The Super Bowl of Marketing: Quantifying the Impact and Online Afterlife of TV Ads

San Diego’s Covario, a five-year-old startup that provides analytics and services for digital marketing, convened its annual users conference in downtown San Diego yesterday. The event draws top marketing executives from companies like Intel, Procter & Gamble, and Research In Motion (RIM), which led Covario to develop a movie theme around the “Top Guns” of search, social media, and digital advertising.

Dressed like Tom Cruise in a leather jacket and aviator glasses, Covario co-founder Russ Mann took the stage to announce, “I’m Russ Mann, CEO of Covario—and ‘Maverick.’ “

Yet with the Super Bowl looming as the single biggest U.S. advertising event (distinct from the weeks-long World Cup or Olympic Games), Mann might have made a bigger impression if he had dressed like Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, with his trademark long, curly hair.

Russ Mann (aka "Maverick")

TV commercials for the Super Bowl, which are estimated this year to cost $3 million for 30 seconds, have long been in a league of their own. Nielsen Sports media research estimates that almost half of those watching the game this Sunday are actually tuning in to watch the commercials more than the game. More than 106 million people watch last year’s game.

At Covario’s event yesterday, some of the most interesting insights stemmed from efforts by the chief marketing officers at major companies to bridge the gap between online digital marketing, where everything can be quantified, and old media marketing, where advertisers relied on focus groups and intuition in the hopes that ad spending will translate into greater product sales.

Advertisers these days view TV advertising as a catalyst, said Sean Corcoran, a senior interactive marketing analyst for Cambridge, MA-based Forrester Research. In a keynote presentation yesterday, Corcoran said “the Millenials” (people born in 1980 and later) tend to multi-task—they’ll check the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) during a movie and player stats during a football game. Other viewers go online afterward to replay commercials.

“In 2009, Nielsen estimated that Web traffic increased 63 percent for Super Bowl advertising after the game,” Corcoran said. After last year’s Super Bowl, Boston-based Visible Measures, an independent company that measures traffic for Internet video publishers, advertisers, and others, reported a number of insights, including:

—The 2010 Super Bowl ads have been viewed over 90 million times in social video, nearly equal to the TV audience.

—The ads spread a total of nearly 3,000 unique video placements across more than 30 video-sharing networks, generating more than 60,000 comments and 90,000 ratings.

—Socially-driven video placements accounted for more than 18 million views in total, more than 20 percent of the views tracked in the study.

Nowadays, Corcoran added, marketing executives also are pushing to get viewers to their Facebook pages during the Super Bowl in an effort to get people to talk about brand and content.

“We’ve done studies for some of our customers around their televised advertising,” said Covario’s Mann. “You can see when a spot runs on TV that it has a direct impact on search for certain words and phrases.” He offered several insights from Covario’s studies:

—Mann said he expected to see Web traffic spike on a customer’s website after broadcasting a commercial on TV. What he didn’t expect was much “shelf life,” as Web traffic remained high for two weeks after the TV broadcast, before declining back to baseline numbers.

—TV commercials about existing products did not trigger a major bump in the number of online searches. But advertisements for new products showed dramatic increases in the number of online searches.

—From studies of Web traffic triggered by advertising during the Super Bowl and Olympic Games, Mann said, “I could infer that large-scale events are good for launching new products, but not necessarily for reinforcing [consumer awareness of] existing products.”

—The bigger the commercial and the shorter the event [i.e. televised coverage of a football game versus World Cup soccer] —the bigger the impact.

These days, Mann said, “There is this clamor in this post-recession, cost-conscious world to no longer let the [marketing] media people at big companies operate in different silos. There’s an increasing demand to pull it all together, to find out what drives consumption, and what drives desire.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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