It's two hours on from the New England Patriots victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX and I'm beat tired. But my exhaustion has nothing to do with the hour, the game or the fact that Bill Belichick won his fourth championship for a team not named the Cleveland Browns. I'm tired of watching Super Bowl advertisers waste their money in pursuit of branding over consumer action and engagement. 

You see, this is the third year that I've watched, cataloged, and analyzed the calls to action (CTAs) in each and every Super Bowl ad, and in those three years, consumers have only become more mobile and more social. And yet, the Super Bowl ads have become less mobile and less social. Before I explain, let me break down my process for you.

  • This year, 137 commercials aired in my area (Cleveland Metro) from 6PM until the end of the commercial break after the final whistle. That compares to 119 in 2014 and 126 in 2013. The reason for the higher total can be attributed to the high number of 15-second ads run by NBC. 
  • Of those 137 commercials, 24 were NBC promos, 6 were NFL promos, and 3 were ads from my local affiliate. In 2014, FOX ran 25 promos compared to 33 in 2013 by CBS. Interestingly, only one of the NBC promos contained a call-to-action for any of the shows promoted. It was #HeroesReborn which appeared on screen for 1 second during the promo for the "Heroes" series reboot. Of the NFL promos, only the Play60 ad contained a CTA (the URL for NFLRush.com). Amazingly, it was my local NBC affliate, WKYC, that had the boldest CTAs — both a hashtag #WKYCTheMoney and a push to download their mobile app. 

Subtracting the NBC, NFL, and affliate promos, 104 paid advertisements ran in my local market. That's up from the 89 ads of 2014 and the 83 of 2013. The uptick again appears to be due to the proliferation of 15-second and shorter ads this year — not surprising in light of the reported $4.5 million pricetag for 30 seconds of national airtime during the game. Below is the breakdown of the CTAs included in those 104 ads. 

The trends that jump out at me both from reviewing the data and watching the game are as follows:

  • The biggest CTA during Super Bowl XLIX was no CTA at all. Yes, in an era where our research showed 61% of consumers planned to watch the Super Bowl with a smartphone in hand, a whopping 51% of advertisers elected to just run their ad without asking viewers to do anything. Folks, I'm sorry, but this is marketing malpractice. I love branding as much as the next person, but the Super Bowl is such an expensive platform, you must do more than boost brand recall. You need consumers to take action — buy, opt-in, subscribe, amplify — anything to make your ad last beyond its 30 seconds. 
  • Mobile? What's Mobile? In 2015, more Super Bowl ads contained phone numbers than calls to download mobile apps (8 to 5) or engage with SMS (8 to zilch). Attention Brand Advertisers: ALL MARKETING IS NOW DIRECT thanks to all the cell phones, smartphones, tablets, and laptops floating around. However, in order to generate direct results from a TV commercial, you must ask the viewer to do something specific on their device. I feel like a broken record here over the years, but it's true. You can't take a customer on a journey with you unless you prompt the first step. 
  • Hashtags are lazy marketing unless you build something around them. The average time a hashtag was on screen during a Super Bowl commercial was less than 1 second. Just like last year. 1 SECOND!!! Not even the most adept texting tweenager can capture and type a hashtag that fast. But only GoDaddy, Wix.com, and the marketing brains behind "The Kingsman" movie seem to understand that. They were the only ads in which a hashtag appeared on screen for the entire ad. Otherwise, only Budweiser (#UpForWhatever) and Procter & Gamble (#LikeAGirl) leveraged well-established, pre-existing hashtags in their ads. 
  • True social engagement was nowhere to be found (on TV). While Facebook rebounded somewhat from last year's near shutout in ad CTAs, subtract all the hashtags and one could argue there wasn't a single, true social call to action in any of the Super Bowl ads. However, if you were on Facebook during the game, you probably saw a lot of friends talking about the game and the ads. And therein lies the social magic. Just like Google doesn't need to advertise during the Super Bowl to benefit from all the related search and YouTube traffic, so too Facebook and Twitter and now Snapchat (appearing in its first CTA thanks to "Pitch Perfect 2) don't need to be mentioned in order to have lots of on-site or in-app activity that drives advertising revenue.
  • Pre-released ads on YouTube had better CTAs. 2015 was the year the vast majority (around 80% by my count) released their ads for online viewing on YouTube, Facebook, and elsewhere. You can argue whether this trend is spoiling the surprise of seeing ads for the first time during the game, but no one can argue with the outcome — especially Budweiser. The King of Beers was the undisputed King of Super Bowl Pre-Releasing with its "Lost Puppy" ad garnering over 20 million views on YouTube before the Super Bowl began. More over, Budweiser and others used the opportunity to acquire more YouTube subscribers. In Budweiser's case, each of their ads included a subscribe link throughout. That means the Super Bowl helps them build a bigger audience for the next content they post to YouTube. And I'm a guy who loves Audience

In short, the Super Bowl ads just don't work hard enough for the brands paying their bills. They need to do more than just brand. They need to engage meaningfully in the moment with consumers who are standing by, mobile device at the ready. If you're going to pay $4.5 million for 30 seconds and you're not willing to put in the sweat equity to make that engagement happen, then you are wasting money and missing the opportunity afforded by the connected consumer.

(Stepping off my soapbox)

And now, for some random thoughts:

  • Kudos to BMW America! Their "1994 Internet" ad with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumble was not only funny, it contained an Easter Egg that warmed this email marketer's heart. The info@amfeedback.com email that they discuss in the 1994 Today Show clip actually works! Email it to get your own reply or, if you're the cheating type, go here to see what BMW hid for the tech detectives. 
  • Steve Buscemi wins for the best cameo in an ad (Snickers' "Brady Bunch"), but Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliot wins for best cameo overall. Her surprise appearance during Katy Perry's halftime show was a welcome blast from the past. Now, to lay down flip it and reverse it...
  • Speaking of Katy Perry, Top 5 halftime show ever. Maybe #1. Pepsi had to be VERY pleased with what she delivered. My kids made us save the game on our DVR just so they can watch her performance again tomorrow. 
  • Kudos to WeatherTech for using their commercial to sell product. Now that Chevy has convinced me (through focus group peer pressure) that #INeedATruck, I will have every reason to buy their truck liners. 

Did you find any other gems amongst the Super Bowl ads? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments. And now, I had better get some shuteye. Only 364 days until my Cleveland Browns appear in Super Bowl 50.

#HelloFuture #MakeItHappen #sorta