How Budweiser suddenly figured out online video

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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.