The Super Bowl in a Networked World: How Do You Stand Out?

Capturing the attention of an audience during the Super Bowl presents new challenges in this increasingly social world. As one of the most-watched events of the year, the Super Bowl attracts not only sports fans, but a diverse audience of people tuning in for the half time show, the commercials, or merely for something to do on a Sunday evening.

The Super Bowl has never been just about the football game, but this is even more the case as our networks and social connections extend and strengthen. As Oreo demonstrated in the Super Bowl Blackout last year, companies have the opportunity to seize the moment and stand out among hundreds of other companies trying to achieve the same goal. Oreo set a precedent for the future of marketing and the Super Bowl. As Sebastian Joseph described in his article in Marketing Week:

This year’s Super Bowl was billed as the battle of the real-time marketers as brands looked for their own Oreo “Dunk in the Dunk” moment.

One of the most talked about social media stunts this year was the release of senseless tweets from J.C. Penney, generating a discussion that the social media intern was drunk or the account was hacked. Turns out it was a planned effort to promote their #tweetingwithmittens campaign. Regardless of your opinion of this tactic, they successfully created quite the buzz.

This movement to real-time marketing may be a result of the fact that consumers are just not that impressed with ads anymore. In his article in Network World, Yoni Heisler describes how this era focused on Super Bowl ads may be coming to an end.

From Facebook to Buzzfeed to Reddit to any number of viral videos or pictures, people today don’t suffer from a lack of creative content hitting their respective news streams…I say that to say that Super Bowl commercials are underwhelming because we’re getting our creativity fix across a diverse set of media on a daily basis. In other words, there are so many more avenues these days for companies to get their message and brand identity out into the universe.

It takes even more effort, creativity, and probably money for a company to create a Super Bowl ad that really stands out and resonates with viewers. The influx of platforms (many of them free) have given companies plenty of other options. As a result, some of the most talked about brands leading up to, during, and after the Super Bowl opted out of spending money for a commercial spot.

The result of this shift from a sole medium to an integrated (and longer lasting) campaign has to do with the increased connections and networks people have online. In his book, Networked, Barry Wellman discusses how the consumption of information and the way we communicate has drastically changed due to the rise of networks. He claims:

The role of experts and information gatekeepers can be radically altered as empowered amateurs and dissidents find new ways to raise their voices and challenge authority.


Courtesy of Google Images

This is exactly what brands were looking to do during the Super Bowl. Standing out is about doing something out of the ordinary (whether planned or not) and creating buzz. It’s not necessarily about who spends the most money on an extravagant ad–buzz can result from a single tweet. For example, the previously mentioned tweet from J.C. Penney prompted real-time responses from other brands and average tweeters–bringing attention to both the content creator and the conversation participants.

If the content is memorable, people will pass information on to their networks who will pass it on to their networks. As Anderson, Bell and Shirky explain:

All journalists carry with them a network and always have, whether it is a network of sources and contacts, or a network of those with similar professional knowledge, or a network of a community that follows and helps them.

Not only do journalists have networks, but everyone has a variety of networks that make them unique. It is through these networks that Super Bowl marketers hope their content becomes a part of, regardless of the medium they use to get their name out there.


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