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The game might still be weeks away (and the teams still to be determined), but the annual Super Bowl ad frenzy has already kicked off online. And this year, it’s personal — or, at least it will seem that way.
Technological advances are giving brands new ways to engage in what appears to be spontaneous, intimate communication with fans on social platforms. Behind the scenes, though, these conversations increasingly are more science than art.
Last year’s crop of ads hit a critical mass for social campaigns, according to data from Ace Metrix, a company that measures ad effectiveness: In 2014, 55 percent of ads included a social component, up from just 7 percent in 2011.
A survey by FleishmanHillard found that, on average, viewers plan to spend fully half of the Super Bowl itself on social media and 56 percent of viewers want to connect with brands on social media.
“I think it’s good news,” said Mitch Germann, senior vice president and partner at FleishmanHillard. It indicates that brands haven’t yet worn out their welcome, and viewers today are more likely to be comfortable splitting their attention between two screens during the game.
“With social media, you have an opportunity that’s probably only matched by being in the showroom… the touchy feely type of stuff,” said Michael Bernacchi, professor of marketing at the University of Detroit Mercy, who focuses on automakers’ Super Bowl campaigns.
But just having the material out there isn’t enough. “Just because you’re getting this social participation doesn’t mean it’s going to work,” said Peter Daboll, CEO of Ace Metrix.
Marketers have fallen over themselves trying to recreate Oreo’s spot-on Tweet during 2013’s blackout, and, in the process, may have come across as trying too hard.
“They probably forced it a little bit and it fell flat,” Germann said.
This year, more companies are taking no chance, essentially drafting responses to nearly anything that could happen during the game and having them ready to fire off in real time, said Jamie Tedford, founder and CEO of social marketing company Brand Networks.
“Where it’s going to get interesting this year is the sort of interplay between programmatic and human-based [communication],” he said. In reference to what he called “opportunistic social media,” Tedford said marketers and agencies were working to take the guesswork — and the potential for gaffes — out of the equation.
“How much of that can we make programmatic, can we tee up in advance [like] syncing tweets or posts with ads,” he said.
Since advertisers generally don’t know exactly when their ad will run, though, they and their agencies will need to rely on technology ready to deliver a “real time” response on social media that was actually pre-scripted and waiting in a kind of digital backstage.
This is also expected to be a tactic marketers use for a whole host of possible actions or outcomes on the gridiron itself. “It will seem to the consumer like it’s real time and opportunistic, but we’ve set [certain] criteria as the drivers,” Tedford said.
Marketers also will be relying on technology to connect with fans — in some cases, on a first-name basis.
“The other thing that’s becoming more prevalent is personalization,” Germann said. He pointed to the success the U.S. soccer team had during the World Cup, when it automated personalized responses to fans’ Tweets, and the increasing sophistication of target marketing capabilities on social sites that let a brand address someone by name.
Viewers who don't like the idea of brands sending them personal shout-outs can go into the settings of their preferred social platforms and amending how much access advertisers have to them. For instance, you can opt out of Facebook's social ads here and Twitter's social ads here. Third-party cookie tracking, used by many ad services to show you personalized advertising, can be turned off by digging in the advanced settings in your browser. Big data collectors and resellers like Axciom also offer online opt-out forms and even a browser plugin.
But with so many dollars on the line, it will be hard to completely hide from online marketers during the Super Bowl ad push before and during the game.
“That personalized experience that was brought to email is now migrating to social,” said Germann.