The Importance of the Super Bowl's Digital Marketing Sidecar

01/19/2017 05:20 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2018

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By Andy Taylor, Senior Research Analyst, Merkle

Maximizing the digital footprint of Super Bowl advertising campaigns extends much further than simply posting television ads to YouTube. In order to effectively take advantage of the huge amount of online activity generated by the biggest American sporting event of the year, brands need to understand how to leverage multiple digital marketing channels to ensure visibility throughout a short window of audience interest, via social media, organic search, paid search, and display advertising.

Social Media Engagement Can Help Support Television Campaigns and/or Steal Some Shine

For brands investing in game-time television ads, calling users to interact on social media networks like Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram can be a strong way to enhance brand awareness and top-of-mind recall. Whether deliberately calling viewers to engage in a specific way on social media or simply being prepared to interact with those viewers who are making use of second (or even third) screens in real time, brands need to have a strategy for how to connect with consumers online.

Social media interactions need to not only engage customers with entertaining or otherwise meaningful content – they also need to convey the voice and messaging of the brand itself. Many brands today employ young social media managers well-equipped to mix it up with other brands and customers with timely ‘Twitter snark.’ For example, Wendy’s recent spat with a customer arguing that their burger meat was frozen and not fresh, as Wendy’s advertises. However, while such tone and voice may work well for one brand, it may be counterproductive for others if it doesn’t align culturally. As such, taking advantage of social media means crafting a strategy that magnifies a brand’s message without compromising the brand’s authentic appeal.

For brands which don’t pay for a television slot, social media provides an opportunity to slide into the Super Bowl conversation at a much lower cost. For example, in 2015 Volvo’s “The Greatest Interception Ever” promo asked its fans to tweet using #VolvoContest during other car brand’s Super Bowl commercials, garnering exposure without the television ad investment of its competitors.

Hitting it big with a social media post during the game certainly requires some luck. However, the cost of producing social content in real time and staying ready to take advantage of opportune moments in game flow is relatively small for the opportunity to inject a brand into the Super Bowl discussion.

Search Engine Optimization Prior to the Big Game is Key to Strong SERP Positioning

Viewers aren’t just tuning into social media accounts during the big game – they’re also turning to search to learn more about specific brands, to replay ads, and to find other information related to the game. That means an important part of Super Bowl marketing strategy comes in the form of creating a dedicated landing page for Super Bowl-related queries to feature in search engine results pages (SERP).

Dedicated landing pages should be discoverable for relevant queries such as “super bowl commercial + [brand name],” as well as feature optimized title tags, headlines, descriptions, content, and internal linking. Pages also need to be deemed mobile-optimized according to Google’s mobile-friendly testing tool.

Organic search traffic has suffered in recent years as a result of search engine changes which made users more likely to interact with ads or other SERP features, but it remains critical to own organic real estate for searches that are relevant to your brand, particularly when tied to a huge advertising campaign such as a Super Bowl commercial.

Paid Search Ads Secure the Top Spot in Search

Paid search ads get the top spot on SERPs for many queries relevant to Super Bowl brands and commercials. Brands should bid on keywords relevant to their brand name with bids high enough for ads to reach the first page of results. Ads must have copy relevant to the Super Bowl and advertisement, as well as be equipped with all relevant ad extensions, which are ad features that can expand the size and visual appeal of text ads, such as sitelinks. Some sites also advertise their YouTube channels, allowing a single business to account for two ad listings on the SERP.

Brands can also look to bid on terms for other Super Bowl advertisers, such as in the case of Budweiser bidding on Loctite’s keywords in 2015. Loctite fired back, however, getting feisty on social media.

Display Advertising Buys Help Cement Visibility across the Web

As mentioned earlier, nearly all advertisers tease commercials on YouTube ahead of the Super Bowl in order to begin building interest. Including relevant links and placing companion banners on YouTube can help to maximize the visibility of these videos and pull viewers to brand websites.

Outside of YouTube, advertisers should also consider paying for banner placements on top sites. While some viewers are on social media or search engines during the big game, many are surfing the web, and placing banner ads on high-traffic sites can garner significant views and brand interactions. By adding remarketing pixels to any relevant pages ahead of time, brands can tag site visitors for digital remarketing later, extending the life value of Super Bowl campaigns.

Digital Efforts Complement Television Campaigns and Give Brands without Super Bowl Spots a Voice

The real value of leveraging digital channels in the Super Bowl environment can be difficult to measure. What is the impact of a retweet on top-of-mind awareness? How is the likelihood of a purchase changed by seeing a brand’s ad ahead of the game? And how on earth can these impacts be measured individually while happening concurrently with a massively viewed television spot?

These are questions advertisers are still struggling to answer, but two facts are clear:

1) The cost of online visibility across these digital channels pales in comparison to the cost of the Super Bowl television spots they can help support.

2) These channels can be credited with driving impressions, website visits, video views, social interactions, and other user engagements that stand to positively impact brands down the line.

Thus, whether for a huge annual Super Bowl advertiser or a small brand trying to elbow into the conversation, digital channels can help reach potential customers and deliver effective messaging during this huge event.

About the Author

Andy Taylor is a Senior Research Analyst at Merkle, responsible for analyzing trends across the digital marketing spectrum for best practices and industry commentary. A primary contributor to the Merkle blog, Dossier, and quarterly Digital Marketing Report, his 6+ years of experience have seen him master and provide valuable insights into topics that extend across paid search, comparison shopping engines, display advertising, SEO, and social media. Prior to digital marketing, Andy worked as an event organizer for a political campaign and dabbled in freelance writing. A graduate of the University of Virginia with a degree in Economics, he likes to spend his free time watching documentaries and selling homemade ice cream sandwiches at farmer's markets with his wife.