Even though the game is played in February, January is the month when brands around the country release their Super Bowl campaigns and battle for the top spots in the Ad Bowl. Since brands like E-Trade and Doritos first teased their campaigns in 2009, releasing big game content early has become a standard practice for many Super Bowl advertisers.
Last year, 75 percent of advertisers released some kind of campaign content before Super Bowl Sunday. In 2014, that percentage was down to nearly 60 percent, but despite fewer advertisers releasing content before the game, those that did saw bigger views than ever before.
In 2014, the breakout star in January -- that ended up stealing the whole Super Bowl -- was Budweiser. Last year, the top pre-game advertiser, Toyota, only garnered 11.2 million views in January with its #WishGranted campaign. This year, Budweiser generated 28.4 million views with "Puppy Love" between its release on Jan. 29 and the end of the month.
Budweiser has always been a strong Super Bowl advertiser. If you were to ask most people about the most memorable Super Bowl ads, most would respond with an anecdote about the Budweiser frogs, the Clydesdales, or those guys that said "Whassup." But the brand has not always been as strong in online video as it is on television. That's not to say that its videos weren't entertaining, but they didn't go as viral as videos from brands like Pepsi, Samsung, or Google. But judging by its performance in January, all that seems to have changed.
In total, Budweiser garnered 31.9 million views in the month of January, taking the No.2 spot on the iMedia Brand Chart. And already, in one month, that is 2.9 million views more than the brand received in the whole of 2013.
So what changed for Budweiser in 2014? The brand picked up on a big trend in branded video and executed it well in two very distinct ways in two different campaigns -- "Puppy Love" and "A Hero's Welcome."
Branded video viewers want emotional connections
If the last year has taught us anything about branded video, it's that while everyone likes a good joke, often the most engaging and shared videos hit a real emotional and sentimental chord with viewers.
The most popular video of 2013, Dove's "Real Beauty Sketches," is a great example of how a powerful message can really make people feel connected to a brand. True Move H's story of kindness captivated viewers around the globe and not just in the brand's native Thailand. And Chipotle made us all think about sustainable farming, once again, with its powerful animated film, "The Scarecrow."
Brands took note of the buzzworthiness of this content in 2013 and gave us our first taste of 2014 in their Super Bowl pre-game content. While the Super Bowl is often know for its over-the-top ads and humor, this year it was decidedly more emotional, and Budweiser was a big part of that. It tapped into our feelings with sweetness and patriotism.
The sweet approach
Budweiser and its agency, Anomaly, took the adorably sweet approach with "Puppy Love." Building off of last year's popular Super Bowl spot -- a Christian the Lion themed story starring a man and a Clydesdale -- the campaign tells the story of that same man and his Clydesdale, which forms a bond with an adorable puppy. With the perfect music and an impossibly cute puppy as the star, it was hard for viewers not to get a little choked up as the little fur-ball and his equine friend are parted and then brought together again.
In addition to the heartwarming story, Budweiser chose the perfect subject for viral content -- a puppy. As we all realize by now, dogs drive massive viewership and sharing online. You need look no further than a publication like BuzzFeed to see how cute animals engage viewers.
So it's no surprise that "Puppy Love" found great success online. It was the most shared of all the Super Bowl campaigns we measured; it's now garnered almost 90,000 tweets and 1.9 million Facebook shares, "likes," comments, and clicks. A week after the Super Bowl, its viewership had grown to 50.5 million views. That means that in less than two weeks, "Puppy Love" became the third most viral Super Bowl campaign of all time, and it's still growing.
The patriotic approach
While Budweiser induced a collective "awww" with its "Puppy Love," it elicited a far deeper emotion with its second Super Bowl campaign, "A Hero's Welcome." In the one-minute video, Budweiser tells the story of a real soldier's homecoming after a tour of duty. After being greeted by his significant other, Lt. Chuck Nadd arrives in his hometown of Winter Park, Fla., where Budweiser has arranged a full-scale ticker tape parade in his honor. The video ends with Nadd greeting his mother in tears as the line "Every soldier deserves a hero's welcome" flashes across the screen.
No matter how many times you've watched the campaign, it's hard not to tear up, especially as the young soldier sees his mom for the first time after months of being stationed halfway across the globe. It strikes a very powerful chord within most Americans. It's a mix of patriotism and gratitude for people who serve our country like Lt. Nadd.
Patriotism is a hard emotion to evoke effectively. Rely too much on clichés, and it can be corny or feel too forced. The trick -- one that Budweiser has proved time and time again that it is very good at -- is subtlety and authenticity. The brand hit a similar note of patriotism and reverence with its now famous 2002 Super Bowl ad that commemorated September 11th.
The campaign only generated 1.3 million views in January, but now a week after the Super Bowl, its view count is closing in on 11 million views.
So while Bud Light can talk to the bros and bring some edgy excitement, the legacy brand can take its place among those marketers that produce heartwarming, story-driven content. And if Budweiser can keep producing compelling content like this without the support of the Super Bowl, watch out for it as a regular on the Brands in Video chart in 2014.
iMedia's Top 10 Brands in Video chart, powered by Visible Measures, focuses on aggregated brand view counts across related social video ad campaigns. Each brand and campaign is measured on a True Reach basis, which includes viewership of both brand-syndicated and audience-driven video clips. The data are compiled using the patented Visible Measures platform, a constantly growing repository of analytic data on close to 400 million videos tracked across more than 300 online video destinations.
Note: This analysis does not include Visible Measures' paid-placement (e.g., overlays; pre-, mid-, and post-roll) performance data or video views on private sites. This chart does not include movie trailers, video game campaigns, TV show, or media network promotions. View counts are incremental by month.
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