For people who aren’t big football fans, there’s really only two things to look forward to when the Super Bowl comes around:

  1. The puppy bowl, and its yearly re-enactment of sporting glory with tiny furry animals
  2. The clever commercials that brands pay millions of dollars to air during an event that is predicted to have over 120 million viewers.

Super Bowl ads always seem to be exercises in absurdity – from Apple’s iconic 1984 ad during the 1984 Super Bowl, to Reebok’s hilarious Terry Tate: Office Linebacker ads of 2003. Advertisers will be spending a reported $4.5 million per 30 second spot on NBC’s coverage of this year’s Super Bowl, which begs the question: why can I watch so many ads online a full week before the Super Bowl?

The answer is simple – fans are already talking about the Super Bowl online, and leaving ads out of the game is leaving potential viewers on the table.

Budweiser and the #BestBuds

Last year your Facebook feed was likely inundated with people posting an adorable video of the type of bond that can only exist between a golden lab puppy and a Clydesdale horse. This year Budweiser took a similar approach, and launched the newest #BestBuds video on January 28th on YouTube:

By 3pm on the 29th, the video had already racked up over 7 million views. Assuming the video was posted at the stroke of midnight on the 28th, that’s just over 186,000 views per hour. Every hour.

And Budweiser isn’t alone – Mercedes-Benz has also released its Super Bowl ad online in the days leading up to the event, as has Snickers, Squarespace and many, many others.

The Future of the Internet is Television

None of these companies are strangers to online video. Budweiser posts its #UpForWhatever content on a rolling basis, and Snickers has a channel devoted to their “You’re not yourself when they’re hungry” series, but somehow the Super Bowl seems different. Is it worth spending $4.5 million dollars to secure such coveted ad space when you’re planning to post your video online for free anyway?

Brands are increasingly realizing that posting videos online has a distinct advantage over live TV – especially with the viewing restrictions in place on events like the Super Bowl. By posting the #BestBuds ad online ahead of the big game, Budweiser can cash in on two major benefits of online video:

  1. The network effect: I’m not a football fan, but I’ve still seen six Super Bowl ads, and shared two of them to my Facebook feed. Most of my close friends aren’t football fans, but they’ve commented on them, shared them, cried over them, laughed at them, you name it. Online video opens brands up to a much wider audience, and ensures that content doesn’t flash and fizzle during the Super Bowl, but instead lives before and after.
  2. Increased tie-in to social channels: Brands everywhere are embracing the so-called “second screen” movement, and using social networks as a complementary experience to live TV. While there’s plenty of chatter about the Super Bowl in the weeks leading up to it, brands that don’t engage before the big event miss out on this. Posting ads ahead of time allows companies to capitalize on the wave of social activity, while maximizing their investment in the videos they’ve created.

Controversy – The Other Side of Social

While releasing video content early allows brands to capitalize on the online pre-hype, virality is a double-edged sword. GoDaddy has already faced harsh criticism for its ad, a tongue-in-cheek take on Budweiser’s puppy tale that angered animal rights activists for its perceived promotion of puppy mills. The ad has already been pulled (watch it below), presumably leaving GoDaddy to find a suitable replacement for its ad before Sunday’s big game. Can one get a refund on a $4.5 million advertising slot during the sports event of the year?

Posting content online also means that your failed Super Bowl ad lives on – potentially forever. Groupon angered many with its joke about Tibet during the 2011 Super Bowl, and while the controversy blew over, the video lives on thanks to the power of YouTube.

Why Online-First is Important

The bottom line for every advertiser is maximizing returns while minimizing costs, and posting Super Bowl ads online is an easy way to get more bang for your buck. While the Super Bowl draws a one-time audience of 120 million people every year, YouTube makes ad content available for as long as brands wish to offer it. Budweiser’s original Best Buds ad has over 55 million views on YouTube, and that number continues to rise slowly but surely every day.

Live television may still be the best way to watch the Super Bowl, but for brands looking to maximize the exposure of their ads, online video is the key to building pre-event buzz. Don’t believe me? Keep an eye on your social feeds over the next few days – I guarantee you’ll see at least a few #BestBuds. Whether you want to or not.

Jon Spenceley