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What Super Bowl Social Media Success Looks Like

At Merkle, we are now in our fourth year of analyzing Super Bowl advertisers’ digital marketing efforts, judging how well they use digital to capture the demand created by the spectacle of their on-air ads. As a live sporting event and mass cultural experience, the big game is rife with opportunity for any brand to reach new audiences, but it is priced accordingly. So, in the age of digital, how do advertisers make the most of this traditional ad buy?

As audience behavior has changed, social media has grown from a fun, ‘nice to have’ side project to an essential digital channel, but it’s difficult to judge Super Bowl social success. There are wildcard moments throughout each game, to say nothing of a variety of industries advertising with wildly different goals and objectives. For example, how do you measure a car manufacturer against a CPG firm?

To this end, our upcoming Digital Bowl Report, which will be released February 6, grades social media success on three fundamental aspects of social media that can be used to judge advertisers of all stripes: engagement, conversation, and content.

Actively Engage with the Social Media Audience

In social media circles, ‘engagement’ is bandied about with such abandon that it’s on the verge of becoming trite. For our purposes, we’re looking to measure how actively big game advertisers are interacting with users. If there was ever a time to invest in community management resources, the Super Bowl is it.

Social media’s strength is its scale. Brands must exercise social’s ability to reach real users and consumers during the game and in the moments immediately after an ad airs. Boilerplate or ready-made responses are insufficient and may ultimately backfire for failing to genuinely reciprocate users’ replies or conversation.  The most successful advertisers issues calls to action or start conversations, and then expend the effort to respond to users in personal and meaningful ways.

Promoting the Social Conversation

Just as we look to see how actively brands are interacting, we also look to see how well advertisers are organizing their conversation. During the last Super Bowl, there were 27 million tweets sent. Against that volume of chatter, advertisers need to make sure they’re heard and to lower the barrier of entry for users to participate.

One method for increasing participation that is now common-place is incorporating a hashtag into TV ads. However, there are sometimes disconnects between the on-air ad and the digital campaign. For example, one past major Super Bowl advertiser included a different hashtag in their ad than it was using on social media, and the brand never once used the tag that appeared on air in any of its social posts. Brands need to be precise and consistent in their messaging to score well by Merkle's standards.

Come with Great Content

Last, but certainly not least, is the social content that brands bring to game day. It’s genuinely surprising when Super Bowl advertisers still drop an ad without any social content, and at the bare minimum, an advertiser should have assets that back up or speak to the on-air ad.

Today’s Super Bowl audience, however, is sophisticated and expects much more. Not every piece of game day content will fly, but the rewards are great for advertisers who can seize a cultural moment and create something out of it. We look for brands that have the foresight to set aside resources to create relevant real-time, game-related content.

In recent years, this has taken the form of templated graphics. However, we are seeing a trend toward animation and short video. With the abolition of Vine this year, we’ll be looking to see if advertisers take advantage of other video channels such as Snapchat, Periscope, Facebook Live, or even Instagram Stories.


When it comes to the big game, social media engagement, conversation, and content do not and should not operate as discreetly as they’re described above. They should work together throughout the event to amplify a brand’s message and expand its reach to new audiences.

Of course, social is only one digital channel. The most successful Super Bowl campaigns will take full advantage of the ad buy and also leverage paid search, SEO, and digital media buys across the web. Check out our Digital Bowl Report on Monday, February 6 to learn how well Super Bowl advertisers did across all of these digital channels.