CBS to Move Super Bowl Ads Online: Can Iconic Brands Learn from Smaller Campaigns?

CBS is set to stream Super Bowl ads online for the first time ever in 2016, according to a report by Variety, which may mean double exposure for brands that can afford the hefty premium placed on big game air time.

In recent years, Super Bowl ads haven’t packed quite the same punch they have in previous years. In fact, recent studies have shown that 80 percent of Super Bowl ads don’t produce any meaningful impact on customers’ purchasing decisions. However, by streaming ads online as they air on television, CBS seems to be banking on a bigger audience, making 30 second spots worth the $4.5 million price tag. 

But the problem with Super Bowl ads could be that they’re too conservative for an online audience that’s used to more innovative approaches to audience engagement. 

“No marketing event is bigger, or in many ways, more gimmicky, than the Super Bowl,” says Priscilla Flores Dohnert, Brand Director for Newcastle Brown Ale. “When brands invest in incredibly-expensive Super Bowl ads, it often results in a more conservative approach.”

However, smaller brands, like British beer company Newcastle, have recently begun finding innovative ways to use Super Bowl hype to bolster their campaigns online without shelling out major advertising dollars. For example, last year’s Newcastle “Big Game” spot featured comedian Aubrey Plaza making fun of the exorbitant cost of Super Bowl ads and encouraged smaller brands to create one logo-packed mega ad that would rely on social engagement for views, rather than traditional television. The campaign ended up drawing more than 4 million views for a fraction of the cost of a Super Bowl ad. 

“The Super Bowl ad game plays by very traditional rules, but we knew that there was an engaged audience that wanted something different, and we delivered that,” Dohnert says. “Since we didn’t have big media budgets that could compete with other advertisers, our goal was to deliver content people would have fun watching and share, so we could get more than our fair share of viewers.”

But for larger, more iconic brands that have relied on traditional Super Bowl engagement, the digital shift could be a little bit painful. For example, Budweiser’s Clydesdale ads, which have always been a Super Bowl staple, have lost relevance in recent years. In 2015, “Lost Dog” was received positively across social media, but Budweiser didn’t receive any brand lift from the costly ad. 

According to Allen Adamson, North American chairman of Landor Associates, a global brand consultancy, a sweet story that has little to do with the brand isn’t going to cut it for an online crowd. 

“The reason ‘Lost Dog’ didn’t do well for the brand was because it was an ad that people remembered for the dog in the story, but it didn’t have enough to do with why they should buy Budweiser,” Adamson says.

But moving ads online could mean a greater chance to link ads to a product, which means innovative ads could potentially correlate to sales.

“People can actually shop for a product when they’re not distracted by 100 people at a Super Bowl party,” Adamson says. “But the big challenge will be creating online content that’s sharable and that people want to watch while integrating brand story.” 

While large brands struggle to find a happy medium between water-cooler conversation starter ads and brand-integrated online content, smaller brands like Newcastle will have to double down on their efforts to engage audiences amidst new game time competition. 

“Most big brands had some presence online around the Super Bowl, but a more concentrated shift to digital means smaller brands have to work a little harder to stand out from the crowd,” says Dohnert.

CBS has not publicly confirmed that Super Bowl ads will air online, but sources close to the move have confirmed to ClickZ that ads will air both on network television and online during game time. 

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