Super Bowl commercials are about much more than what airs on the big screen during the game. What started as calls-to-action to visit a brand’s .com website grew to requests to ‘like’ them on Facebook. Today, most brands that air Super Bowl ads plan and execute multi-faceted campaigns across digital and social platforms, often spanning several days before and after the actual football game.
But wait, there’s more. The celebrities that pepper the Super Bowl commercials can yield enormous additional value to offer when they activate their social media channels, too. The question is: Are brands paying for the celeb[s] to play a role in their commercial or are they truly partnering with them for a campaign? With that in mind, here’s a look at how the ambassadors/stars of the commercials for several prominent brands used their social channels on and around Super Bowl Sunday.
Verizon had a mission to go after the gaming audience and ensure everybody knows that Verizon 5G is the only way to game. Their ambitious, video game-themed ad starring Samuel L. Jackson capped off a lot of activity, particularly with a roster of NFL players, to amplify Verizon’s campaign around gaming in the days preceding the game. Most of the NFL players did their part by quote-tweeting a Verizon tweet, as opposed to posting a native tweet (perhaps by design, perhaps just for simplicity and convenience). JuJu Smith-Schuster, a noted gamer and wide receiver, posted a retweet sweepstakes with prescribed copy on his timeline. Meanwhile on Super Bowl Sunday, Samuel L. Jackson got his hands on a GIF and directed a tweet with it to JuJu. The Jackson tweet properly put the period in front of JuJu’s Twitter handle, too (a glaring omission made on a since-deleted brand tweet by another brand celeb on Sunday…see later in the column). The campaign took place almost entirely on Twitter only and they were able to activate a lot of ambassadors, some better than others.
GM had a star-studded ad that included Kenan Thompson, Awkwafina, and Will Ferrell in an ad that went after Norway in a comical way to promote GM’s dedication to producing electric vehicles (and help the US surpass Norway with the most EV’s per capita). While Ferrell adds a lot of value on-screen, he does not maintain an official Instagram or Twitter account, so only ⅔ of the ambassadors even had channels to activate. Both Thompson and Awkwafina posted the 30-second ad on their respective accounts (Instagram only for Awkwafina). They each also went a little beyond by posting on their Instagram Stories, including Thompson sharing a full-screen image and having a poll, text, and swipe-up link on his. It’s hard to come off earnest when promoting this ad, but going the extra step of doing a little on Stories helps add a bit more authenticity from the effort. Looking at GM’s own brand account you can see they had a few videos cut for IG Reels that performed very well; such video cuts could have been something unique to provide to their two stars, too. Especially with the way Reels rack up views. But celebs may also choose to keep Reels less-produced and more personal. Overall, they had their ambassadors with social media do their part.
Bud Light had a catchy commercial in which it was raining lemons in the neighborhood, to promote their Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade and a play on 2020 being a ‘lemon of a year.’ (They also later had a nostalgic Bud Light Legends ad). The lemons ad may not have featured a high-paid celebrity, but they did have an onsite ambassador, who happens to be a viral Internet celebrity — @dudewithsign (run by @fuckjerry), who boasts over seven million Instagram followers. He is known for, what else, holding signs. So, moments after the commercial aired, the broadcast cut to @dudewithsign there at the Super Bowl, holding a sign with lemons and wearing a Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade mask. His IG and Twitter accounts soon posted pictures of his Super Bowl appearance, racking up over a million engagements and driving good exposure for Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade. Sure, it was just a couple posts, but all those that know him from social media had their attention grabbed and when they went to their phones there was the proof that he was in on it. That real-time nature matters for engagement.
Mountain Dew had a clever campaign that had fans tweeting after the ad aired. The commercial promoting Mountain Dew Melon starred John Cena and also featured a bunch of bottles of the soda bouncing all around the screen. The call on social media was for fans to tweet their guess for how many bottles there were in the ad using a specific hashtag for a chance to win $1 million. Cena posted similar messaging, along with a native video (that earned ~ 200,000 views). The conversation results included approximately 300,000 tweets with the hashtag and massive follower growth (compared to other Super Bowl brands). The most notable part of Cena’s involvement was a tweet a week prior. In the tweet, Cena re-shared Mountain Dew’s Twitter video (adding a huge # of views to Mountain Dew’s video and therefore social proof). It also teased the ad and made use of Twitter advertising’s ‘like to remind’ feature, garnering over 43,000 likes. And the tweet still appeared via ‘Twitter for iPhone,’ adding a bit of authenticity to the tweet (as much as a tweet with that many links, handles, and hashtags can be).
Cheetos grabbed at a bit of nostalgia with a play on the Shaggy single “It Wasn’t Me” (which came out all the way back in 2000). In addition to Shaggy, the commercial starred Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis. The ad was around stealing a few Cheetos (and getting caught red-handed, as one does when eating Cheetos). Cheetos did a good job activating across channels, including an AR filter, and their ambassadors did a little bit on game day to support the ad. Kutcher posted video on his Instagram last week with language that sounded pretty natural to him. (Mila Kunis doesn’t have official social accounts). Shaggy’s supporting posts on Instagram look neither planned nor produced — and that’s kind of why they’re great, too. Send ambassadors product, let them post however they see fit, in their real house, with their real phones (or at least send them photos that look like that). Cheetos could have some fun with that more ‘raw’ content from the actors, too. The Cheetos brand account itself has been posting video clips from the ad going back to mid-January. [Cheetos also did some interesting stuff with Snapchat and scanning their ad to win free chips, but we’re just focused on the endorsers in this column].
The Amazon Alexa ad came late in the game, but the commercial starring Michael B. Jordan had already been shared quite a bit on social media throughout the week, well before the game kicked off. This spot was definitely more than just a TV ad, with Kevin Hart joining the campaign and setting off a course of engagement with Jordan that continued through Super Bowl Sunday. Hart posted a fun, authentic-feeling video on Instagram a week before the game and also posted to Twitter a few days before the game. With Hart’s posts it’s notable that they included a text-only post, a lot of hashtags/handles in others, and multiple tweets with YouTube (as opposed to native) videos. This likely resulted in lower views overall (the goal could have been to maximize YouTube views, of course). Michael B. Jordan did an admirable job, including putting up (and annotating) content on his Stories on game day calling out Kevin Hart. He also posted multiple times to his Instagram feed, with the full ad spot also on his IGTV. The use of real-looking footage, Stories, @ mentions, and multiple posts were effective for Alexa. It’s great to see ambassadors ‘engaging’ with each other over social, though some IG comments and Twitter replies could be low-touch, effective ways to add even more to the campaign.
A Few Others
One of the catchiest ads of the day was ‘Drake From State Farm,’ a wonderful play on the well-known ‘Jake From State Farm’ ad campaign. And State Farm (both the Jake and the brand accounts) did a good job engaging on social throughout the day. Their superstar Drake, however, erred with his tweet (I’m not here to assign culpability). His tweet mentioned the Jake From State Farm account at the beginning of the post without inserting a “.” before the handle, which resulted in the tweet not going in the timelines of all 39 million of his followers, but only those following both him AND the Jake From State Farm account. It was later corrected, but that’s one to learn from for brands as a lot of engagement and measured reach were lost along with the original tweet.
Toyota’s ad with Paralympian Jessica Long was the clear winner of the day among any ad trying to conjure up emotions. Looking at Long’s social media posts on her Instagram feed, which included the full spot earlier in the week and a still-photo on Super Bowl Sunday, she came off very genuine. One could tell she was excited and proud. The humanity and relatability were also evident on her Instagram Stories on Sunday, showing her family watching the ad featuring her on the broadcast together and reacting. She quote-tweeted Toyota on Sunday, too, instead of tweeting natively, which may have been (even likely) by design, in order to add to the video’s 12M+ views. With an ambassador like Long, there was probably no shortage of content she would love to post across her channels, so supplying her with more than enough assets could’ve augmented the volume even more.
A quick look at the Jason Alexander ad with Tide and accompanying activation shows a couple of posts on his channels. The tweet included detailed text, clearly supplied by the brand, and a link that generates no preview on the Twitter timeline. He posted the full spot to his Instagram over a week before the game. It would have been good, even just a Story post, to have something on his Instagram on game day when the ad aired.
Here are the two posts from Dan Levy to support his commercial with M&M’S.
UberEats had very little going on on social from their Wayne’s World-themed ad and its stars. Dana Carvey had nothing on his social, Mike Myers does not maintain Twitter or Instagram accounts, and the biggest social media darling of the ad — Cardi B — did not offer access to her massive social audiences. (Maybe that costs more!).
The DoorDash ads with Sesame Street did not get much support from Sesame Street’s sizable social channels, just a single IG Story frame on game day.
Tracy Morgan gave Rocket Mortgage some impressive tonnage across his social media channels to support his ambassadorship and ad campaign with the brand. He had a ton of posts all over his Twitter and Instagram feed with different cuts, creative, and copy in support of his endorsement of Rocket Mortgage. Dave Bautista also posted on his Instagram feed before and after the ad aired (with just a quick cut pregame). Morgan, in particular, provided a lot of access, and Rocket Mortgage tried to make the most of it with different messaging, creative, even trying to goose their YouTube, and more. The only notable misses were nothing on his Stories and the purely white thumbnails on a couple of the IG feed videos.
The Super Bowl ad campaigns continue to integrate more fully with social media each year. And the celebrities they pay big rates to be at the center of those campaigns can and should deliver value beyond their screen time during the spot. Effectively activating ambassador/star social media channels is not about itemizing a certain number of posts or other stipulated social media support in a contract. No, it should be a partnership — both parties should stand to benefit.
The social media posts or content the ambassadors make should be valuable for them, too, showcasing them in a brand-building and positive way. The brand (and its agency) can also equip them with a bunch of cool content they can post on their own, whether with messaging direction or not. Advertising is often about ‘have to,’ while partnerships come off more authentically, more about ‘want to.’ Hopefully every year, outside of the obvious hashtag #ad or tagging, it’ll be harder to tell which social media posts are prescribed/mandated for celebs and influencers, and which were posted at their discretion, by their hands.
The advertising, endorsement, and broadcast commercial paradigm is overdue for transformative change. The industry picked up a few more yards this year, but we’ve still got plenty of room to go to reach the end zone.