Super Bowl Can Drive Performance: These Brands Made the Most of their Budgets This Year

By Cass Baker, EVP, Strategy and Digital, GainShare

The Super Bowl has been synonymous with big-budget commercial breaks for consumer-facing brands for decades, and the 30-second to one-minute spots often prioritize top of the funnel activities. Yet the Super Bowl can be a huge performance-driver, which begs the question why would anyone invest the big marketing spend if it’s not going to go all the way to the end zone?

As is par for the course, performance marketers can’t help but watch Super Bowl ads through two distinct lenses. The critical lens, which looks at the big budgets, celebrities and the lack of accountability for results and wonders what it would be like, just once, to have a goal to make people laugh and increase awareness with a $10M budget. And the curious lens, which is on the lookout for brands who are out for the ultimate return on their Super Bowl ad spend and are looking to convert ad dollars into revenue.

The latter may be an impossible trick. At heart, performance marketers believe advertising is for acquiring customers at the most efficient cost possible. But at $5.5M for one 30-second spot, there are most certainly more efficient spends to be made. Performance marketers also believe in precise audience targeting. Few brands have everyone, everywhere as a target demographic.

Working in the business of producing video creative that performs, I can tell you that a performance spot that attempts to incorporate entertainment-based creative at the end of an ad is like watching a 30-second train crash that cost $6M – you can’t look away. That being said, here are the performance marketing hits and misses for the 2021 Super Bowl ads. 

The Real Super Bowl Winners

There’s a secret sauce to producing a top-performing commercial and the all-weather vehicle protection company, Weathertech nailed it on the head. Let’s break this down by the numbers. First, early research found that 186.6 million U.S. adults planned to tune into the big event. And a 2019 research poll noted there are 273 million registered vehicles in the U.S. – not many brands can speak to reaching such a wide pool in one swoop. But another clear point of difference is you know who the brand was during the entirety of the commercial. Why? Every employee visible on the screen was wearing a branded Weathertech t-shirt. There was never any confusion as to which company was delivering this commercial which can often be a huge missed opportunity for brands.

Another clear winner was Vroom, the car shopping site. With 41 million used cars sold in the U.S., its take on the typically shady car salesman experience really delivered. The company incorporated a clear call-to-action with a point of difference across a huge addressable market. Vroom identified the problem and solved the problem.

Here’s who won’t be taking home the Super Bowl

Dr. Squatch is a men’s personal care company that is still working to increase brand awareness and make its name immediately known. But during its high-pressure opportunity and big-budget commercial, the company’s name was only said twice. Even though many of the population watched the Super Bowl from the comfort of their own home rather than at parties or bars, conversations are still happening simultaneously, people are getting up to go to the bathroom – so repetition of brand name (verbally or written) can help to break through the noise, literally. Beyond that, however, they are speaking to a niche market of men willing to pay $6 for a bar of soap they may not remember the name for.

It was only after I googled Klarna that I learned it was a bank. During Maya Rudolph’s impossible-to-decipher singing, its “buy now, pay later” message was unclear and there was no clear call-to-action. What was it even telling viewers to do? So much potential yet, not the best use of marketing spend.

Securing a Super Bowl spot will always be something brands – from startup to legacy establishments – strive for, continue to put marketing spend towards and convince themselves of the ROI. Hopefully, in years ahead, brands consider elements that boost performance because otherwise, trying to make the math work on a brand marketing campaign is the real kicker.

Cass Baker

As EVP, Head of Strategy and Digital, Cass is responsible for the agency and client go to market strategy, development efforts and its digital practice. With over 25 years of agency leadership, performance, digital and data-driven marketing experience, Cass has advanced the agency’s integrated performance marketing offerings. Before joining GainShare, Cass held senior management roles at Dentsu, Leapfrog Online, Leo Burnett and others.