Forget the Super Bowl—On the Internet, Your Ad Is Forever

Watching TV, we’re exposed to commercials through a one-step model: we choose to watch a show and commercials are part of the package. For the most part, if you want to enjoy the show from the comfort of your own sofa, either you catch the show when it airs or you’re out of luck. On the Internet, through platforms like YouTube, commercials can become the destination. So it’s worth thinking about why some ads have a life far beyond the gridiron, and others fail to convert on 4th and inches.

On TV, commercials are presented in the context of a show. Their goal is to maintain enough interest that the brand message gets through. The commercial appears before a relatively captive audience, and is competing against your desire to use that time for a snack or a bathroom break before the real show resumes. Increasingly, its job is to stand out enough that it causes you to stop fast forwarding on your DVR.

But on YouTube, that 30 or 60 second vignette becomes the star of the show. It must stand on its own and inspire viewers to like and share it with people they know. So only some commercials that work on TV also have the characteristics that make them work outside of their original context on the Internet.

Everyone knows that some version of “buy me” is the point of a commercial, but that’s not enough the make the commercial a destination or to recommend it to friends. There has to be something more.

Several factors influence online views and shares, including:

  1. Content: compelling imagery, action or ideas that engage the viewer and deliver something beyond mere advertisement.
  2. Source: “name” or “trusted” sources impart a halo effect to the things that bear their imprint.
  3. Structure: two particular structures are most likely to be shared—a narrative that conveys a complete story arc, or a high contrast structure that offers a vibrant, poignant or surprising twist or contradiction.
  4. Emotion: an emotional punch (delivered through effective use of content and structure) is the most likely to be shared. We especially share humor, warmth, and surprise.
  5. Reflected Image: each of us is prone to share certain kinds of materials, depending on our implicit sense of image management. We share things that reflect on ourselves in the ways we desire and that reinforce our relationships with those we share.

We can see the importance of these factors when we compare how commercials did in their initial Super Bowl airing with their performance on YouTube.

Top Ten AD METER – USA Today Video Buzz – TriVu
Budweiser – Lost Dog Budweiser – Lost Dog
Always – Like a Girl Super Cell – Clash of Clans
Fiat- Blue Pill Bud Light – PacMan
Microsoft – Tech Helps BMW i3 – Newfangled Idea
Doritos – Middle Seat Mercedes – Fable
Dodge – 100 Years Snickers – Brady Brunch
Toyota – Dad Nissan – With dad
Coke – #Make It Happy Fiat – Blue Pill
Nissan – With Dad Coke – #Make It Happy
McDonalds – Pay with Love Mophie – All Powerful

Commercials for Always, Microsoft, Doritos, Dodge, Toyota and McDonalds did well, according to the USA Today Ad Meter, but didn’t appear in the Top 10 for TriVu’s Video Buzz analysis. Instead, videos from Super Cell, Bud Light, BMW i3, Mercedes, Snickers, and Mophie rounded out the YouTube best performers.  Why the difference?

Considering our influence factors sheds some light on this relative difference in performance. Those videos that performed better on YouTube shine in one or more of our dimensions. The Super Cell “Angry Neeson” commercial presents a story with a twist and packs a humorous punch. It’s visually interesting and easy to share with friends who want to share a laugh. Something similar can be said for each of those ads that did better on YouTube than in the context of the Super Bowl. All of the advertisements topping the TriVu Video Buzz index scored well on multiple online influence dimensions.

There were also four advertisements that appeared in both the Ad Meter and the TriVu Video Buzz charts: Budweiser, Fiat, Coke and Nissan. Again, all four score high on the five important dimensions. But, as in most years, no one does Super Bowl advertising better than Budweiser—both during the game and online.

The lesson here is clear: it’s important to have an ad that does well for its intended television viewing, but the ad will live far longer on the Internet. And if that second life is to be successful for the brand, advertisers need to consider the impact beyond the context, including these five factors that drive success far beyond the original airing.

About the Author

Kevin Payne

Dr. Kevin Payne is the co-founder and vice-president of TeraCrunch. He's been a research methodologist and data scientist for more than 20 years; he's also a self-professed computer geek. He's based in the Kansas City suburbs.

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