posted January 15, 2018

Playing the game: Super Bowl advertising

Beka Carson

With Super Bowl 52 approaching this weekend, you’re probably beginning to think about with whom you’ll watch the game, what dish you’ll bring to the party, and which of your friends has the nicest TV with the most comfortable couches (Or, if you’re not into the sportsball thing, maybe you’ve already checked out the Puppy Bowl lineup.) In the U.S., the Super Bowl is single-handedly the most watched television event of the year – 111 million people tuned into last year’s game. While we will be watching our favorite players fight for every last yard and touchdown, marketers will be fighting to score points in the minds of consumers. As our technological and streaming services advance, more fans—especially millennials—are getting their sports fixes from nontraditional sources. For a stage as big as the Super Bowl, how can advertising professionals capitalize on the size and attention of this audience as viewership trends of live sports change?

Twitter vs. TV: Who will win?

For now, it seems, people are still gathering to watch the Big Game live on TV. However, advertisers are beginning to feel the threat of viewers abandoning their TVs when consuming live sports. The average viewer of televised NFL games is 50 years old, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that younger demographics aren’t watching; rather, they are watching on different platforms. Millennials are cutting the cord to save costs and enjoying programs on streaming services like HBO, Netflix, Hulu, etc. Unfortunately to most, none of these platforms’ basic memberships offer live sports, leaving these cable-free households in a dilemma. In an effort to seize an opportunity and solve these fans’ problems, Twitter began streaming live NFL games in 2016 free for those with Twitter accounts. One Thursday night game in particular reached up to 3 million viewers on Twitter (17 million watched the same game on TV). As reported by Digiday, “More than half (55 percent) of the viewers who tuned in to 10 NFL games that Twitter live-streamed last season were under the age of 25.” Live-streaming of sports on Twitter not only offers fans access to the game but also access to conversations around the game, all in one place. Nielsen reported that in 2015, “Sports events comprised 1.4% of U.S. TV programming, (but) contributed close to 50% of all Twitter TV conversation.” For brands, this means there’s an opportunity to meet these viewers where they are and take part in the conversation online.

What doesn’t Amazon do?

This football season, Amazon beat Twitter for the rights to stream the Thursday Night Football games, offering Prime members a free live-feed.  Streaming games via services like Amazon Prime opens new doors for advertisers. Imagine watching your team play and seeing a banner ad that promotes your favorite player’s jersey for sale, or a decal sticker you could proudly display on your car. The scalability of personalized, targeted ads on streaming services such as Amazon Prime and social media sites such as Twitter is much greater than that of tradition ads broadcasted on television. Advertisers can track user data to understand consumers’ preferences, opinions, and buying habits to more effectively spend campaign dollars.

Using social to be seen.

Due to these shifts, marketers must evolve their messaging strategies as audiences evolve their viewing habits. Take Gatorade for example. Last year, the sports-drink giant had one of the most successful Super Bowl ads—and it didn’t even run on television. The brand created a Snapchat filter which allowed users to dunk an animated, orange Gatorade cooler on people in their Snapchat videos. Digiday reported, “The Super Bowl moment on Snapchat wound up driving 160 million impressions… That’s more than the (111 million) who tuned into the game.” Additionally, last year, 1.72 million people watched the Super Bowl online. For advertisers, this means they are presented with an opportunity to reach their markets on platforms that don’t cost $5 million for a 30-second TV spot.

Stay tuned…

In an interview related to Super Bowl trends, Dominic Curran, CEO of the sports and entertainment marketing agency Synergy USA, described it best: “What we’re seeing is less a drop in ratings, as opposed to a diversification of ratings.” Sports fanatics or not, people are still watching and taking interest in the head-to-head matchup of the nation’s two best football teams; where they choose to consume the content, though, is starting to vary. It will be interesting to see the statistics that surface after this weekend’s game, but you can bet that more people will be turning online to watch. As the NFL’s partnership with networks CBS, Fox, and NBC to alternate broadcasting rights of the game expires in 2022, there will likely be big bids from nontraditional contenders, such as Twitter and Amazon, both eager to offer nontraditional viewers relevant, engaging ads.