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9 Ad Innovations That Scored During Super Bowl LII

Note: This article was updated Feb. 5.

Ratings for last night’s Super Bowl dipped 3%. That makes it the lowest-rated Super Bowl in eight years but also likely the highest-rated TV event of the year. Some 111.3 million people tuned in to the Super Bowl on Sunday. While the Philadelphia Eagles’ 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots was the main attraction, the advertising in between carried its own kind of excitement.

Among the highlights: According to USA Today’s Ad Meter, Amazon’s 90-second ad for Alexa was the clear winner, followed closely behind by the NFL’s Dirty-Dancing-style ad. Meanwhile Procter & Gamble’s meta “It’s a Tide ad” ads seems to have won over ad creatives.

“It was a significant improvement over last year,” said Hayes Roth, founder of HA Roth Consulting. “Last year I found them boring and just didn’t remember them. There was too much soft and fuzzy stuff.”

This year promised more, as we saw in the weeks leading to kickoff. Following are the nine creative, technology-infused types of ads we had looked forward to watching, along with some updates from last night’s Big Game.

1. An Ad For An Audience Of One
The Mars candy brand called it the most exclusive Super Bowl ad ever. Instead of airing it during the game, Skittles showed its ad to just one person: Marcos Menendez, a teenager in Canoga Park, Calif. The company then used its Facebook page to livestream Menendez’s reaction during the game. At this writing, that video got around 43,000 views.

To publicize the effort, Skittles released four trailers for the ad. The latest featured “Friends” star David Schwimmer shooting beams of light out of his eyes. Will Burns, CEO of Wenham, Mass.-based agency Ideasicle, praised the brand for making an end run around the Super Bowl. “The strategy is to get this out to the kids,” he said. “I suspect it will catch fire.”

“Since Skittles is all about disrupting the ordinary, we figured wed disrupt this model,” said Ari Weiss, chief creative officer for DDB North America, which created the effort. Weiss said the Super Bowl venue is still the hardest one for ad creatives.

“It’s such a tricky marketing window because the sooner you start talking about your Super Bowl plans, the more interesting they have to be,” he said, “and the more content you have to create to keep your audience truly engaged.”

2. Real-Time Ads
Last year, Hyundai, Snickers, and Tide experimented with real-time ads during the Super Bowl. In Snickers’ case, spokesman Adam Driver mentioned the then-current score of the game (21 to 3, Atlanta) during the ad.

Steve Sottile, Unruly’s North American president, said he expected to see more such efforts this year. “The Tide and Hyundai campaigns really stood out,” he told CMO.com.

Unruly’s stats showed higher-than-average engagement for both, Sottile added. Hyundai, for one, had released a teaser ad claiming its Super Bowl ad will “surprise millions.” And why not? Last year, Hyundai shot an ad during the Super Bowl at Houston’s NRG stadium and a military base in Zagan, Poland.

This year, Kraft’s first Super Bowl ad featured family photos from fans that it had collected via Twitter and Instagram up until the morning of the game. As for Hyundai, it had to cancel its real-time ad at the last minute. The automaker had hoped to film fans at the U.S. Stadium in Minneapolis but scrapped the idea due to the NFL’s security concerns.

3. Personalized Party Invites
Tostitos wanted to help viewers spread the word about their parties. To do so, the PepsiCo brand created a digital ad Super Bowl invitation creator. The program, on Tostitos.com, let party planners provide their names, addresses, and the times of their parties. The site then created a customized video, which includes those details, for people to share via Facebook, email, or other messaging platforms.

Like other efforts, the ad, featuring Fresh Prince star Alfonso Ribeiro, used visual tricks to personalize the content. For instance, Ribero covered his mouth with a bullhorn when he mouths the party giver’s name. The party’s address also appeared in a text on someone’s phone in the video.

4. Experimental Time Lengths
Ever since online video became an alternative to TV, advertisers have questioned the standard 30-second length for ads. Most recently, Fox began running six-second ads during NFL games. But that didn’t mean we’d see them during the big game this year. NBC has said it will not run ads of that length during the Super Bowl (though it plans to run them during the Winter Olympics).

As we all know, Super Bowl advertisers have been experimenting with different time lengths for years. Back in 2009, Miller ran one-second ads, which boosted sales 8.6% for the week after the game. More often, advertisers go over the standard 30-second allotment. In recent years, Fiat Chrysler and Samsung have tried 120-second ads. Dan Lovinger, executive VP of advertising sales at NBC Universal Sports Group, recently said there will be more long ads this year than ever before.

Actually, the longest ad this year was Amazon’s 90-second spot for Alexa. The shortest was Intuit’s 15-second ad.

5. Transmedia Storytelling
Some of those aforementioned long ads were expected to cross platforms, from TV to online, in order to tell their full stories. Last year, for instance, 84 Lumber told the story of a mother and child who came to the U.S. from Mexico. The ad ran for 90 seconds on TV, then instructed viewers to go to journey84.com to view the remaining three minutes and 20 seconds.

Truth be told, the tactic didn’t work very well. Ad-scoring firm AceMetrix said the ad was one of the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ads ever. But that low score may have more to do with the content—it was a very serious and polarizing ad—than the fact that only part of it ran on TV.

This year, the approach had few takers, though Intuit’s animated “Giant Story” ad ran automatically on YouTube right after its Super Bowl ad. Giant Story, which went live on Feb. 1, had 10 million views as of this writing.

6. Augmented Reality
Few advertisers had announced plans for an AR tie-in. One that had: Glimpse Group, an AR firm, which worked with Super Bowl advertiser M&Ms to create an augmented reality cover for Adweek. To experience the cover, you need to download Adweek’s AR app, which reveals animation featuring the M&Ms icons. Monster Technology, another Super Bowl advertiser, also recently announced a deal with VR/AR company VibeHub.  

7. Snapchat Tie-Ins
What a difference a year makes. Last year, the pre-IPO Snapchat was commanding $3 million for Super Bowl filter packages. This year, Snapchat’s pricing hadn’t been publicized. But Snap planned to offer several lenses and creative tools for Snapchatters. It also released Super Bowl-related content. Snapchat’s Discover Page featureed Publisher stories and eight curated Our Stories, which featured Snaps submitted from fans and players.

8. Prompts to Go Online
Advertisers often tag their ads to elicit some social media activity. But the way they do so could be changing. Last year, about a third of Super Bowl advertisers used hashtags, down from 45% in 2016, according to MarketingLand. Instead, marketers showed a preference for good ol’ URLs, which were featured in some 39% of ads to encourage viewers to visit the brand’s website. That was the first time since 2014 that URL mentions outpaced hashtag mentions. We’re waiting for 2018 stats. 

9. Shout-Outs To Home Assistants
Last year, an ad for Google Home activated the device in many users’ homes. Then, a few months later, Burger King did the same with a TV ad that asked, “OK, Google, what is the Whopper burger?” Since TV audio activates Google Home and Alexa without even trying, the possibility for more deliberate efforts this year wouldn’t have come as a shock.

And yet they didn’t; both used slightly altered audio in their TV ads so as not to set off the devices. Now, of course, the talk about Amazon is its “Alexa Loses Her Voice spot,” featuring a cast of celebrities who tried to replace Alexa when her voiced failed her. Even CEO Jeff Bezos made an appearance.

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