Super Bowl ads are a brand marketer’s dream. Last year’s Super Bowl set a new record for the most-watched program in television history, bringing in a whopping 106.5 million viewers across the U.S. Major brands including Google, Coke, GoDaddy, and several automotive and retail companies bought millions of dollars in advertising spots during the game to capitalize on this massive market.  

Yet the value of TV ads is a subject of much debate among performance marketers. While many marketers believe that TV ads improve marketing performance in the long run, others believe that they are an expensive way to build awareness. At Efficient Frontier, we have attempted to answer this question for many advertisers, and since the Super Bowl is only four days away, we thought it would be an opportune time to present some of our research on the connection between TV advertising and Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

First, does TV advertising help build online traffic? The answer is, undeniably, yes.

Super bowl graph

The chart above shows the brand impression volume for eight weeks during a TV flight. One can clearly see that the impression trend is very closely tied to the trend in TV spend. A closer inspection reveals that the connection between the two is more nuanced. A well established brand with a high degree of awareness will see a smaller jump in online traffic during a TV flight than a small brand. Furthermore, a big TV ad campaign will lead to a bigger impression spike than a small one. As a rule of thumb, a TV flight causes between a 60 and 80% jump in searches for the brand terms and between 40 and 60% for generic terms.

Super Bowl ads provide a huge spike in awareness. Does the spike translate to sustained online traffic? Some of our research attempts to answer this question. Using vector-auto-regressive models, we were able to estimate that a big spike in TV spend increases SEM traffic for four to six weeks.

  Super bowl 2

For all Super Bowl advertisers, we advise the following to maximize your ads’ effectiveness online:

1. Anticipate a spike in traffic volume on your site both from paid and organic searches. Ensure that both your brand and non-branded terms are at high positions to capture all the traffic.

2. While you may be worried about spending beyond your allocated SEM budget on Sunday and perhaps for the coming days, you will also see much better than average conversion rates. This is good as it means lower acquisition costs.

3. Ensure that your Facebook campaigns are aligned with your TV efforts and link your Facebook pages to the video of your Super Bowl ads. Measure the effectiveness of your Facebook campaign using upper funnel metrics such as average time spent and engagement, and less to lower funnel metrics such as conversions.

4. Measure the effectiveness of your Super Bowl ad on your online marketing efforts right after the ad runs, then again after a week, a month and beyond. The results may pleasantly surprise you!

While our analysis of TV and SEM data has provided us with valuable insights, it also opens the door to tantalizing media mix questions. What is the right mix of online and offline budget to maximize a marketing campaign’s performance? How should the online budget be spent when TV flights are known in advance? What are the long-term branding effects of a TV campaign and how can they be measured online? What is the effect of TV advertising on Facebook, which is an upper funnel marketing vehicle? We do not have all the answers yet, but we are working on finding them and we’re very excited about the possibilities.

Dr. Siddharth Shah
Director, Business Analytics

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