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Kiera Wiatrak

Kiera Wiatrak

Beneath the Tip of of the Iceberg of a Super Bowl Commercial

When it comes to Super Bowl commercials, the ultra-visible video extravaganza is just a tiny portion of the massive strategic iceberg lurking below the surface. These marketing masterpieces depend on extensive planning and flawless execution that extends far beyond the 30-second spot itself.

I discovered the nuts and bolts firsthand when I was a Senior Strategist on the team at J. Walter Thompson (now VML) that brought the US Marine Corps recruiting campaign back to the big game after a 30 year absence. We produced the hard-hitting “A Nation’s Call” promotion, tailoring its online-focused distribution strategy to reach tech-savvy youth.

While creativity and stunning visuals set the stage, the bulk of the work that goes into a successful Super Bowl ad campaign happens in the waiting wings – coordinating supplementary content, maximizing exposure, and sustaining momentum over time. Behind-the-scenes, both global agencies and local businesses can learn from the example set on sport’s grandest stage.

Capitalizing on pre-game hype

Super Bowl ads offer brands the potential to gain unparalleled exposure in the weeks ahead of the big game. Savvy marketers leverage the anticipation in this this pre-game window and implement strategic hype-building initiatives leading up to the tentpole commercial debut. To maximize impact in these initial stages, marketers need to:

Identify business objectives

Carefully defining goals and KPIs provides focus for the planning process and gives a benchmark for measuring impact. Is the aim to boost product sales or website visits? Build brand awareness among a target demographic? Objectives set the stage so you can plan your approach strategically and track your success.

Craft core messaging

When you put your entire campaign story together, what message do you want viewers to walk away with? Your messaging should align with your values, clearly portray your offerings, and appeal to your core audience. Clarifying the core message tying your campaign together will fuel creative brainstorming and ground supplementary content.

Get creative with the ad concept

Visuals are important in virtually every campaign. But with high-budget competition and even higher expectations, visual elements for Super Bowl campaigns need to dazzle even more. These outstanding visuals should tie back to your branding, emotions, and propositions defined when the core messaging was crafted. And don’t be afraid to think outside the box!

One company that mastered intrigue that sparked meme-worthy content this year was Cerave. Since January, lovable weirdo Michael Cera has been spotted signing bottles of Cerave lotion in pharmacies and handing out products on the street.

Source: Allure

So when the full commercial dropped (or was leaked, we’re still unsure) last week, people were primed to turn the charmingly odd ad into viral memes.

Build hype through teasers

Whetting appetites with sneak peek trailers builds anticipation without giving away the full commercial. Savvy brands distill core messaging into short, cinematic glimpses designed to energize fans rather than display overt product branding.

The Marines aimed to reach prospective recruits with their “#MarinesHaveLanded” tweet featuring a link to an interactive landing page counting down to the release of the full “A Nation’s Call” ad. The teaser aimed to distill the USMC ethos with text and imagery that spoke directly to their target audience.

Ahead of this year’s Super Bowl, Uber Eats spoofed a recent viral moment to build excitement for a legendary ad. They dropped a 15-second teaser with Victoria and David Beckham recreating their iconic Rolls Royce spat while hinting at the themes and co-stars of the full commercial. This not only built anticipation for their star-studded ad, but it capitalized on a timely moment in pop culture that generated a lot of buzz.


Before I forget… @David Beckham and I filmed a little something for the Hockey Bowl. We can’t wait for you to see it!! Oh, and Jessica Aniston is going to be in it too!! Kisses xx #JenniferAniston @Uber Eats @Uber  #UberEatspartner

♬ original sound – Victoria Beckham

Both campaigns gave viewers a peek through the window, leaving them hungry for the full experience on game day. This strategic combination of targeted messaging, release formats distinct from traditional ads, and ambiguous prompts intended to engage paved the path for maximum impact.

Piquing interest on game day

After months of strategic planning and hype building, the time has finally arrived for the tentpole moment. Brands finally air their full commercials to over 100 million Super Bowl viewers. However, the hefty costs that come with such a prime spot demand further coordination with supplementary content across channels. This extra oomph maximizes exposure and returns.

Coordinate social campaigns

Synchronizing efforts social media in the intense spotlight of game day provides another touchpoint to reinforce messaging. Identifying key moments or conversation hooks and relating them back to the campaign theme offers an organic way to integrate.

One of our Creatives at JWT orchestrated this seamlessly for the “A Nation’s Call” campaign. As the game unfolded, they continuously fired video snippets from USMC archives, aligning each to real-time plays on the field. This echo of our messaging kept the Corps dynamically part of Super Bowl conversation as our cinematic recruitment call made its debut.

Elf Cosmetics kept interest high the day of the big game by posting stories of their launch event that brought their ad to life. Their commercial was set in the courtroom of “Judge Beauty”, played of course by Judge Judy. They hosted a viewing party filled to the brim with influencers, beauty products, and activities in a bar that they’d decked out in disco balls and branded swag. They even had a photo-op in Judge Beauty’s podium.

Source: Elf Cosmetics Instagram

Engage followers in real-time

Brands can also spark discussion in response to their campaign through clever posts that align with their tent-pole ad. Designing social media prompts that invite viewers to engage around their core theme helps increase reach and leaves a lasting impression.

Hershey’s Reese’s coordinated the launch of their limited edition Reese’s Caramel Big Cup with the release of their Super Bowl commercial. Not only did they pin a hunger-inducing 3-piece banner at the top of their grid, but they came up with a clever way to keep their name top-of-mind during the entire game.

Source: Reese’s Instagram

Before the game started, Reese’s posted a Bingo card so viewers could play along. They cleverly added a square for “Reese’s Commercial plays” so that engaged players would keep an eye out for their hero ad. The release of branded, gamified content in time for kickoff keeps Reese’s on everyone’s mind through every moment of the game.

Source: Reese’s Instagram

Drive traffic to landing pages

If the goal is to drive people to your website, funneling viewers to landing pages that align with your campaign’s core message can help drive conversions. With such an enormous audience, placing strategic CTAs into commercials that drive traffic to your website has proven to make quite a splash.

For 2022’s game, Coinbase went simple but made a huge impact. Their ad featured a QR code that bounced across the screen, reminiscent of nostalgic DVD player screensavers. In just 60 seconds, that simple visual sent 20 million people to a promotional landing page that had been specially engineered to handle the influx of traffic. This clever play on human curiosity led to traffic 6 times higher than the site’s previous record.

Sustaining momentum in the weeks beyond

Contrary to popular belief, Super Bowl commercials rarely drive immediate sales that warrant their whopping $7 million price tag. But the unparalleled brand visibility on game day offers an opportunity for companies to stay top-of-mind in the weeks and months beyond through savvy redeployment initiatives. The 30-second commercial spot is merely an opening act. Maximize that coveted spot long after your ad airs with these strategies:

Reuse and repurpose commercial assets

Redeploy your assets across additional channels to get as many eyes on the project as possible. This usually involves re-cutting and re-editing your original ad to be distributed both as targeted online ads and on TV. Make sure that your refreshed version will re-engage the original audience from game day, while still resonating with those who may have missed it.

Create supplementary content

Extended social campaigns, behind-the-scenes footage, and unique discounts all retain engagement by building on the original experience while keeping it fresh. This content gives you the opportunity to highlight brand impact and product value from previously unseen angles. Gamifying responses to your campaign through contests, polls, and hashtags keeps conversation flowing long after the commercial first gripped viewers.

Always made a big impact with their 2015 Super Bowl commercial #LikeAGirl, showing how the negative connotation of saying something is done “Like A Girl” is developed during puberty. The ad went viral, garnering praise for its cutting yet optimistic message.

But they didn’t stop here. They kept up momentum with the #LikeAGirl hashtag, getting women and girls to share their experiences of accomplishment. Despite its release a decade ago, #LikeAGirl is still being used to this day, cementing its cultural impact.

Always also released a follow-up video, “Unstoppable”, that showed young women and girls smashing harmful stereotypes that limit them from accomplishing their goals. This empowering ad was clearly within the same framework as the original campaign, but expanded on the messaging and kept it top-of-mind for viewers.

Source: Always

Having successfully maintained momentum, Always released a series of emojis in 2016 combatting the stereotypical gender roles portrayed in the standard set of emojis.

Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign showcased not only the power of a well-executed, emotionally compelling Super Bowl commercial, but also that strategically releasing supplementary content can keep it in the cultural zeitgeist for years to come.

Keep track of what works

It pays off to diligently track performance data for all supplementary campaign efforts. Regularly check response metrics and compare those results against previous benchmarks. This gives you a sense of your campaign’s ROI and spotlights what resonates so that future efforts can be tailored around proven successes.

Concepts clearly striking a chord deserve more resources. For ideas showing early spark, give a boost to see if increased exposure fans the flames and keeps people interested. This data-driven flexibility helps keep up game day momentum to maximize payoff.

Emulating Big Stage Impact on Any Budget

Given the multimillion dollar price tag, achieving cut-through on marketing’s biggest stage remains far-fetched for most brands. But that doesn’t mean that creative marketers can’t emulate similar strategies with modest budgets:

Build hype around industry events

Identifying occasions like major industry conferences, award shows or other events your audience cares about offers opportunities to stir engagement. You can learn all about how to develop a creative and effective campaign around industry events in our recent blog post.

Tease product launches

Propel interest by piquing intrigue with teaser trailers leading up to launch day. Debut the offering itself with an enticing reveal event, whether in person or virtual, that pulls in curious customers. Then, sustain momentum after the release through supplementary content like “behind the scenes” videos giving a peak behind the curtain at the product’s conception, and release early testimonials of satisfied customers.

Treat key dates like game day

Ecommerce brands should hint at Black Friday or Boxing Day deals through influencer partnerships, and promise early access for loyal patrons. Come the big day, brands should amp up their social media activity to showcase their most anticipated promotions. Then, re-engage visitors through personalized shopping recommendations and alluring limited-time discounts on remaining inventory.

Leverage influencer marketing

Share your products early with creators with enthusiastic yet targeted followings. Their organic previews and commentary will add hype to product launches by spreading the news in a more authentic way. Like big brands commanding attention at the Super Bowl through celebrity cameos and crossover content, partnering with personalities already sparking conversation guarantees engagement with the right audience.

Coordinate B2B launches

Savvy marketers can emulate the hype building to day of engagement to sustained momentum journey for B2B campaigns, too. Provide representatives from promising leads or loyal businesses early updates by establishing a private online group to build a sense of exclusivity and value. Then, make a splash on launch day with an interactive Live AMA enabling prospective buyers to directly engage with product experts. After the launch, share successful client case studies, make appearances at trade shows, and run targeted ads across business publications to sustain excitement and continuously re-expose high-potential targets.

Final Thoughts

The commercial that garners hundreds of millions of eyes is just the tip of the iceberg for brands capitalizing on Super Bowl Sunday. As I discovered firsthand, extensive planning, flawless supplementary execution, continuously tracking impact, and sustaining momentum well beyond game day is what sets renowned ads apart those forgotten by Monday morning.

Winning over audiences demands meticulous strategy paired with flexible creativity regardless of your budget or brand size. The Super Bowl spectacle shows how the full campaign journey – from early hype through execution excellence to sustaining buzz over time – makes all the difference. Truly connecting with viewers starts long before launch and persists beyond any final whistle.

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