An estimated 103 million people tuned into this year’s Super Bowl. Once upon a time, that would have been a staggering number, but today we live in a world where Twitter’s 300 million user number makes it an underdog in the social media space.

The viewership is off from recent years, maybe because of the #ImWithKap movement, maybe because Gen Z isn’t that interested in organized sports, or maybe it’s because (almost) no one was fired up about the likelihood of yet another Brady-Bowl.

Regardless of the exact numbers, there’s no question that the attention from advertisers is there. They’re still paying an average of $5.4million for the opportunity to present a 30-second message to those of us who are still paying attention during the commercial breaks. But why?

In recent years, the value of the Super Bowl ad has compounded because of all of the peripheral benefits: Super Bowl ads uploaded to YouTube pick up millions of views, social media conversation lights up around great ads, and earned media can pile up with just the right mixture of puppies and political messaging.

That’s why brand wallets continue to loosen up, even as nearly everything else in traditional media is struggling: Because a great Super Bowl ad is just the start.

As a first example, let’s look at the walking, tweeting media platform that is @ChrissyTeigen. She and her husband John Legend teamed up with halftime performer Adam Levine to create a spot for Pampers. The in-game airtime was well received, but the real impact was felt on Twitter and Instagram. Pampers knew that the place that they could really get parents fired up was in the replies and comments sections. And it worked.

If we only add up the accounts owned by Chrissy, John, Adam, and Pampers, we’re looking at an audience of 65 million people. That’s before any of the hundreds of thousands of Retweets, Shares, and the attention that it will continue to pick up long after the game. It’s reasonable to call out that the social media reach of the Pampers ad was not only much more engaged, it actually had a bigger audience than the Super Bowl.

Then we’ve got a brand that looked to the internet for inspiration, and gave its audience exactly what it wanted but were afraid to ask for:

Autonomous sensory meridian response

Have you heard of ASMR? It’s an internet video trend that’s made up of soft, slow, soothing sounds and texture-based images that conjure up a hypnotic obsession among its viewers. Michelob Ultra saw the strange trend as an opportunity and created the world’s first ASMR Super Bowl ad.

And every once in a while a curveball shows up that should make us all question the very premise of what we’ve been focusing on.

Over the weekend, Fortnite hosted a live in-game concert with Marshmello. So what, right? A video game streamed some music to some kids. Not quite. There were an estimated 10 million+ people at this virtual event, and while 63% of Fortnite players are between 18-24, that means that as many as 4 million of those people were over the age of 25.

Fortnite Marshmello concert
Image source:

This time around the only corporation involved was the Fortnite game itself, but what about next time around, when there’s more media hype and gaming has become even more mainstream? When there’s a 100-million-person live event within an online platform, will we, as brands, give it the same type of attention that we give to the Super Bowl?

Ballin’ on a budget?

The real “So What?” here is how do we, as non-Super Bowl advertisers, apply any of this thinking to our own work?

What Pampers and Michelob Ultra did right is foundational to great strategy, and can be applied to nearly every campaign opportunity.

First, they understood their audience. To the active, single, partying crowd, the Pampers ad is cringe-y, and to the new parents that ASMR video was weirder than it was soothing. One of the ways to know that we’re on the right track is when the wrong audience hates our creative concept.

Next, the strategies went far beyond the spot. We all have opportunities that come up for our brands whether it’s a conference, a product launch, or an appearance on breakfast television. The Super Bowl winners are the ones who considered: How can I create conversation, how can I amplify this to the right audience, and how can I own the story well beyond the spot?

And finally, they made real investments beyond the primary media push. Here’s a real example of that: Junction has worked with several brands to do paid placements with digital news sites or influencers. The cost to get that exposure can be significant, and some brands will stretch their budgets just to get that article written or Instagram story shot. But then all of their eggs are in that basket and they’re left rolling the dice that people flock from a single post.

The most successful brands that we’ve seen have all kept some powder dry to make the paid placement into a much bigger story.

The opportunity that digital presents us is not to discard opportunities like the Super Bowl, it’s to see them as sparks that pique a moment of curiosity. Breaking through is hard right now; Everyone’s trying to do it, but when the messaging is right and there’s a legitimately interesting story to tell, a moment is all that we need.