s storyline and driving curiosity around his identity. The brand on Twitter even had fun with media speculation that its actor could be Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Interestingly, Downy Unstopables did not have an Instagram account before this campaign and is devoting the channel to the Super Bowl. The Meta-owned platform is a powerful platform for visual branding. And while Downy has attracted thousands of followers six weeks, its audiences on Facebook (1.5 million fans) and Twitter (99,000 followers) were already established and have garnered millions of likes, shares and comments.
Stay tuned for the final episode
Overall, M&M’s, Michelob Ultra and Downy show that digital content needs to be strategically employed to work with Super Bowl ads. And as marketers today have visual communications tools at their fingertips like never before, it’s a reminder of what’s possible in cross-channel campaigns.
With Rudolph and the spokescandies, the Caddyshack motif and the mystery celebrity tending to his laundry, the conclusions to these episodic campaigns could indeed be epic. Stay tuned and enjoy the commercials—as well as the game!