Cultural TrendsReport

Super Bowl LI will see the Patriots take on the Falcons this Sunday, and more than 100 million people are expected to tune in live – for both the football, and for the advertisements.

Commercials have become a cultural force during the Super Bowl, often overshadowing the game itself. From Apple’s iconic 1984 ad to Chrysler’s stirring “It’s Halftime in America” spot, brands leverage the Super Bowl as an opportunity to make a statement that can change the trajectory of their business.

With the rise of social video platforms like YouTube and Facebook, brands have the chance to extend their Super Bowl story even further, going far beyond a 30 second spot during the game. Brands can now tell more nuanced stories around their Super Bowl ads before, during, and after the game, offering new opportunities for creativity and reaching their audiences in unique ways.

This enhanced “blast radius” has changed the way key brand verticals are communicating, and we’ve looked at the biggest categories to make some predictions about what we’ll see from advertisements running on Sunday.  Check them out in the infographic below – some have already proven to be true!



Cultural Trends

Few events on television transfix the American (and worldwide) sports fan more than the annual NFL showdown of the last two teams standing as they do battle for the Lombardi trophy. Even for the sports-averse, the Super Bowl action is nestled between some of the most memorable and expensive advertisements ever produced. Whether it’s for the ads, the game, or the camaraderie of house parties, the Super Bowl is appointment television in the most traditional sense.

Even with the rise of millennials migrating en masse to digital video platforms to satisfy their entertainment needs, these same cord-cutters and cord-nevers will be texting anyone they know with a giant flatscreen (and an even larger bowl of chips) to commune with ad lovers and die-hard NFL fanatics alike. For the time being, the Super Bowl transcends trends and returns nearly everyone (for one Sunday per year, at least) back to the universal living room to watch good old-fashioned TV. With each passing year, viewership is on the rise, with last year’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots breaking ratings records again, with 114.4 million tuned into the live event.

Yet, despite this, digital video platforms such as YouTube get savvier each year, finding new ways to participate in the action. Before, during, and especially after the game, YouTube is the home to some of the most-watched Super Bowl-related content outside of the game itself.

In fact, view numbers of uploaded Super Bowl content (highlights, advertisements, fan-reactions, and more) far surpass the 100+ million game-watchers tuned into the actual broadcast. ZEFR has identified over 130K Super Bowl-related videos uploaded to the tune of 2 billion views.

So, what are we watching when we’re not watching the game itself? Here, ZEFR Insights delves into the emerging Super Bowl trends dominating YouTube, where football fans can be seen cheering or groaning along with triumphant plays or blown calls, and the less-sports inclined flock to repeat-view their favorite ads that often go viral long after the final score has been tallied. Thanks to YouTube’s ever-expanding library, there’s even content to consume long before kickoff.

In other words, as much as the Super Bowl is—and will be into the foreseeable future—a destination television event like no other, YouTube and other digital video platforms are not warming any benches on the sidelines.

super bowl on youtube zefr data videoid

Super Bowl on YouTube - ZEFR VideoID data

Before the Game

Over 50 percent of content that fans view prior to the Super Bowl is centered around playoff contenders, recipes, party ideas, official team content, and sponsored pre-game contests and halftime previews.

During the Game

Commercials are still king on the actual game day, accounting for over 33 percent of the content viewed. However, fan reactions to commercials and game highlights, as well as content surrounding Super Bowl party vlogs are becoming increasingly popular with fans.

After the Game

With so much action surrounding the biggest game of the year, it’s easy to forget that the NFL only launched its official YouTube channel a few days before last year’s Super Bowl. This multi-year pact with Google allows YouTube viewers exclusive access to highlights and official team content, generating millions of views for the league as it marches toward the season-ending championship.

In less than a year, the NFL seems to have found the YouTube sweet spot, marrying elements of the platform’s most-watched content and fine-tuning it for its own brand, including mock movie trailers hyping playoff games.

As for this year’s Super Bowl, after the game it’s all about the ads. Who won? Who lost? We’re not talking about the teams, we’re talking about the ads. Look for YouTube to roll out an a revamped edition of last year’s inaugural AdBlitz where viewers gathered around the virtual watercooler not just to talk about the ads they loved and loathed, but to vote on them and crown another winner of the Super Bowl: the most creative spot.

Game Day is No Longer a Day

With the advent of digital video and the consumer becoming increasingly astute—happily curating and mining content to frame their own, personalized viewing experience—platforms such as YouTube have given the Super Bowl an even broader reach long before (and after) game day. In fact, advertising during the game is no longer the only way a brand can leverage the Super Bowl event to increase exposure. Once upon a time, a brand spent the entire year refining that one singular moment in between plays to hit (or miss) with their coveted spot. Variables intervene, games can lag or overshadow the ad breaks, and timing was everything.

Now, much as the viewer and fan can customize their own experience of the Super Bowl beyond the confines of the four-hour broadcast window, brands armed with the right data can discover the right strategy across a longer timeframe to capitalize on the event while steering their message with ever-increasing control. What time is kickoff? You decide.


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Cultural Trends

This is the first in a series that spotlights culturally significant and popular topics on YouTube, curated monthly by ZEFR Insights. The videos below are just a glimpse of what these topics look like. Be sure to subscribe right here to get future posts (and only future posts) delivered by email.

Super Bowl XLIX Interception

The New England Patriots ended the Seattle Seahawks’ brief reign as Super Bowl champions with a last-minute interception. With a mere 26 seconds remaining, Russell Wilson’s pass was intercepted by Patriots rookie, Malcolm Butler. This game-saving grab won the game for the Patriots, crowning them the new Super Bowl champions, and igniting passionate fan reactions on YouTube:

Continue reading “YouTube in February: What’s Being Watched”


photo cred Elvert Barnes

After a dramatic, game-ending interception to close out Super Bowl XLIX, die-hard football fans quickly faced a cold realization: they must now face seven long months without professional football. Yet, for anyone looking to keep the party going during the off-season, YouTube is where they’ll find decades worth of video content to engage with. From the biggest plays to the funniest commercials, YouTube is where the usual conversations around the water cooler extend far beyond the day after the game. The NFL itself just launched their official YouTube channel, and it’s already racked up over 10 million views in its first two weeks alone, up from 3 million views just after the Super Bowl. You can expect that number to continue to climb as the league adds more highlights, clips, and content to their brand new channel.

For brands, the biggest question is whether they are prepared to reach all these fans after the final whistle. At ZEFR, we’ve already talked about some YouTube strategies that are available before the game and during the game, but after the game is when some of the biggest opportunities for brands exist to either extend the lifespan of their enormous Super Bowl ad spend, or play off the continuing post-game buzz to draw views.

So, to better understand the opportunities for brands on YouTube, we’ve looked into some of the best ad campaigns and fan video trends around the big game, along with some numbers to start measuring their impact.

Trend Alert: Fan-Reaction Videos

First, before we get to the best Super Bowl campaigns on YouTube, it’s essential to focus on what makes social video so unique and engaging. At ZEFR, we are constantly on the lookout for trends happening on the platform that highlight the people who put the “You” in YouTube: fan-made videos.

Whenever a dramatic moment is about to go down, fans smartly turn on their cameras and start recording. The results are highly authentic “fan-reaction videos,” and the final play of Super Bowl XLIX did not disappoint. (Beware: explicit language):

That video of pure Patriots joy and demoralizing Seahawks heartbreak has over 2 million views in one week. Compare it with this reaction compilation from Seattle’s incredible comeback win against the Packers for the NFC Championship, and you can see a trend emerging:

And there’s plenty more to discover. So, we ran a search to see how these videos have performed over the past week:

Super Bowl Fan Reaction Videos

As these compilation videos suggest, there is a large audience for this kind of content. And, it’s not just for football fans, as we previously explored in our analysis of fan-made Game of Thrones content. Capturing real emotions in the moment is about as authentic as you can get and it’s unique to YouTube. While a Twitter stream or a well-written recap of the event might be informative, only video can deliver the engaging, absorbing content we see regularly on YouTube.

Super Bowl Ad Campaigns: By the Numbers


Note: this data is only for “officially sanctioned” videos, which mostly includes either videos uploaded to official brand channels, or in some cases partnerships with other YouTubers. It does not include all fan content.

Looking at officially sanctioned videos only, we wanted to see which brands had the best performing overall Super Bowl ad campaign across all of YouTube so far this year. This means we included any official videos beyond just the full, original ad that was broadcast live during the game. From teasers, to behind-the-scenes footage, to collaborations with YouTube stars, and extended versions, YouTube is a place to give fans plenty of content so that they can continue to engage with brands long after the game has aired.

Overall, the key takeaway is to recognize that digital video isn’t what you would call “appointment television.” Instead, the growth in viewership can happen over a long period of time, making YouTube a unique destination for brands to align with culture.

With this in mind, here are two different strategies to keep in mind for next season.

Always’ #LikeAGirl: The Repurposing of Viral Videos

This year, we saw a handful of brands engage in a strategy that will likely be emulated next year and beyond. Rather than risking $4 million plus on a Super Bowl ad that has never before seen the light of day (we’re looking at you, Nationwide), brands like Always, Loctite, and Dove Men turned previous online viral hits into repurposed spots for the big game. Here is the original #LikeAGirl video that went viral last summer:

When you allow a platform like YouTube to tell you what works and what doesn’t, it creates a strategy that can be called “flipping the stack.” Rather than spending and focusing on TV spots first and then repurposing assets for digital, brands can focus on digital first, see what takes off, and then use that as guidance for what will work for their TV spend.

Adweek gave Always’ #LikeAGirl the top spot on their best-of list for this year, saying, “Yes, a longer version already went viral online last year (to the tune of 54 million views). But 100 million more saw it last night, and deservedly so.”

Nissan’s #withdad: Leveraging the Power of YouTube Influencers

Listening to some commentators, Nissan’s official Super Bowl commercial is being lumped in with Nationwide and a handful of other spots as not just ineffective, but even depressing. And yet, both Nissan and Nationwide did fairly well based on our ranking above. Is this simply about the old saying “there’s no such thing as bad press” or are viewers flocking to the clip to see for themselves whether the ad worked or not? Either way, the views are stacking up on YouTube, and what might have been originally perceived as a real-time bummer, seems to be finding new life on the platform.

At least for Nissan, the high view counts can be attributed to a more positive strategy, and that’s the partnerships it made with top YouTube influencers leading up to the big game. Here is an official playlist of all the videos:

As seen above, Nissan joined forces with six different YouTube creators to highlight top moments #withdad: prankster Roman Atwood, CGI specialist Action Movie Kid, trick-shot heroes Dude Perfect, food fanatics Epic Meal Time, dance crew Jabbawockeez, and the always absurd Convos With My 2-Year-Old. Coordinating these six different YouTubers for one campaign guaranteed a diverse audience that was well prepared for the official spot by the time it aired on TV. Unfortunately, based on early reviews, it appears that perhaps Nissan should have taken a lesson from the simpler, low-budget fare created by the YouTubers.

Although next year’s football season seems light years away, you can take advantage of this time by creating a presence on YouTube that can extend beyond a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl. You have to look no further than this year’s winners and losers to help build your brand’s successful ad playbook for next year.


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The Super Bowl is the most-watched television event of the year by far. And, it’s getting even bigger, with last year’s telecast breaking the record for the most-watched TV event ever, with over 111 million viewers. According to Nielsen (the audience-measurement standard bearer for traditional television since the 1950s), four out of the last five Super Bowls hold records for the most-viewed television events in history. And sometimes, depending on the score, we remember the commercials more than we remember the game.

This is not news. Everyone knows how big game day is, especially brands, who shell out upwards of $4 million for a 30-second spot. But, according to a study (conducted by research firm Communicus) and analyzed by AdAge after last year’s game, the worth of that price tag has come under some tough scrutiny. The study suggests that up to 80 percent of those ultra-expensive advertisements do not result in increased sales.

Now, let’s pivot away from television for a moment and speak to what ZEFR knows best: culture, YouTube, and social media. After all, Nielsen’s been doing this since the 1950s. It’s time to take a more modern approach and see how brands might benefit from the Super Bowl in other ways beyond the TV screen, not just by elbowing their way into the crowded and expensive live broadcast.

In fact, YouTube itself recently announced it will be throwing its own halftime show, featuring a number of YouTube stars and hosted by EpicMealTime’s Harley Morenstein. The program will also feature “fake” Super Bowl ads and is designed to redirect some of the overwhelming attention paid to the main event and highlight some of the YouTube personalities who have collectively attracted 60 million subscribers.

Here are just a few more ways ZEFR found for brands to capitalize on the Super Bowl by increasing sales and awareness without, necessarily, shelling out that $4 million on game day.

Before the Game: Generating Hype

Pepsi, of course, will have more exposure than nearly all other brands during the Super Bowl, considering they are the sole sponsor of the eagerly anticipated and oft-scrutinized halftime show. But Pepsi also knows that the best place to begin fanning the flames of anticipation is where 2015’s halftime star Katy Perry’s fans live and breathe right now: YouTube.

Another interesting case of pre-game hype generation is Doritos, whose “Crash the Super Bowl” contest is now heading into its eighth year. Doritos has turned its fans into content creators, with this year’s winning fan-made advertisement garnering its creator $1 million, an unspecified job at Universal Pictures, and their ad broadcast during the game. This has resulted in an overwhelming presence on YouTube, with contestants uploading their homemade ads, hoping against all hope to be the chosen ones.

Super Bowl XLIX

We know that YouTube consistently attracts as many (actually more, over time) views than the Super Bowl itself. Taylor Swift alone has nearly one billion views… just for her two newest videos. That’s nearly 10 times as many viewers than the Super Bowl. With that in mind, what better way to make certain your ad spend for the live event is worth the price tag than by making an ad for your ad and uploading the teaser to YouTube?

During the Game: Reacting in Real Time

No matter how tightly orchestrated an event such as the Super Bowl is, things still go wrong. For example, 2013’s Super Bowl XLVII (aka, Blackout Bowl) was briefly interrupted by a stadium-wide power outage. While the event itself was thrown into brief disarray, the 34-minute break in action between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers created the kind of opportunity only the immediacy of social media could respond to in real time. Oreo came out as the big winner, thinking on their feet and creating a Twitter storm that a $4 million ad spend could only hope to replicate. The lesson here is, if you’re a brand that is able to react quickly, it’s never too late to develop a social media strategy for the Super Bowl.

After the Game: Join the Party in the Video Archive

At ZEFR, we often use the “watercooler” metaphor and how YouTube has managed to create a new kind of conversation the day after major events. Why just talk about it when you can watch it again? And again. Perhaps the greatest influence of this has been on the longevity of memorable Super Bowl ads. Despite that alarming figure of 80 percent of viewers not buying the products advertised during the game, now the advertisements can live on… infinitely. Arguably, YouTube is helping brands to eke out every last remaining penny from that $4 million ad spend by not only allowing the spot to be uploaded (for free) to the platform but also piling up the free earned views for weeks, months, possibly years after the game has aired.

Super Bowl XLIX

Budweiser’s enduringly popular “Puppy Love” advertisment keeps getting impressive view numbers almost a year after it aired during Super Bowl XLVIII.

Also, fan-uploaded compilation videos not only earn lots of views, but keep that conversation going, which is so important to brands who have invested so much in the live event: “Which ad did you like the best?”

Movie trailers often debut during the big game as well, then go to live on YouTube, starting a film’s YouTube campaign that lasts all the way until the film’s release, which sometimes isn’t until the following summer.

Can’t Afford a Ticket to the Game? Have Fun Outside the Gates.

Some brands might follow Newcastle Beer’s lead and eschew game day altogether. Cleverly titled “Mega Huge Football Game Ad,” Newcastle recruited film star Anna Kendrick last year and managed to avoid that $4 million price tag altogether, using YouTube to make light of the entire affair. This year, they’ve started a campaign entitled “Band of Brands,” touting it as “the most exciting, most jam-packed, most fiscally responsible big game Ad ever.” Watch Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) explain, hilariously:

Fourth and Goal: Ready to Go for It?

With YouTube, and social media in general, there’s always a way to work your way into the major events on traditional television that other brands are still spending millions for a mere 30 seconds. In the new media landscape, no brand has to be left out of the game. Super Bowl XLIX is a huge opportunity for brands to gain exposure before, during, and after the teams have already hit the locker rooms. As Oreo so deftly proved, if you don’t have your strategy ready yet, it’s never too late.


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Brand Spotlight

This Sunday marks the kickoff of America’s favorite cultural tradition – watching Super Bowl commercials. In between the commercials, there will also be an important sporting event taking place between two football clubs known as the “Seattle Seahawks” and the “Denver Broncos.”

All kidding aside, whether you’re talking about the action on the field at MetLife Stadium or the big budget commercials on TV, what’s clear is that YouTube has already made a huge impact on Super Bowl XLVIII.

The Ads, Teasers and All

While YouTube has always been a destination to watch the best Super Bowl ads, the biggest trend for brands the past couple of years has been to release teasers, creating buzz and anticipation around the upcoming game day spot. And, in many cases, brands are simply releasing the ad in full and attracting tens of millions of views online well before the first commercial break on Sunday.

Aaron Taube at Business Insider points out why this strategy is paying off for brands:

“With the average 30-second slot at the Super Bowl costing brands a cool $4 million, it would seem counterintuitive that they would spoil the surprise by giving away details about the ads in advance, let alone the commercials in their entirety.

But that logic doesn’t take into account that the Super Bowl is no longer the only game in town. Though the Super Bowl’s audience of 110 million American viewers will almost definitely make it the most watched television program of 2014, brands are beginning to find they can reach large numbers of consumers just as easily online.”

As an example, with almost 23 million views in just 2 days as of this writing, Budweiser’s “Puppy Love” spot reminds us why cute things on the internet tend to perform well:

Check out YouTube’s very own AdBlitz channel for a full collection of ads from this year’s game. Plus, the channel will let fans vote for their favorite ones.


The Teams, But Mostly Richard Sherman

As we revealed last week, Richard Sherman set YouTube ablaze with his post NFC Championship comments. Since then, his view count has only climbed and climbed, so ZEFR ran another search to see what Mr. Sherman’s reach looks like as of today:

Richard Sherman videos uploaded since Jan. 19: 3,504
Total Views: 24,883,105
Total Comments: 59,204

As for the brand image of the teams, ZEFR also ran a search to see whether the Seahawks or Broncos found their way into more YouTube video titles since punching their ticket to the big game two weeks ago. Here are the results:

Videos with Broncos in the title since 1-19-2014: 2,928
Broncos title view count: 3,790,743
Videos with Seahawks in title since 1-19-2014: 3,889
Seahawks title view count: 10,911,764

So, it’s fair to assume that the Seahawks can thank Richard Sherman for their victory in this particular matchup.

But, when it comes to making predictions, is there a better method of expert research than a video game simulation? EA Sports has the answer with their 1.7 million view hit:

Hard to argue with that life like analysis.

The Fans, The Ultimate Winner

Of course, what we’ve shown above only scratches the surface of what YouTube has to offer for anyone interested in the big game, and the result is a major win for the fans. When brands create engaging content for the platform, it not only results in high view counts on their own channels – it also inspires amazing user generated content, and the scope of that content is simply unparalleled.

Trying to figure out what to wear on Sunday to really show off your team spirit? YouTube has you covered:

As you’ll see, the story goes much deeper on YouTube once you uncover the passion of the fans. It’s simply a matter of knowing where to look. And, for a global event like the Super Bowl, the depth of content never seems to end, creating an opportunity unlike any other.


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