11 Super Bowl Digital Marketing Campaigns That Ran Up the Score

Learn how to stand out before, during, and after the big game from brands that mastered it

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Anyone who does work related to sports marketing knows that putting together a winning Super Bowl campaign can be a competitive sport. Each year we look forward to seeing who gets into the game and judging who comes out on top; more so than watching that other competition unfold (you know the one on the football field),  if we’re really being honest.

So which brands have sweated it out over the years to produce A-game Super Bowl marketing campaigns? Spoiler alert: We’re about to give you the play by play—and we’re not going to hold back on the sports metaphors—of the customer-centric brands do we look to for inspiration before game day. Go ahead: Take a knee.

Real-Time Marketing Hits and Misses

1. Oreo — “Dunk in the Dark”

Dubbed the winner of Super Bowl marketing in 2013 and considered the catalyst for real-time marketing, Oreo won fans over during the infamous blackout of Super Bowl XLVII with its timely tweet, “You can still dunk in the dark” with a picture of an Oreo cookie on a dark background. There’s a reason we’re still talking about it in 2017. It’s because they achieved the right balance of authenticity and creativity, while talking about themselves without taking themselves too seriously.

Let J.C. Penney’s real-time marketing follow-up to the blackout dunk, which at first glance appeared like drunk tweeting (but later proved to be caused by someone  tweeting with mittens), serve a cautionary tale for marketers as an example of what not to do.

2. California Avocado Commission — Real-Time Recipes

In 2016, the California Avocado Commission garnered praise for its modification to the Oreo play: It responded to each food commercial aired during the Super Bowl by posting original food and recipe videos to social media demonstrating how avocados could be best paired with those foods (yes, even Snickers).

Customer Messaging Touchdowns

Timeliness is still a strong play in 2017. And we now have data on the times in which viewers are most likely to engage with the second (or even third) screen experiences, with mobile engagement particularly strong after kickoff and heightened social messaging activity lasting long after the game ends. Today’s marketers can plan out multichannel promotional campaigns, leveraging in-app messages, push notifications, email, and in-app News  Feed Cards, reaching fans when and where they’re most likely to engage.

While paid and social media get most of the attention (and, let’s face it, most of the glory, too) from game-related marketing commentary, compared to counterparts like mobile and email messaging, it would be a rookie mistake not to come up with a strategy for Super Bowl-related email marketing campaigns, not only because email is one of the most effective mobile marketing channels but also because of its high ROI.

3. Walgreens — Email

It’s a well known fact that food and game day go together like pizza and beer or chips and salsa. In fact, viewers consume an average of  1,200 calories and 50 fat grams just from snacks. So, well played, Walgreens for sending a countdown clock to the start of the broadcast, along with snack-specific deals and promotions.

4. Vosges — Email

High-end chocolate company Vosges hasn’t been much kinder to our will power by effectively using rich images in emails promoting its snacks, Game Day recipes, and Super Bowl themed events.

5. Victoria’s Secret — Email

Victoria’s Secret used an email campaign tied to America’s most-watched event to showcase its fitness apparel, preview its Super Bowl ad and tease a promotion only available at the end of the game (and in its immediate aftermath). This creates a second touch point with customers at two different times during the day, on a day when mobile users are already highly engaged with their devices and primed for relevant messaging.

6. Hulu — Email

In 2013, the streaming platform Hulu effectively used its game-day email campaign to encourage subscribers to watch the best Super Bowl ads from previous years on Hulu and to come back the next day to vote for the best commercials of 2013, supporting ongoing user engagement.

Other Digital Marketing Hits and Misses

Customer messaging is an essential part of the Super Bowl marketing mix these days, but even if your brand ponied up for a TV ad and has their mobile and email strategy figured out, that doesn’t have to be the end of your efforts. There’s a world of emerging marketing technologies out there that can help you grab—and hold—your audience’s attention during the Super Bowl and other major cultural tentpoles.

7. Garmin — Search Engine Optimization

Since SEO’s early days, sites like Search Engine Watch and Marketing Land have been scoring how well brands—many of which have invested hefty sums for paid and social campaigns—have secured top spots in Google and other search engine results. Their findings? Many brands overlook simple steps that can help them rank well. Garmin was one early standout (getting it right ahead of the curve back in 2007), earning coveted top of page results for brand and category-related terms to complement its investment in a Super Bowl ad campaign.  This kind of coordinated strategy  is  increasingly important as viewers generate millions of brand-related searches related to the Super Bowl—and do so and almost exclusively on mobile devices.

8. Jeep — Vertical Video

For years, advertisers have been creating video for TV and then sharing it on social media. The last several years have seen a shift towards teasing commercials on social, as well as testing out different options on social and selecting the best performing to share on game day.

Last year, Jeep took things one step further by airing a social-optimized video during the broadcast. The theory? The video looks good on social from the get go, and catches at-home TV viewers’ limited attention, magnifying the impact of the ad buy.

9. Gatorade — Super Bowl Ad on Snapchat

When tennis superstar Serena Williams got splashed, via animation, with gallons of the sports drink, Gatorade’s Snapchat video ad received almost as many views (100 million) as the number of people who watched last year’s Super Bowl (119 million)—which goes to show you can make a splash without being a traditional broadcast advertiser.

10. Domino’s — IoT Marketing and Alexa Integration

Already a first-string player in the mobile ordering space, Domino’s branched out to IoT marketing by promoting voice ordering via Amazon’s Alexa ahead of and on game day in 2016. The announcement got a lot of positive coverage and kept Domino’s front of mind during one of the most distracting times of the year for consumers.

11. Tostito’s — Connected Devices and NFC Technology

This year, the snack product is tackling a sensitive issue for sports fans—namely, drinking too much alcohol—with a “Don’t Drink and Drive”-themed bag of chips. The snack packaging will detect whether someone has consumed alcohol and warn them not to drink and drive. Tostitos fans can then tap their smartphones to the bag, which uses near-field communication (NFC) technology, to request Ubers home and claim $10 off the ride.

Ready to join in the game?

Plan to communicate with customers on or around game day? Be careful about being intrusive. As one Redditor put it, referencing one brand that sent push notifications during the game, “It’s like watching the game with some annoying person standing there wanting to talk about themselves. Come on, man.” If your message isn’t relevant and doesn’t add significant value, you may want to reconsider sending.

Here’s our best advice for how to ride pop culture and current event moments, like the Super Bowl, with elegance during your next sports marketing campaign. Above all, stay true to your brand voice and values. Clear eyes, full heart, and marketing smarts–can’t lose.

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