How Can Shopify Brands Win Super Bowl Without Spending Silly Dollars?

Super Bowl is around the corner — a time when brands of all sizes are looking to make a splash. How can marketers turn heads by leveraging the big game without spending a ton of money?

John Butler, Co-Chairman at BSSP

If one of our clients wanted to make some noise around the Super Bowl but were smart enough not to spend $5MM for a mere 30 seconds of airtime before production costs, I’d recommend that they take a page out of Jay Chiat’s playbook. Jay called it “Crashing through the rubble” in 1984 when Chiat/Day papered LA with billboards during the Olympic Summer Games. In the end, consumers thought Nike was the official shoe, not Converse, who paid dearly for the attribution. Newcastle did it well a few years back with their self-described online “mega huge football game ad,” featuring Anna Kendrick.

Today, I’d try to do that through a combination of online and experiential in and around Miami. I’d use the experiential to convince consumers that we were a part of the “big game,” without being an official designation. From the experiential, we’d drive consumers online where we could capture contacts, and have a more in-depth conversation with them.

Moa Netto, US Chief Creative Officer at RAPP

Years ago, to have an impact during the Superbowl, brands had to commit a huge amount of money sponsoring it and/or producing expensive spots. But ever since digital and social channels gained scale, challenger brands have started taking advantage of the Superbowl as cultural moment to hijack classic advertising formats, steal consumers’ attention, and get the buzz out.

Here are three pieces that I believe achieved that goal in a brilliant way: If we made it, for Newcastle from Droga 5. By sharing everything they would’ve made if they had the budget, or permission to mention the Superbowl, they ended up being one of the biggest Superbowl successes that year.

The Interception, for Volvo from Grey NY. By using competitors’ expensive ads as a trigger to Volvo’s promotion, they managed to steal consumers’ attention during the breaks and increase sales in 70 percent.

Broadway the Rainbow, for Skittles from DDB. By creating a Broadway Show during the Superbowl about how terrible advertising is, Skittles won the title of funniest Superbowl ad of 2018, without even being on Superbowl.

Ryan Oliver, Head of Twitter Next, US

My first suggestion is for the brand to pick up a bottle of Frank’s hot sauce at the grocery store.  Then look at how they “put that sh!% on everything” during last year’s Super Bowl. Advertisers with any budget size can anticipate what brands are going to do with their TV commercials and get attention with their own creative take on other brands’ activities.

The Frank’s execution last year was my favorite because of the creative content they used along with the giveaways. Their Tweets included shout outs to the TV advertisers and images of them putting Frank’s on everything from luxury automobiles, snack food, soft drinks, and even milk (yuck).

They started a conversation with these brands, who were all looking to connect with what’s happening around the game, and consumers jumped in and had a lot of fun with it. Frank’s will be back at it again this year, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they raise the bar.

Frank Cartagena, Chief Creative Officer at Community New York

The first thing you should do is look at what’s happening leading up to the game. What are other brands doing that you could comment on? How do you do something new and fresh that gets your brand into a conversation that’s already happening? Or, once the game starts, what is happening that you could comment on or leverage to get your brand noticed?

Start with ideas that can be spread on social. Be quick. Be creative. And, if something sticks, start to put media dollars and PR behind it.

Lindsey Allison, SVP, Strategic Planning at Engine Group

It’s possible to win the Superbowl without spending the money to be in the Superbowl. Not just possible, but potentially even smarter. The definition of winning the game has changed. It was once about eyeballs. Then about press and rankings. Now it’s about one thing – conversation. People talk about what’s interesting, and I’d argue that spending the money to produce a :60 anthem isn’t all that surprising anymore. Or it’s becoming harder than ever to be surprising in that format.

Winning isn’t about a big investment, it’s about smart strategy. And it comes down to your ability to hijack. How do you hijack the viewership of people watching the spots before the game? How do you hijack the conversation around the game? How do you intercept people searching for Game Day highlights, both on the field and during a commercial break? How do you respond to the game in real-time in a way that’s more provocative than the heavy production budgets? Sometimes budget restrictions lead to bigger leaps in creativity.

Jamie King, Partner and CEO at Camp + King

If you have a client that is looking to make a splash without spending a lot of money, I’d start by saying pick another time of year.  It’s crowded, it’s loud and even celebrity, which is now commonplace in Super Bowl ads, is no recipe to breakthrough. That said, if the client wants to take a shot, you’d have to go with:

1. Find an existing cultural conversation that your brand has permission (or authority) to join and amplify.  Oreo was at the ready when the electricity went out at the Super Bowl with “dunk in the dark.”

2. Hijacking media around the Super Bowl is another tact.  Newcastle Beer showed a TV spot they “would have run” if they could afford a Super Bowl spot.  That made a splash.

In the end it’s a bit like a “Hail Mary” pass in a football game.  Odds are low it will work but if it works, it’ll be what everyone is buzzing about.

Matt Hill, SVP, GMR Marketing

This week, all eyes will look to Miami as the NFL takes over the city and dominates the conversation on the ground, in broadcast and online. NFL sponsors and advertisers stand to benefit the most from the spotlight—and there are a number of ways brands with budgets of all sizes can tap into the excitement.

Social activations can generate some of the biggest buzz at the most efficient spends. Brands that are rigorous in their community management efforts can pick up on cultural cues to get ahead of some of the week’s trending topics—allowing them to participate in live social engagement around the issues that are most relevant to fans. Think, Oreo’s real-time “dunk in the dark” during the blackout at Super Bowl XLVII.

Brands can also align with NFL influencers (athletes, coaches, team nutritionists, etc.) relevant to their target audience. These influencers drive social storytelling, audience engagement and—through a well-planned media strategy—can help a brand control the narrative and create an authentic reason for being part of the discussion.

Finally, an event like the Super Bowl is an effective way for brands to engage with consumers 1:1. When done right, this shared passion can engrain brands into once-in-a-lifetime memories. A nimble onsite activation can succeed in generating local attention in a host market and national attention through a social amplification strategy.

Georgina Gray, Senior Director of Marketing, Freshii

For smaller brands, it’s important that we find creative ways to hijack existing Super Bowl behaviors and trends. The less we ask from people on the big day (or week), the more likely we are to breakthrough. So asking people to swap out an existing hashtag with our give back initiative #SoupOrBowl is how Freshii can look to compete.

Sterling Lambert, Data & Analytics, Forsman & Bodenfors New York

When analyzing social conversations around the Super Bowl there is a noticeable pick up in mentions in early January of each year. What does this tell us? You could extend the life of your campaign by splicing the content into snippets before the big game and push it out across multiple channels to help increase awareness without seeming forced.

However ~40% of Super Bowl mentions in 2019 (#superbowl OR Super Bowl) on Twitter and Facebook happened during the four days around last year’s Super Bowl. If you want to make a “splash” and be a part of the conversation, you have to be reactionary – in the moment (cue Oreo from 2013 when the 49ers were last in the Super Bowl). You need to have a strategic and creative hand on the pulse of social conversations, which can be achieved through a data-informed response to social listening. Create an effective and efficient framework to identify and capitalize on sudden waves in social discussion:

  1. Monitor general conversation before kickoff and during the Super Bowl (achieved with a broad boolean query)

  2. Construct an additional advanced boolean query that identifies language commonly used for highly shared content

  3. Create alerts based on historical data to flag when a topic is gaining traction at an extraordinary volume and velocity (timeframe)

  4. Have your strategy and creative teams determine if the topic aligns with the brand and if they can enter the conversation in a genuine way

Important, and obvious, callout – you will not be the only marketing team wanting to do this so the response needs to be quick and the conversational input attention-grabbing. The perfect hybrid of data strategy and creativity.

Ryan Miller, Manager, Partnerships, IPG Medialab, UM’s Innovation Division

The supersaturated media frenzy that is the Super Bowl makes it difficult for any brand to stand out, but savvy — and cost-conscious — marketers can still capture consumers by dominating the ancillary content created in the wake of the Big Game.

Regardless of brand messaging, there’s a ton of opportunity for contextual alignment in ancillary content, ranging from game analysis to coverage of emergent “culture pops” like Left Shark. Activating in the places where these next-day conversations are happening lets brands leverage first-party data to target high-value audiences across channels relevant to their target demos.

Studio-produced content is just a portion of the next-day Super Bowl conversation, though – brands can also surround the post-game buzz across connected social communities. Brands who get it right, meaning those that contribute authentically to the discussion, will be rewarded with the natural amplification of their brand messaging.

Tactically speaking, format is far less of a concern than presence. Ultimately just being in the places consumers are next day will yield the most efficient results for brands.

Dan Kelleher, CCO, Deutsch New York

The beauty of the Super Bowl is that there is a heightened awareness surrounding the big game that marketers are invited to join in on. As excitement for the big game builds, so does consumer’s excitement for how brands are going to participate. It’s a window of opportunity when people are actually saying, “Okay advertising, give me your best shot. I’ll be on one of my five screens waiting for you.” You don’t need a check for $5.6 million, just a big idea.

Up to and during the big game, you’re going to find your consumers on social media screens. And your content doesn’t have to be—actually it probably shouldn’t be—slick and highly produced. For instance, this year Outback Steakhouse is promoting delivery of its famous center-cut sirloin steaks.  So, we’re teaming up with NY Giants center, Jon Halapio, to create 18 pieces of funny content about “centers eating center-cuts” that will release before and on game day, as well as live reactions from Jon during the game. All for what 0.2 seconds of a Super Bowl spot would cost. So, brands shouldn’t worry about not having a commercial on the Super Bowl. People are waiting for you on all their other screens—just make sure you have a great idea.

Geoff Tolley, President, Chief Creative Officer, Chemistry

A great idea can stand on its own—and there’s never been a better time to create great advertising for less money. Of course, the most common way for brands to sidestep expensive Super Bowl spends is through clever social/digital advertising, but you can still do traditional TV for less money—if you’re willing to flout convention a bit. Like the Old Milwaukee ad with Will Ferrell that only aired in remote North Platte, Nebraska. The spot was only few thousand dollars for the media buy, yet it received immense media attention and was watched by millions on YouTube.

Hailey Riggle, VP Solutions, SocialCode

Focus.  Brands should be intentional about who they want to reach and what they want their message to be and build a plan tailored around their objectives. They should not focus on reaching everyone, but with their limited budget focus their efforts on their most valuable audiences with a message that will catch their attention.  Digital is a key way to do just that as you’re able to identify a specific audience cohort and create a unique engagement with more experiential ad units such as filters and full-screen videos.

In addition, brands should focus their digital investment when they’ll get the most bang for their buck. They don’t necessarily need to be live during the game – when market prices and CPMs tend to be at a premium, but should instead look to activate the weeks leading up to the game and the week after to capture pre-game excitement and post-game buzz when market prices tend to be lower.

Elsa I. González, Senior Strategy Director, Berlin Cameron

According to our research with Perksy, 62% of people watch the Super Bowl for the ads, so it’s not surprising that marketers, big and small, want a piece of that pie and brands of all sizes can certainly take a bite if they look beyond paid media. The key is to find ways to talk about our brand without talking at people in a way that is relevant, that’s why purpose-driven messages can have big impact. According to our research, 73% of people want at least some Super Bowl ads to focus on social causes. So, while some big marketers will spend their dollars trying to go for a big laugh, it could be wise for marketers to gear their social and marketing budgets on the values and social causes that mean the most to you.

Another way to make an impact is to explore partnerships around the Super Bowl. Our research tells us that almost half of people would like to see more female representation in the NFL via coaches, leadership or players, and when it comes to female representation in ads, one participant said “We are tired of models. We want real women! And accuracy! Not all of us wear push up bras, wear makeup and heels 24/7 and drinks beer to impress the boys.” This is a real opportunity for relevant brands to look at partnering with key female influencers in football. This gives your brand permission to be in the Super Bowl conversation with media and consumers alike.

Andy Nathan, Founder & CEO, Fortnight Collective

Advertising during the Super Bowl is surely an investment, but the following can help turn heads around the Big Game without breaking the bank:

Create marketing jiujitsu. How? By leveraging your competitors momentum (and their significantly higher media spend) to your advantage. Harness the anticipated noise and energy around your competitors communications and try to redirect it back to your brand. A good example of this would be the Miller High Life’s 1-second Super Bowl ad in 2009. Miller ambushed Anheuser-Bush, which typically dominates Super Bowl advertising, which at the time were paying $3M per spot. Miller paid $100k for a one-second ad that ran on 25 local stations and reached 60% of the audience, generating significant PR & talk value. According to AC Nielsen, sales of High Life increased 8.6% during the week after the Super Bowl versus the same period a year earlier. Another example here would be Newcastle in 2014.

Be strategically provocative. Create communications that “isn’t allowed” to run on the Super Bowl to help generate PR, controversy and an illicitness so that it gets watched online. Aka: ‘the controversial ad that the NFL doesn’t want you to see’ or is ‘banned’ from the Super Bowl. Carl’s Jr, Bud Light Swear Jar, GoDaddy, and SodaStream are historical examples in this camp. You can redirect people online to find out what was so controversial.

Identity the Super Bowl marketing conventions and then look to break them. When others zig, zag. Years ago my previous agency worked on JCPenney. It was the year after Oreo’s Dunking in the Dark, where Oreo capitalized on the Super Bowl’s blackout. The next year, every brand wanted its Oreo’s marketing moment. While brands like Kia and Coors Light and Doritos were waiting for their moment, JCP went on the offensive in the first quarter. Tweeting out a jarbled text that made absolutely no sense. Then another. Brands and consumers alike thought someone hacked JCPenney’s social channels and they weighed into the ‘controversy.’ Before the final tweet reveal: #TweeingWithMittens. The game was being played at the cold MetLife Stadium. It was an opportunity for JCP to use the Super Bowl stage to promote their Go Team USA mittens, which were being sold in the run-up to the Olympics that was only weeks later. JCPenney was the second most mentioned brand on social during the Big Game after Budweiser, an official sponsor. The three tweets generated 47k retweets and 22k likes. Ultimately, look to the power of the pen to create the breakthrough. Not all communications around the big day need the biggest stage or a penultimate tactic.

This article was originally published by our friends at Campaign Live.

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Steve has entrepreneurship in his DNA. Starting in the early 2000s, Steve achieved eBay Power Seller status which propelled him to become a founding partner of, a contact lens and eyewear retailer. Four years later through a successful exit from that startup, he embarked on his next journey into digital strategy for direct-to-consumer brands.

Currently, Steve is a Senior Merchant Success Manager at Shopify, where he helps brands to identify, navigate and accelerate growth online and in-store.

To maintain his competitive edge, Steve also hosts the top-rated twice-weekly podcast eCommerce Fastlane. He interviews Shopify Partners and subject matter experts who share the latest marketing strategy, tactics, platforms, and must-have apps, that assist Shopify-powered brands to improve efficiencies, profitably grow revenue and to build lifetime customer loyalty.

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