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Early leaks, social media have changed Super Bowl advertising

First-ever live Super Bowl ad from Snickers among most anticipated by local marketing professionals

While the Super Bowl is still a must-see event for millions of people each year, it has lost some of its shock-and-awe style in the advertising department in recent years.

The trend among companies to leak their Super Bowl commercials ahead of the game, which started in 2010, is a big reason, regional marketing professionals said. Once ads are leaked, the power of smartphones and social media takes over as people share the spots and start talking about the ads in the days and weeks leading up to the game.

“The hope is to gain additional views and exposure than what occurs during the game,” said Julie Lando, president of York-based Grit Marketing Group. “The big ticket price of $5 million for a 30-second spot is really driving this as brands want to have as much bang for their buck as possible. It’s a way for brands to expand their reach.”

But doing so sacrifices the surprise element for viewers that tune in largely for the ads. That doesn’t mean people won’t watch the game, Lando said. The Super Bowl is a national event that brings together large groups of family and friends.

Most of those people likely care about the teams playing in the game, the stories about players and the teams, and the competitive potential of the matchup.

Still, advertisers can count on the fact that many people, both serious football fans and casual viewers, will be on their mobile devices talking about all aspects of the Super Bowl throughout the game. 2016 was called “the year of the second screen” with primary engagement during the Super Bowl to happen on phones or tablets with the TV being the second screen.

“There is debate whether the pageantry and excitement of the ads still exists, but I would argue the measurement of success is not in surprising people during a one-time thing but getting as many eyes on the message as possible and then having people share,” Lando said. “So the real question is how are we measuring success of any Super Bowl ad creative. As a marketer, this is the first question that needs to be asked in order to determine the best strategy moving forward.”

But with the rapid pace of technology and the internet, everything has become more immediate and people want instant gratification, she added. Living in an era when paid streaming services such as Netflix have made ad-free content much more commonplace only adds to that trend.


So it’s tough trying to keep up and be more innovative with ads each year that people will go out of their way to watch.

Snickers is trying to change the blueprint this year with the first-ever live Super Bowl ad featuring actor Adam Driver, who is best known for playing the Star Wars villain Kylo Ren.

Marketing professionals, including Lando, said they are most looking forward to that western-themed ad spot, which could be a home run for Snickers, or a huge flop.

“Snickers is taking a huge risk by doing this,” Lando said.

But with all the buzz, the ad should at least grab the attention of many people, which is getting harder and harder to do with so many media platforms and information out there. It takes 15 times for a message to hit and even penetrate, Lando said. “The best spots have an emotional connection and tug at the heart strings.”

Other companies have decided to bypass advertising during the Super Bowl in favor of more digital spots. Doritos and Pepsi won’t have ads during the game for the first time in years.

Meanwhile, Kraft Heinz is pushing to make the Monday after the Super Bowl, dubbed “Smunday,” a national holiday. The company will give employees off that day, which is already known as being a day of low productivity in the U.S. as millions of workers take off.

“Heinz is saying ‘never settle and make Monday more like Sunday,'” said Kim Riley, vice president and managing director at Harrisburg-based business-to-business marketing firm Sacunas Inc. “It’s genius and incredibly relevant to Super Bowl audiences. It helps their message stick.”

The Super Bowl ad season is largely consumer focused, but B2B marketers look for themes and patterns that they can apply to their own campaigns for clients.

Riley believes the common thread today is selling an experience. The ads today are not as much about the products and services that a company offers, but how those things enable experiences for people.

Yes, the digital world has forever changed the sales cycle in business because a lot is automated, she said. But people also want human interaction and to feel like they are buying something from businesses that is unique.

“There is a growing demand (in B2B) to be in the field and have a more physical presence in front of the customer,” Riley said. “The heart of every challenge in B2B is understanding your customer’s customer.”

She said that has prompted a growing need for thought leadership and to hire more industry analysts that can help predict or forecast business trends.

“We see a growing trend to find strategies that will allow manufacturers and other producers to get in front of the direct customers,” she said. “It’s so important to have a strong consistent message.”

Snickers is good at that in its ads, which often appear first during the Super Bowl, she said, citing the “you’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign from the candymaker. “They find ways to express that in new dimensions. They have the discipline to say the same thing over and over and repeat their brand promise, but they spin it in ways that it feels new and fresh.”

B2B brands also are less likely to use celebrity endorsements. Instead, they will focus more on finding subject matter experts that can speak to their more specialized audience about what makes them different.

“Our clients are investing much more in organic than paid,” Riley said. “Often times B2B is very niche and specialized and not talking to the masses. You may be marketing to a construction manager or utility operator.”

Understanding the specific needs of those people can go along way, she said. Brands need to be authentic and relatable.

“The Super Bowl is playful and fun and a great opportunity to create something clever,” Riley added. “But for everyday advertising, there is a level of skepticism when you pay someone to speak about your brand.”

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