Who Won the Paid Search Super Bowl?

Ulla Saleh Feb 10, 2017

Advertisers spent an average of $5 million to secure a 30-second commercial slot during Super Bowl LI, up from an estimated $4.8 million in 2016. Given that the Super Bowl is the most watched television event of the year, competition is fierce and the pressure on advertisers to get the most bang for their buck is enormous.

In the past, good Super Bowl marketing meant producing a visually captivating and creative ad. Today, however, that is not enough. Now brands need to run a full-fledged marketing blitz. The TV commercial needs digital marketing support in the form of online content, paid search ads, and social campaigns to tease the audience in the days leading up to the big event, maximize engagement during the game, and keep the buzz going for days after. As part of that buzz creation, advertisers spend an additional 25% or more of the cost of their commercial slot on promoting the ad.

With over 100 million pairs of eyeballs watching the commercials and many more fingertips scrolling over and clicking on paid search campaigns, the Super Bowl offers search teams the opportunity to launch complicated and integrated campaigns utilizing all the tricks of the trade.

Playing Monday morning quarterback on advertisers’ paid search campaigns, while fun for search experts, also makes good sense since a lot can be learned from the experiments these brands tried.

So, who were the winners of Super Bowl LI on the paid search front?

Every year, we set up some policies with our paid search monitoring technology to see which advertisers had the most search impressions on keywords related to the Super Bowl. And here are the ones that made the top 10 during the February 3-5th period:

Paid Search Top 10

  1. 84 Lumber
  2. Intel
  3. Youtube.com (Mostly YouTube AdBlitz, Bud, and Bud Light) 
  4. Sling TV
  5. Fanical Sports Community
  6. Snickers
  7. DirecTV
  8. Michelob Ultra
  9. Pepsi
  10. Avocados from Mexico


Among the top 10 advertisers that we saw the most, a few stuck out. Here’s a look at four of those advertisers and what we can learn from them.

84 Lumber
84 Lumber clearly dominated by consistently showing up at the top of the Search Engine Results page before, during, and after Super Bowl LI.

Super-Bowl-LI-Lumber84-Ad.pngTheir Super Bowl commercial follows a mother and daughter’s journey to cross the border into the US and ends with the pair opening a wooden door in a wall along the border. After Fox decided the ending was too controversial, 84 Lumber retooled and ended it with a cliffhanger that directed viewers to see the end of the story online. Not only was this ad unusual in that it featured a political issue that is being hotly debated right now, but its recruiting-focused campaign was also unique.

How effective was it? If the goal was recruit talent, only 84 Lumber knows. But in terms of raising brand awareness and sparking conversations, it was very effective. In fact, the company told Marketing Land that the microsite they set up received 6 million requests an hour after the ad aired.

Sling TV
Since the NFL owns the trademark “Super Bowl” and only allows certain sponsors to use the term, brands have to be creative and walk the line of saying “Super Bowl” without actually using the trademarked term. We have seen in years past that “the big game” is a commonly used phrase to replace “Super Bowl,” and this year was no different. Sling.com used the website www.sling.com/The-Big-Game to entice viewers to live stream the Super Bowl, thus taking viewers away from network TV.


Snickers took up a lot of space on the SERP during the period we monitored with their use of Facebook teaser ads that directed viewers to their Facebook page. The draw? The first-ever live commercial to be shown during the Super Bowl, featuring Star Wars actor Adam Driver. There has been discussion since the Super Bowl about how successful the campaign and subsequent apologies were, but the technique of using teasers and facebook to roll out the campaign and extend the hype around the live commercial are notable.


Avocados from Mexico
Avocados from Mexico also made our top 10 advertisers list and offered viewers something visually interesting and tasty, by providing recipes for guacamole and “Avo Footballs” through its sitelinks.
Super-Bowl-LI-Avocados-from-Mexico-Ad.pngMerkle’s fourth annual Digital Bowl Report gave the Avocados’ ads high marks:

Although the primary landing page was the brand’s homepage, that page was transformed into a unique and highly interactive app interface in the shape of a virtual smartphone. This experience played particularly well on mobile devices, and served to make Avocados’ ads much more engaging after the click than those of many other advertisers.

Four very different brands with very different strategies. What do they all have in common besides being willing and able to spend a lot on paid search?

  1. They were part of a well-planned and integrated marketing blitz that started well before the Super Bowl and continued well beyond the event.
  2. They all engaged audiences across multiple devices and fully embraced the fact that we now live in a multi-channel world.
  3. They all used gimmicks or teasers to grab and keep the viewers' attention, whether it was the use of a controversial topic, a first-ever live commercial, or a tasty recipe.

With the stakes getting higher and the competition for audience and clicks on the sidelines of the main Super Bowl growing fiercer each year, who knows what next year will bring? Maybe a brand will hire an illusionist to make the football teams disappear from the field. Now that would certainly catch everyone’s attention.





Topics: paid search

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