Social Bowl XLVII: Why a Mid-Sized Firm or Small Business Must Play Its Own Game on Sunday

Words "Social Bowl XLVII" with football player background

We all know that the Super Bowl is the Super Bowl of, well, Super Bowls.  It’s even MORE super for mega-brands with colossal marketing budgets, fancy Hollywood contacts and burping frogs.  But not everyone is a Coke… Or even a Pepsi.  Consequently, if you’re a mid-sized business looking to maximize your advertising dollars this Sunday, the place to spend that cash isn’t on TV, but online.

Say you’re Shasta.  Or Thrifty Car Rental.  Or Kettle Brand.  Sure you have an ad budget, but at $3.8 million per 30 second TV spot, those dollars are burned in a half-minute.

But social media is different.  There’s a lower financial barrier to entry and seemingly endless opportunities to improve your “bang for the buck.”  So rather than blow your budget on 30 seconds, small businesses and mid-sized concerns should stretch their Benjamins across Twitter and Facebook.

As Portent’s President Steve Gahler says, “You can’t own the Super Bowl, but you can own the space where everyone talks about the Super Bowl.”

Here’s how you, too, can put some points on the board during the biggest media marketing event of the year.

The Game Day audience

Last year, 111.3 million people watched the Super Bowl – the largest audience ever.

And according to NBC (last year’s broadcaster), 2.1 million people watched the game live online.  Yes, a much (much) smaller market, but potentially a more tech-savvy, higher-income one as well.  Add that number to the masses following the game on social media and you have a nice chunk of engaged fans to market to.

This year’s broadcaster CBS will be streaming live on their site, as will

TV ad costs

Up, up and away:

Graph line of cost per 30 seconds of Super Bowl ad time over past 40 years

According to Forbes:  “Current reports plug [Super Bowl XLII’s] ad price at $3.8 million, up from the $3.5 million that companies paid for a spot at [last] year’s game, and that is just the cost of air time. Ad budgets for Super Bowl commercials can run as high as $5 million per 30-second spot.”

So, potentially $8.8 million for 30 seconds.  Yes, it’s the biggest media event in the world, but…

Super Bowl ads don’t work for everyone

According to NBC News:  “Most of the top 10 [Super Bowl] spenders are perennial also-rans. Yum! Brands, owner of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, spent $67 million over the past 10 years. Meanwhile, McDonald’s, the indisputable market leader, spent less than half that amount and is not a top 10 spender. Similarly, E*Trade, well-known for the talking baby campaign, spent more than any other online brokerage firm, yet remains fourth in the industry.”

Most mid- to-small-size companies can’t afford to blow $9 million on a spot that doesn’t guarantee a great ROI.  And for all their hype, Super Bowl ads don’t.  For example, check out this graphic from’s Football Freakonomics:

List of companies that failed after buying 30 second Super Bowl ad spots

Social media and television: Partners in engagement

According to the latest Nielsen Social Media Report, “As of June 2012, more than 33 percent of Twitter users had actively tweeted about TV-related content. Some 44 percent of U.S. tablet owners and 38 percent of U.S. smartphone owners use their devices daily to access social media while watching television.”

And those numbers are an aggregation.  Super Bowl engagement is even higher.

But does social really convert?

Even the NFL is using social media to evaluate Super Bowl ads’ ROI.  The NFL’s Head of Sales Seth Winter says social media improves an ad’s TV value, allowing them to charge more.  So why not start with social if you can’t afford the TV kit and caboodle?

Where to spend your money: Twitter

In the final moments of last year’s game, Twitter interaction was averaging over 12,000 tweets per second.  PER SECOND.  And the grand total for Super Bowl related tweets?  13.7 million.

From Zander Lurie, SVP, Strategic Development at CBS:

Zander Lurie Super Bowl Tweet

They refer to it as a “second screen” experience: the audience watches conventional media while using new media to comment on / interact with it.  Take a look at this graphic by Nielsen:

Charts of simultaneous smart phone and tablet usage while watching TV

And for social proof, do you know who’s monitoring Twitter on Super Bowl Sunday?  All of those enormous in-game advertisers… For real time feedback, they turn to the social media network.

(Interesting aside: With social media, you may not even lose an impression due to a pit stop: according to the Nielsen report, 32% of people use social networking in the bathroom.)

Option 1: Promoted Tweets

A tip from Twitter’s advertising department: “Leverage real-time intent: Run Promoted Tweets in search to target relevant [timely] terms that have trended in the past on Twitter and are likely to once again spark high levels of discussion.”

A Promoted Tweet looks like this:

Promoted Tweet example


And just in time to collect your Super Bowl dollars, Twitter made improvements to Promoted Tweets:  You can now target negative keywords.  Their example: “If you sell bacon, you can now keep your campaigns more than six degrees apart from Kevin Bacon by using ‘Kevin’ as a negative keyword.”

You can also target your promoted Tweets to geographic regions (a great advertising option for brick and mortar businesses), existing follower base and gender.

But the best thing about Promoted Tweets?  You only pay when people play.  From Twitter: “Promoted Tweets are priced on a Cost-per-Engagement (CPE) basis, so you only pay when someone retweets, replies to, clicks or favorites your Promoted Tweet.”  Pretty sweet deal for someone with a small ad budget.

Option 2: Sponsored hashtags

Also known as Promoted Trends, a sponsored hashtag will appear at the top of Twitter’s Trending Topics list at the left of a user’s feed.

Sponsored hashtag example

Anecdotal evidence of their efficacy – at least for bigger brands – is positive.  For example, Coke used a promoted tweet during the 2010 World Cup and snatched 86 million impressions with a 6% engagement rate.

Today, the price tag of a 24-hour sponsored hashtag is around $120,000, though Twitter is expected to hike that cost for this year’s Bowl.  It’s a bargain at even twice or three times that figure, however, when you consider that your brand will stay in the spotlight for 24 hours (compared to a 30 second, $3.8 million TV spot).

Sponsored hashtags also appear on iPhones, Android mobile devices, Tweetdeck and Hootsuite, making them a good choice for folks tweeting in front of their flatscreens.

A caveat: As with any social or viral marketing campaign, you do not control the interaction.  It is important to consider that the hashtag, once created, takes on a life of its own.  Some of your feedback may be negative. For example, check out the Republican National Committee’s #AreYouBetterOff debacle.

And for those of you truly looking for a bargain, you can get ahead of the game and capitalize on tags that you KNOW will be trending; in 2013, #ManofSteel, #IronMan3 and #Hangover3 are all pretty safe bets.  You can also check out hashtag search engines like Tweet Archivist or Tweet Charts to see what people are talking about most.

Option 3: Promoted accounts

While a promoted account won’t necessarily be visible on everyone’s Twitter page, it allows for greater targeting of potential customers. Twitter’s algorithm recommends a user follow your account only if they fit a specific profile, resulting in less wasted coverage.

Promoted Account example

Like Promoted Tweets, you only pay for interaction – specifically when someone follows your account. You decide how much you want to spend per day or new follower, and you can geo-target.

Our in-house social media guru Doug Antkowiak also suggests: “Promoted accounts target people based on who the target account is already following.  If you want to be seen by a specific niche, you need to go follow those people first.  Followerwonk is a great place to start.”

Where to spend your money: Facebook

Are people really looking at their Facebook pages during the big game? studied the wall posts of more than 1,400 brands during game time and found that engagement during the Super Bowl soared 60%.

Not unexpectedly, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg maintains advertising on Facebook is better than advertising on television.  More unexpectedly, she had this stat to back it up:  Facebook’s daily traffic is over three times greater than Super Bowl viewership.

Option 1: Facebook Ads

Facebook Ads allow you to select a page or piece of content you’d like to promote.

Facebook Ads example

Facebook has greater targeting dexterity than Twitter, allowing you to select from a number of demographic categories, including location, age, gender and interests.  You set your campaign budget and are charged every time someone sees your ad or sponsored story.  Then choose whether you’d like to optimize for engagement, impressions or clicks.

If a mid-sized business elects to go with Facebook Ads, it may want to create some pieces of quality Super Bowl-centric content to promote on Game Day.  Craft the message for your target market and select the demographic filters that correspond.

Option 2: Facebook Apps

More expensive but great at brand building, Facebook apps allow you to more fully engage with a potential customer base, often via a contest, game or service.  It also enables an advertiser to control a corner of the social media juggernaut, increasing user engagement rates.

With highlights like automatic bookmarking, newsfeed stories and a notifications API, Facebook apps are front and center for engaging potential customers.  Once you reach 10 active users, your app will be automatically included in the Facebook search index.  Facebook Insights also allows you to accurately track user engagement and referral traffic.

In fact this year, Doritos is using a Facebook App to choose their network Super Bowl commercial as the latest incarnation of their popular “Crash the Super Bowl” promotion.

Doritos Crash the Super Bowl screen cap

While posting your app to Facebook is free, building it can cost anywhere from $500 to tens of thousands of dollars.

Your Game Day playbook

  1. Start with content.  Create something relevant to the Super Bowl, but not necessarily about football.  Think of your target market and generate a campaign that connects your product or service to the event in a way that engages them.  For a conventional media example, the Puppy Bowl entertains Animal Planet’s demographic (pet owners) with a silly, cute ‘game’ that is relevant enough to capitalize on the Super Bowl’s PR, but distant enough they can carve their own niche.
  2. Capitalize on Twitter trends through promoted tweets and sponsored hashtags.  Also take advantage of some ‘free’ promotion with Tweets using hashtags that are certain to be popular.
  3. Anything that is cost-per-whatever, consider using.  You’re only paying for people who have seen your Facebook ad/Promoted tweet/account/etc.  No wasted coverage.
  4. As always, monitor and measure.  Improve.  You’ll have another shot next year.

The takeaway

“Playing your own game” is about forging a relationship with your customer base on your terms.  Small- to mid-sized businesses should grasp the opportunity to capitalize on a trending, water cooler topic like the Super Bowl, but they must do so strategically, for the right price, and be able to measure the result.

For anyone who’s not Coke (or even Pepsi), the smart money’s online.  There you’ll have time to build a brand identity… One that stands a chance against a talking gecko and some Clydesdales.

Ultimately, you can spend $3.8 million on 30 seconds of TV which may or may not catch fire… Or you can become part of the excited, week-long dialogue that surrounds the big game, engaging potential consumers on a topic they are already vested in.

Now it may be too late to implement a strategy for the Super Bowl – it IS on Sunday – but there’s still a little time to capitalize on the Female Super Bowl: the Oscars air on Sunday, Feb. 24.

Am I missing any other viable social media ad outlets for Super Bowl Sunday?  Should we bet on YouTube?  Pinterest? (Hint: not them.)  Let me know in the comments below.

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  1. Great information to take away here, you always want to make sure that you are incorporating whatever holiday or special occasion is being celebrated around the time you want to push out marketing campaigns. Having a strategy in place is always a good idea, thanks for sharing with us.

    1. Thanks Larry. Seems like a no-brainer to capitalize on something you know in advance will be trending (Christmas comes every year 🙂 – yet sometimes we need a reminder.

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