Insights: Should Brands Tease Out Ads on Social Before The Big Game?


TL;DR: There’s no event quite like it — an event so massive in stature and lore it brings people from all spectrums of life together all over the course of a single afternoon. Sports fans are there for the football; everyone else for the entertainment — whether it’s the halftime show or the slew of commercials that garner as much attention as the action on the field itself. One of the only days a year everyone is glued to the television, forcing marketing execs to face a difficult decision on how to best roll out their brand campaigns.

With brands shelling out $5 million for a 30-second spot in 2018, there’s a lot riding on not only a memorable message, but a successful distribution, before and after the commercial airs. As second screen viewing increases, especially during sporting events, the value of a traditional commercial during the Big Game may not be what it once was. Factoring in streaming viewers, which accounted for 4 million views in 2018, and declining television ratings over the past four years, it might be time to start teasing out those commercials across social channels ahead of time.

The answer might not be as clear cut as initially thought….

As someone who’s been in the social media industry for 10 years, I can attest to the struggles and frustrations of other social managers out there who, for far too long, have not had a seat at the advertising table or been viewed as a legitimate outlet like traditional media.

Slowly but surely, this methodology is shifting. Social budgets are expanding, resources are being provided, and campaign executions now include social-only elements. Even with the rise of second-screen views and users now expecting compelling content from brands on social during the game (hello, Oreo), it’s still a hotly contested debate on an ever-changing topic.

Two years ago, 36 brands released ads in their entirety, before NFL athletes even arrived to the championship venue. There were just 49 total ads ran during Super Bowl LI, which left the audience with little surprise or, even more importantly, any incentive to pay attention during commercial breaks. In 2018, advertisers held their cards closer to their chest as approximately a dozen commercials leaked online prior to Super Sunday with the usual suspects leading the charge: Budweiser, Coca-Cola, M&Ms and Toyota to name a few.

Releasing creative ahead of its debut comes with its advantages; there is no better focus group than your audience on social. Along with being able to target ads to a specific audience, the potential virality, for better or worse, is an element no other media outlet can provide. Given proper social listening tools and enough leeway before the Big Game to garner a large enough sample size, marketers should know ahead of time whether their ad will hit the mark or not.

Debuting around the 2018 NFL season opener, Nike’s launch surrounding the 30th anniversary of its timeless “Just Do It” campaign set the standard on how to properly utilize social and television advertising in a seamless manner. Knowing the usage of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and current social activist, Colin Kaepernick, would be a lightning rod among the NFL community. Nike created a simple black and white graphic that featured Kaepernick’s face and the phrase “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”, consistent with branding and messaging for fellow sponsored athletes, such as Serena Williams when the French Open banned her “catsuit,” claiming it violated the event’s dress code policy. The creative was curated by Nike and sent from Kaepernick’s account on Sept. 3, 2018 — four days before the commercial was set to air. After the initial buzz was created indicating Nike was indeed sponsoring Kaepernick, the brand released the full, two-minute spot on YouTube two days later on Sept. 5. Just as Nike anticipated, there was support from one side and backlash from the other, but the key was that everyone was talking and awaiting the actual commercial airing on Thursday Night Football.

It’s no surprise Nike knocked this campaign out of the park. Historically, there’s been none better about generating conversation around the brand. Unfortunately, not every brand has the vision, the message or the creative to successfully catch, hold and maintain an audience's attention plus drive the news cycle for a week straight. So unless your collective message — like Nike’s — is transcendent, save the commercials until Sunday.

In most other events, teasing or releasing the ad ahead of time on social is the right move, but there’s only one day a year people look forward to watching and critiquing commercials. It can be hard to cut through the noise on social, especially around the Big Game and brands would kill for 30 seconds of (somewhat) undivided attention from their audiences, regardless of the outlet. This opportunity should be viewed as a gift rather than a curse.

Air it on Sunday, have social listening tools to decipher sentiment at the ready, a team of witty community managers to interact and engage the audience throughout the day, and leverage your social channels to create content after the fact to ensure the conversation doesn’t end with the game’s conclusion.

All great teams usually have the same formula for winning: a star player putting the team on his back and coming up clutch when it’s needed most, role players who specialize in one-to-two aspects, and a great coach with a winning strategy to overcome all of the opponent's obstacles. The same methodology applies to winning in advertising as well.

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