#6: The biggest Super Bowl social media wins

From branded reaction GIFs to $1 million Twitter contests, brands stepped up their social media games for Super Bowl LV.

Ah, Super Bowl Sunday - the one time a year that the general public likes marketers and pays attention to their ads.

I'm sure some of you are already tired of reading roundups and analyses of the best and the worst commercials. Worry not, as this isn't going to be an article about the ads themselves. Rather, I looked at what Super Bowl advertisers did on social media to complement their multi-million dollar spends. We know many viewers are also on their phones while watching the game, so I think it's a huge opportunity for brands that have bought their way into the broadcast to capitalize on their investment by also being present in online conversations.

For this analysis, I mostly looked at brands' Twitter strategies, given that that's where the majority of Super Bowl and "Brand Bowl" conversations took place. 6 brands stood out, not for having the best ad(s), but for how they used social media as event sponsors. As always, at the end, I'll share some lessons that social media marketers can take away and apply to their strategies 📝

1) Mountain Dew - Using Twitter features to their fullest

Mountain Dew aired an ad announcing their new Major Melon flavour. For their ad, Mountain Dew created a contest: the first person to correctly count how many Mountain Dew bottles are shown in the ad will win $1 million (!!). The ad instructed users to submit their guesses via Twitter, making this a very social-first activation. Watch it here.

Looking at their timeline, they've had thousands of replies and participation from users. I would attribute Mountain Dew's success to these key tactics:

  • Teased the contest on Twitter a few days before the Super Bowl, so users already knew what they'd have to do once the ad aired (important because the winner will be awarded based on the first correct guess, so it was beneficial to prep users)

  • Smart use of the "brand reminders" feature (again, the time-sensitive nature of the contest would motivate users to opt-in to the reminder)

  • Posted supporting tweets during the broadcast with common questions about the contest (i.e. what counts as a bottle), as well as polls and memes

  • Used a Twitter bot to reply to entries - ensuring users had their entries confirmed, and also reminding them that they had 3 chances to enter

  • Participation from verified accounts who joined in on the guessing - I mean, checkmark or not, who wouldn't want to win $1 million 😉

Overall, I thought the contest was a smart way to appeal to a mass Super Bowl audience - even if you don't like Mountain Dew, who wouldn't want the chance to win a million dollars?!

2) Indeed - #NowHiring Twitter thread

Indeed struck an emotional chord with their ad about helping people get hired - a timely nod to the economic conditions that many have faced over the past year. Watch it here.

To complement their ad, Indeed spent much of the Super Bowl broadcast posting various hiring-themed tweets using the hashtag #NowHiring. Here's what I thought they did well:

  • Retweeted/quote-tweeted posts from their partners like Citizens Bank, Hasbro, MediaCom, Reebok, and the 49ers assistant coach who shared links to their job openings on Indeed - I think this is one of the smartest moves from the Super Bowl, as Indeed got exponentially more reach through the partners' audiences AND the partners all drove traffic to Indeed's site

  • Each time an ad aired, Indeed posted a witty comment and link to their site with job openings from the advertiser (Mars Global, Doordash, Chipotle, Pringles, etc.); what's more impressive is they had custom vanity URLs prepared for each advertiser

  • Created visuals (GIFs) that matched the design of their Super Bowl ad, to use alongside tweets about professions that are hiring on Indeed - woohoo for integrated campaigns!

I know I said I wouldn't analyze the ads themselves, but the one thing I think was missing in Indeed's ad was a mention of their hashtag, #NowHiring. This would have been a good call-to-action for job seekers to go to Twitter and see all of the good content that Indeed was sharing.

3) Cheetos - Multi-platform social activation

In their ad promoting a new flavour, Cheetos went the route of many other Super Bowl advertisers - using big celebrity cameos. The Cheetos ad featured Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher singing a parody of Shaggy's "It Wasn't Me," who also appeared in the ad. Watch it here.

Per data from Sprinklr1 and Influential2, Cheetos had the biggest spike in mentions out of all ads during the game, mostly due to the star power of Kunis/Kutcher/Shaggy. On social, Cheetos did an excellent job of using not only Twitter, but also Snapchat for a multi-platform activation. Key takeaways:

  • Made their Super Bowl ad interactive by allowing fans to scan it in Snapchat to get a free bag of Cheetos - a pretty novel use of technology AND a compelling offer (we're all in the snacky mood during the game, so I'm not surprised it drove high purchase intent3)

  • Tweeted other fellow brands with customized graphics combining the Cheetos mascot and the advertiser's brand (i.e. Turbotax) - a lot of brands did this, but Cheetos did it in a non-cringey way, and it's impressive that they were able to generate the graphics on the fly (or perhaps prepped them ahead of the game knowing which brands would be advertising)

  • Had GIFs created from their ad, ready to share in reactive tweets during the game

  • Ran a Twitter contest based on game action (the "first steal of the night"), which allowed the brand an authentic way to be involved in the game conversation

  • Exchanged tweets with the ad's star, Shaggy - bringing more each & engagement from Shaggy's followers

Although contests are sort of an engagement cheat code on social, I think Cheetos did a good job of using them to be relevant to the conversation and to push users to engage with the brand as soon as they saw the ad. Interactive ad + reward = brand affinity ✅✅✅

4) Dr. Squatch + Reddit - Brand authenticity

I'm calling out two brands here for doing the same thing well: being authentic. Dr. Squatch is a niche DTC men's soap brand that aired an ad featuring two comedians, while Reddit aired a 5-second ad referencing the recent $GME events. Watch Dr. Squatch’s ad and Reddit’s ad.

Both brands stayed away from the corporate game of branded GIFs and tweeting every brand after their commercial. Instead, here's what they did:

  • Dr. Squatch shared bloopers/behind-the-scenes from their Super Bowl ad (both entertaining and a way to humanize the brand)

  • Reddit posted a blog about the ad on Reddit, creating a discussion with their community and rallying their biggest fans

  • On Twitter, Reddit created a thread with very Reddit-esque reactions, as well as this humble proclamation - all very reflective of Reddit's human, down-to-earth brand personality

  • On Instagram (where their following is much larger than on Twitter), Dr. Squatch hyped up their audience about the ad a few days ahead of the game

  • Rather than tooting their own horn, Dr. Squatch retweeted earned coverage & fan reactions to their ad

For having the shortest (and cheapest to produce) ad of the Super Bowl, Reddit impressively earned the 3rd-most mentions and tweets4. They're the last ones laughing at how much other brands spent on their celebrity cameos.

5) State Farm - Real-time tweets

Speaking of celebrity cameos, that brings us to the last brand in the social roundup - State Farm. For their ad, State Farm employed Drake as a play on "Jake from State Farm".

As much of the ad was focused on the Jake/Drake joke, I think it was smart to use their @JakeStateFarm account rather than @StateFarm. Both accounts tweeted during the game, but the better real-time content came from @JakeStateFarm, such as:

  • Memes - How it started vs how it ended, wrong answers only, tell me without telling me, with some tweets earning pretty good engagement:

  • Branded reaction graphics - Similar to Cheetos, but with Jake inserted into other brand contexts (props to the creative teams who had to be on call during the game!)

  • Drizzy tweet - Ok, so this wasn't on the @JakeStateFarm account, but Drake tweeted about the ad (aka huge brand awareness); shockingly, neither State Farm account retweeted it!

  • Twitter bio text - @JakeStateFarm's bio description was changed to "You used to call me (at 3am) on my cell phone." Gotta use all opportunities to make a truly integrated campaign!

While all brands used the same real-time reactive tweets strategy, I think State Farm did it most genuinely and engagingly. I’ll be taking notes for the next time I'm live-tweeting an event sponsorship 🤓

Honourable mention: Velveeta’s legal workaround

Some inspiration for brands when you can't afford to buy-in as a sponsor: Velveeta live-tweeted every commercial without actually mentioning anything that could get them into legal trouble.

👩‍🏫 Takeaways for Social Media Marketers

  1. To ensure viewers pay attention to your 60-second (or 5-second) ad, post teases and build hype on your social accounts leading up to the air date (especially if the ad requires instructions to participate)

  2. Find ways to naturally integrate your brand into the real-time social conversations, such as creating activations tied to the event itself

  3. Prepare reaction graphics/GIFs ahead of time (do your homework and anticipate the reactive opportunities as much as possible)

  4. If you're going to engage other brands in conversation, talk like a human, not a brand - and don't force your brand into every interaction

  5. Use social to humanize your brand with behind-the-scenes and self-aware content

Further reading:

Watch all commercials from the 2021 Super Bowl

The Most Talked About Super Bowl Ads – Sprinklr Insights

Best of Tweets - Brand Bowl LV