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What This Year’s Super Bowl Ads Taught Us About the Future of Marketing

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The Super Bowl generates as much interest for its advertising stunts as it does for the actual game. This year, advertisements cost approximately $5 million dollars for a 30 second spot, setting yet another new record. It’s fun to see what standout stunts major brands come up with for such a high-profile and high-budget opportunity, but as marketers, we should be looking a little deeper.

What did this year’s ads teach us about the state of marketing? What can we apply to our own advertising campaigns?

Lesson One: Social Is Still the Way to Go

When people watch the Super Bowl, they’re at home with friends and family, and during commercial breaks, they’re probably on their mobile devices. This year proved, once again, that social integration is the way to go; offering one opportunity for social engagement instantly makes an ad more effective.

Take Esurance’s ad at the beginning of the game as an example. The company offered a $250,000 sweepstakes in its one-minute ad, costing the company upwards of $10,000,000 to produce and broadcast. Was it effective?


During the game, some 835,000 tweets were sent using the indicated hashtag. By late Sunday night, that level reached more than 2 million. If the ad’s budget were translated to a cost-per-tweet, it’d be about $5—not exactly attractive, but that’s a level of engagement above and beyond the first impressions the ad could have given with no social integration whatsoever.

In today’s world, everything should tie back to social in some way. It’s a free added value, so never pass up the opportunity.

Lesson Two: Edgy Isn’t Always a Good Thing

Last year’s Super Bowl ads had some edgy contenders, including a Doritos commercial with a disgusting airline passenger and misogynistic undertones and a Nationwide ad featuring the perspective of a dead child. The mentality behind these choices was: go big or go home. Under most circumstances, taking risks is a good thing, even if it means alienating some of your audience. Even if a handful of people are turned off, you’ll still get brand visibility points for generating a discussion. However, these exceptionally risky ads did more harm than good by some reports, and the reaction this year was to aim for a more conservative style.

Brands didn’t take as many risks, reflecting a recognition that just because edgy can be good doesn’t mean that risky is always good.

Still, there were notable exceptions trying too hard to do something crazy.

Take Mountain Dew’s Puppymonkeybaby, for example.


Seriously, what the hell is this thing? A noble effort, but putting random things together doesn’t instantly make a good advertisement.

Lesson Three: Laugh or Cry

This year’s Super Bowl proved that emotional appeals are still effective, and the two strongest emotional peaks are laughing and crying. Divide this year’s ads into emotional piles, and you get them roughly split down the middle, with only a handful of outliers; half the ads were intended to make you laugh, and the other half were intended to make you cry.

For example, take T-Mobile’s spot, featuring Steve Harvey making fun at his recent faux pas at the Miss Universe pageant. It got a lot of laughs, and a lot of views on YouTube—3.6 million and counting as of the writing of this article.


Audi took inspiration from David Bowie’s recent death in a move some would call exploitative and some would call a moving tribute. Featuring “Starman,” the ad certainly had a timely appeal, and undoubtedly induced a river of nostalgic tears across the country.

Lesson Four: Context Is King

Content is important, but context can make or break your message. When people watch the Super Bowl, they’re surrounded by their friends and family. They don’t want to think about car insurance, or toenail fungi, or irritable bowel syndrome.

Xifaxan’s ad featured sports fans watching the game with a tangled knot of—literal—irritable bowels.


This isn’t a pleasant image or thought for people sitting comfortably with friends and family, enjoying processed snack foods and alcohol. Remember your audience. Remember your medium. Otherwise, you run the risk of alienating not just some, but the majority of your audience. In the digital marketing world, you’re likely marketing less than $5 million, but it’s still essential that you get the context for your messages right.

Lesson Five: YouTube Rules

There’s no single ad that demonstrates this, because all of them have earned a similar benefit. Several Super Bowl ads emerged on YouTube before the game even started, and by the end of the game, practically all of them were up. Most have received millions of views, with cult hits like “Puppymonkeybaby” getting 15 million or more. YouTube remains an incredibly powerful channel, rivaling the potential reach of the Super Bowl itself, and you don’t have to pay $5 million for a spot there.

Overall Takeaways

The power of social media can’t be underestimated, even by major corporate brands who can afford a Super Bowl spot; good timing and good incentives (like a themed contest) can generate overwhelming engagement, and YouTube seems to get more practical and more approachable by the year. Remember to keep the context of your message in mind (and always prioritize your audience), appeal to the strongest of human emotions, and don’t be afraid to take risks—just keep them grounded enough that people don’t think you’re crazy.

Want more information on content marketing? Head over to our comprehensive guide on content marketing here: The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy.

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Jayson DeMers

Jayson DeMers is the Founder & CEO of AudienceBloom. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.

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