Unpacking the game through science

The best way to understand the impact of a large event is through the social web. Not only is it the largest data set ever constructed, but it also presents people’s raw and unbiased reactions in real-time.

At 4C, we used our data science and platform to monitor the social roar of the Super Bowl. By capturing engagement, affinity, and sentiment we can understand how people reacted during the Super Bowl to identify the moments that will leave a lasting impression. We studied the pre-game, post-game, halftime, and every quarter and commercial break. In doing so, we created an extensive database of how America responded to every element of the spectacle. We invite you to take a look at our insights from how people actually felt about the teams, players, coaches, performers, and advertisers based on millions of authentic reactions and data science.

When it comes to the game itself, fans couldn’t have asked for a better matchup. The Seahawks and Patriots didn’t disappoint. Super Bowl XLIX was one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever played and it was reflected in viewer engagement. Social conversation built until the unexpected finale, peaking with Malcolm Butler’s end zone interception that sealed the Patriots as Super Bowl champions.

A good game is good for advertisers; it ensures the audience stays glued to the screen. The advertiser who ran during the most engaging part of the game was Wix.com. Their star-studded ad that included Bret Favre and Terrell Owens drove 10,387 engagements.

While Wix.com had a fortunate placement they weren’t the best ad of the night. To uncover the Brand Bowl winner, we turned to our affinity analytics. We ranked the ads based on their affinity amongst the Super Bowl audience and ability to generate engagement. Then we standardized the data to a 30 second spot.

Surprisingly, the winner this year didn’t have the star power, over-production and machismo that tend to define Super Bowl commercials. Rather, it was quite the opposite. Always came out on top with their simple call to redefine the meaning of #LikeAGirl. The other standouts built on a similar emotional theme and included McDonald’s Pay With Lovin, Budweiser’s Lost Puppy and Coca-Cola’s #MakeItHappy. Offbeat ads from Squarespace, Loctite and Doritos rounded out the Top 10 list, but their humor couldn’t crack the sentimental Top 5.

Nationwide and T-Mobile also made the impactful ads list, but not in a positive way. The sentiment for each of these advertisers was mostly negative. Nationwide’s unfitting-tone-for-the-Super-Bowl “Dead Kid” spot and T-Mobile’s selection of Kim Kardashian as a spokeswoman left people critically outspoken. T-Mobile’s presence on our list illustrates that while Kim K may not be embraced by all, her uncanny ability to break the internet on cue is unmatched.

The Super Bowl is the most competitive stage for advertisers each year. While there’s never a guarantee of success, we’ve broken down a few elements that made brands shine this year.

As the Super Bowl grows closer to being a month-long event rather than a few hours on the first Sunday in February, advertisers must decide on their strategy for releasing ads. Our science shows advertisers must make a tradeoff: either to sacrifice excitement and lift by not pre-releasing, or to pre-release their ad to gain higher engagement. Brands like Esurance, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s who did not pre-release their spots received 10% higher lift during the Super Bowl, but 20% lower engagement per ad.

A big, well-lit stage brings out the stars. This year, Snickers, T-Mobile and Wix.com prominently featured a variety of A-List celebrities in their commercials. Using celebrity talent is effective. Ads with celebrities received 58% higher lift than ads that didn’t.

Back in 2009, Miller High Life broke the mold with a 1 second commercial in the Super Bowl. Then, in 2011 Chrysler created an epic 2 minute homage to Detroit. Since, advertisters have bought a variety of formats to communicate their messages. Should one long ad be purchased or multiple smaller ones that make up the same amount of time? It turns out the idiom “Don’t spend it all in one place” rings true. Multiple ads, that were normalized on a time basis, had 20% higher engagement.

There is a tradeoff to running a series of ads. Each subsequent ad after the first makes less of an impact. Budweiser, Doritos, Lexus and others aired multiple ads throughout the game and on average, their second ad generated only 80% the buzz of the first. Esurance and Chevrolet ran three ads each and the average lift for their third ad fell to 44% of the first. McDonald’s was the only brand to reverse this trend. They did so by creating an ambiguous first spot that teased their feature commercial. Other advertisers’ commercial series were complete stories in their own right and each time a brand was repeated, people showed less excitement.

While Super Bowl commercials are world famous, the game and halftime show are the main draws for most people. As shown below, engagement per brand is about a third of the engagement per Super Bowl Athlete or Celebrity. The volume of conversation around the celebrities is surprising. During the preeminent sporting championship, people care nearly the same about the celebrities as the athletes.

While Katy Perry headlined the halftime show, Missy Elliott and Lenny Kravitz nearly stole it. Social media flurried with activity when each musician took the stage, moreso than when Katy started her show. However, in terms of shear volume and popularity, Katy was unmatched.

Every year, celebrities, athletes, and advertisers come together to capture American’s attention. Social data provides a detailed log of how people respond to each of these variables and behave in their native environments. It is an unbiased and powerful source of information that when combined with data science reveals unexpected connections and opportunities. Using this lens on the Super Bowl, we’re able to understand critical moments, people, and advertisers to quantify marketing and uncover actionable insights.