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Super Bowl 2016 Recap: 5 Major Marketing Trends

The football may be over, but the marketing game is just heating up. We’re recapping the biggest ad trends of last night’s broadcast to review the highs and lows. 

It’s the day after the Super Bowl, which means the analysis of the biggest night in marketing is in full swing. Last night, brands paid $5 million for 30 seconds of big game airtime—before they shelled out the big bucks for production and celebrity appearances. Now, the return on their big investment is being calculated. Some agencies are tracking the game’s winners based on YouTube views, and others are tallying up social media mentions to see what resonated—and how much of Budweiser’s buzz was speculation that Manning was paid to say he’d be celebrating by drinking a lot of their beer. (It was a lot.) Best and worst lists of the night’s commercials are easy to find—though you might have trouble finding two that agree. We’ll let consumers decide which were their favorites in our upcoming monthly survey—but we still have plenty to recap. Here are five of the biggest trends we saw during last night’s marketing showdown, and how we see them playing out:


The amount of celebrities that appeared in last night’s commercial breaks rivaled your average awards show. In fact, there were more famous faces selling for brands than there were uncomfortable pharmaceutical commercials—and that’s saying something. Rogan and Schumer joined forces for a Bud Light Party, Kevin Hart played an overprotective dad for Hyundai, Willem Dafoe was Marilyn Monroe for Snickers, Jeff Goldblum played the piano for, Arnold Schwarzenegger played an action hero for Mobile Strike, Key & Peele hawked Squarespace, Steven Tyler sang for Skittles, Steve Harvey lampooned himself for T-Mobile, and Drake danced for them, Ryan Reynolds was cloned for Hyundai, Liam Neessan talked gravely for LG OLED TV, and Alec Baldwin partied with Missy Elliot and Jason Schwartzman for Amazon Echo, Anthony Hopkins sold TurboTax, the Manning brothers talked Toyota, Christopher Walken made a sock puppet for Kia, Helen Mirren scolded drunk drivers for Budweiser, everybody sang the praises of the new Mini Clubman car…and we’re sure we missed some. Clearly brands were desperate to have big names in their spots. What’s not as clear is how memorable any of these ads will be in the long run. Currently the top ad in the Adbowl ranking is celebrity free, and three out of five of the most viewed don’t have a famous face in them. It’s actually been found that ads starring celebs lag in performance, and we know that now more than ever Millennials are looking to a new kind of celebrity—not the Hollywood faces we saw on screen last night. Ypulse has found that only 35% of Millennials say that if their favorite celebrity were to recommend a product they would be more likely to buy it. So while celeb commercials might be the safe route, we don’t think it’s the path to the marketing MVP spot. 


It’s no surprise that Fitbit’s big Super Bowl commercial for their new Fitbit Blaze smartwatch was filled with toned young people going the extra mile to stay fit and healthy. What was more surprising was the number of brands outside of the fitness space who made workouts a part of their marketing ploys. Michelob Ultra reached out to the fitness-enthusiasts with their ad, which told runners, lifters, swimmers, and everyone else that the low-cal, low-carb drink is “Brewed for those who go the extra mile.” Advil’s first Super Bowl ad in a decade featured runners, bowlers, jump-ropers, and a yoga-ing grandma. Pokémon’s 20th anniversary “Train On” spot showed kids running, jumping, and playing football—only revealing the Pokémon characters at the very end. Fit has gone glam, and brands are clearly following the trend. 


While some (most) brands played it safe with celebrity endorsements, a few ads were all about being disruptive. PayPal positioned themselves as the New Money, telling viewers (in bold all caps) that new money “isn’t paper, it’s progress,” that Old Money (banks, cash, etc.) “closes at five, new money is always open,” that “old money is stuck in the past,” while “new money gets better.” The confident spot was all about leaving that past behind and supporting the new, digital payments that are disrupting traditional financial structures. It made digital money seem like a revolution. Quicken Loan’s Rocket Mortgage was another disruptor who asked viewers to choose innovation over tradition—but they might have gone a step too far. Their “Push Button Get Mortgage” message was followed up by explanations that making home buying easier will prompt new home buyers to buy more stuff—which didn’t sit well with all viewers. Still, they helped make disruption a trend of the night, and showed that it’s a message that needs to be wielded with caution.


This year, several brands used their Super Bowl spotlight to deliver some big news. Taco Bell built up their secret new product in the weeks before the Super Bowl with Snapchat campaigns, a “purposefully redacted,” press release posted on, and clues dropped at “ambiguous activities and pop-up events.” They unveiled the cheesy Quesalupa during their ad, but they weren’t the only ones with a surprise reveal. Fans of The Good Wife learned for the first time that this would be the show’s final season when the network surprised them with an ad announcing the news. On a happier note, after a scene-stealing halftime show appearance, Beyoncé thrilled her fans with the announcement of the Formation World Tour. In an era when most ads are released online before the Super Bowl even starts, these moments of surprise are standing out more than ever. We’re surprised that more brands don’t try to delight or shock viewers with more than they wouldn’t have expected. 


There is no doubt that a huge number of young Super Bowl viewers had their phone in one hand the whole game—and this year more brands started using that behavior to their advantage. Second screen viewing is a Millennial habit, and a recent CTA report found 71% of 18-34-year-olds engage with social media while watching video content, compared to 31% of respondents 35 and older. Social media was where the real Super Bowl party took place last night, and according to Adweek, “By the end of third quarter, social media analytics company Sprinklr reported that there were more than 960,000 social posts about the Super Bowl across Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.” To get a piece of that social media buzz, Dorito’s moved their “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign online with a “Crash the Second Screen” contest that asked for fan’s best Dorito’s-related tweets during the game—the three best will win $50,000 each. E-surance went a step further and promoted their 2nd screen campaign with a TV spot, airing an ad in the first quarter that let viewers know that they could win up to $1 million by tweeting #Esurancesweepstakes—the contest earned them 9,000 tweets per minute, and made them a trending tag for about 15 minutes. Bose, the official headphone of the NFL, skipped a traditional spot altogether, instead creating a Twitter-based campaign that turned tweets into songs in real-time. We expect that as the cost of TV time continues to rise, more brands will find ways to benefit from second screen behavior during the game.