This year, it's not Super Sunday for brands unless the fans participate

Super Bowl 50 campaigns aren't just relying on TV ads; they're pushing viewers to digital and social channels to interact with the brands themselves.

Tens of millions of people are not only looking forward to the Super Bowl this Sunday but also to the advertisements. When play stops, it’s crunch time for brands as viewers watch, judge, and chat with their friends about the most memorable ads of the night.

While it’s too early to know what brands will rise to the top – some marketers still keep their Super Bowl ads under wraps until the big game, after all – advertisers are not leaving the fate of their brand in a 30- or 60-second spot. For Super Bowl 50, brands will run video, games, and contests on YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms.

Meanwhile, what’s happening on the big screen will only be one part of the interaction between brand and consumer for the batch of this year’s campaigns that are focused on viewer interaction and participation.

"This has been a growing theme, but this year in particular, it’s no longer about just TV," says Andrew Graff, CEO of Allen and Gerritsen. He points to Volvo’s 2015 Super Bowl campaign in which the brand hijacked the conversation on Twitter, rather than purchase a multi-million-dollar TV spot.

"I expect that other brands, and ones we haven’t even heard of being associated with this year’s Super Bowl, will catch on to this clever interception and work it to their advantage this year," adds Graff.

Ads running during this year’s Super Bowl will build on the foundation set in 2015 that includes viewer participation, says Brent Turner, SVP at Cramer.

"Over the past few years, calls-to-action have been shifting," he notes. "First, we were asked to visit dot-coms, then there were the calls to 'follow us' on branded social outposts, and recently it's been about joining the broad 'conversation' with hashtags."

Participation-based campaigns will include contests, sweepstakes, and gamification. Some pushes will also fall under the category of "enablement," in that they will give viewers the tools to make the conversations their own via emoji, apps, Twitter, and other platforms.

Another brand embracing gaming is Progressive Insurance. With three-fourths of viewers having a mobile device in hand and 61% downloading a game or gaming app to their smartphone during the event, the company saw an opportunity to actively engage viewers during the commercials. The brand’s Super Duper Bingo initiative is giving consumers the opportunity to participate in the Super Bowl 50 ad conversation via second screen for a chance to win their home and auto payments for a year.

"We live in a gamified Powerball world, and Super Duper Bingo taps into that appetite for gamified mobile content," says Jeff Charney, CMO of Progressive. "We know the majority of viewers will have their smartphones in hand during the game, and we’ll be there right with them. Bingo is a fun game everyone can play while tuning into the game’s must-see TV ads. Bottom line, we don’t just want to be part of the conversation, we want to curate the conversation."

One brand capitalizing on Millennials’ interest in gaming is pizza-maker Totino’s.

Totino’s and agencies 72andSunny and Street Factory Media will collaborate to host the first Totino’s Bucking Couch Bowl, leading up to the game on Sunday. During the competition, elite gamers will face off – live-streamed on Twitch - and viewers at home will have the power disrupt gameplay.

"Our goal is to create an experience so entertaining that our fans will want to invite their friends to join in the fun and control the Totino’s Bucking Couch from the comfort of their couch at home," says Brad Hiranaga, business unit director at Totino’s.

The partnership began in the fall of 2015, with Twitch allowing Totino’s to engage with the platform’s already passionate audience. And along with gamification comes the bonus of fans sharing the fun with other viewers through social media.

"Our hope is that the ‘Bucking Bowl’ viewers will enjoy the event so much that they share with their friends and followers on their own social accounts," says Hiranaga. "Additionally, we are using the Twitch and Totino’s social channels as primary ways to drive awareness prior to the event."

Also embracing enablement are campaigns from brands such as Shock Top. The Anheuser-Busch brand will air a 30-second spot introducing the beer and its mascot. It has also teamed up with actor TJ Miller to air unfiltered talks between the comedian and people in bars that will air on YouTube. The goal of the campaign is to take advantage of the live, streaming aspect and the ability to repost and start a conversation on multiple social media websites.

"YouTube is one of the first places Super Bowl viewers turn before, during, and after the game, so we’ve developed a ton of special video content that we’ll be rolling out on YouTube, some exclusively on its Ad Blitz platform," says Jake Kirsch, VP at Shock Top. "We’re also promoting content on our new website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, along with unfiltered commentary from TJ Miller himself across his social channels."

Turner also predicts more brands will embrace live video streams during Super Bowl Sunday.

"We will be watching what people do with live video on Facebook, Periscope, Meerkat, Blab, etc., during the game," says Turner. "We expect some brands will be experimenting with social-driven live video. There may even be a breakout story here. But, moreover, savvy agencies and media companies will be watching this space closely. We should all expect multiple live video campaigns coming our way in 2017."

Graff agrees that live streaming video on the "second screen" will be a huge part of the big game.

"This year, there will be an emerging emphasis on live streaming," he says. "Advertisers will use these platforms to engage the consumer with in-the-moment and behind-the-scenes content on game day. It’s all about more touch points and more reach."

Seriously – or seriously funny?
In terms of tone, sexy is out and cute and funny are in, according to Donn Ditzhazy of RMD Advertising.

"Research shows that puppies are advertising gold," he says, adding that creating an emotional link with people is key. "Many of these types of ads don't include direct plugs for their products, opting instead to create an emotional link with people tuning in. That might not prompt viewers to run out to buy a six-pack of Budweiser the next day, but the ads tend to be more memorable with consumers, helping to build long-term brand awareness."

However, Graff believes that while most spots will go for humor, there will be ads that pull at the heart strings.

"Take Colgate, for example. The brand will showcase its social responsibility platform with its first Super Bowl ad, encouraging consumers to save water," he notes.

Hitting an emotional chord is what SunTrust Banks is hoping to do. The company is highlighting the issue of financial stress in its game-day commercial. Known as OnUp, the effort is meant to inspire people to improve their financial health.

Sue Mallino, CCO at SunTrust, says that the ad, "Hold Your Breath," should resonate well with all generations, but particularly with Millennials.

Though the launch is meant to be seen via TV in the fourth quarter, the message will also direct viewers to the website for a more interactive experience. Consumers can take a pledge online, find information and resources, and even create their own version of the Super Bowl ad using personal Facebook photos. 

"The ad is a shift from business-as-usual, and it’s not a typical banking commercial. It is infused with realism and should reach people on a personal level," adds Mallino.

Budweiser is also not shying away from a serious message this year, with its Simply Put campaign taking on drunk driving in a bold, unorthodox way.

"Drunk driving is a serious issue, and Helen Mirren provides an unmatched level of gravitas and the rare ability to chide and charm viewers at the same time," notes an Anheuser-Busch spokesperson.

Alongside the TV ad, digital elements include, which aggregates ways people can get home safely based on their location. It also invites viewers to take a pledge to not drive drunk on Super Bowl Sunday. The #GiveADamn hashtag will also trigger a custom Twitter emoji to encourage more shares of the campaign message.

Yet whether serious or funny, the goal is ultimately to connect with fans.

One brand that has a unique opportunity to interact and emotionally connect with true football fans is GMC. The car company is the official truck of both teams and is using its exclusive access to players to engage fans as much as possible. GMC has produced video in order to get more bang for their buck and give fans the ability to spread the word about its brand.

"Today’s consumers are spending much of their time consuming digital and social content," says Rich Latek, director of marketing for GMC. "Digital video also makes it easy for fans to watch as many videos as they want, and share it with their friends, as they anticipate the big game."

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