Super Bowl 50: which brands flew and flopped on social media?

This year's American football spectacle showed the effectiveness of social activations – from free pizza from Papa Johns, to a $1m prize from Esurance.

Mountain Dew: its 'puppybabymonkey' ad scored big on social
Mountain Dew: its 'puppybabymonkey' ad scored big on social

The best brands on social are the perfect buddies to watch the Super Bowl with. They plan a few nice things, provide clever banter on the action, share some of the laughs when the unexpected happens, and know the exact moment when to order wings, a beer or book a table at Red Lobster. 

For brands on social, #SB50 was about more than just creating buzz around an ad or hashtag. Viewers expected brands to be their go-to game time companion for timely, relevant and entertaining content. Winners delivered by joining trending conversations at the right time and having clever responses for moments no one saw coming.

That said, the search for a contender to claim the throne of the king of Super Bowl social from the now mythical ‘dunk in the dark’ tweet (seriously, did it even really happen?) goes on. There wasn’t a reactive slam-dunk to come even close to matching that – and the absence of any ‘Katy Perry’s left shark’-style antics for the watching public to latch on to didn’t help in this regard.

To be fair, Beyoncé did her best to help out one brand in particular – the release of her new video Formation giving a cheeky shout-out to the Red Lobster restaurant chain. But the brand response – some nonsense about Cheddar Bey biscuits – not only flopped because it was useless, it dropped about eight hours after the event. 

Along similar lines of dropping eight hours after the event, we found the unexpected social star of the evening – a TV ad for Opioid Induced Constipation that had the Twittersphere snickering en masse (so job done, in terms of raising awareness).

So what did work as intended?

One thing that #SB50 did show was the effectiveness of social activations – from free pizza from Papa Johns, to a $1m prize from Esurance… even Doritos gave away $50,000 each for a video, picture and written tweet (not that it had to – it was firing on all platforms, joining conversations cleverly and clearly being the brand most people wanted to interact with). 

In terms of using social as amplification, it was the #Esurancesweepstakes that did it best though: its pre-game television ad ended up generating 9,000 tweets a minute and over a million tweets throughout the game. For a brand as unsexy – and fundamentally removed from the actual sporting event itself – as Esurance to gain such traction shows how the power of social can massively amplify an admittedly expensive promotion (in terms of both prize and above the line spend).

As for the other heavy-hitters, they had a few weirdly wonderful trick plays up their sleeves too, and none more so than Mountain Dew, whose Puppybabymonkey scored big. The freak of nature that makes about as much sense in full motion video as it does written down was trending all night, and had the ultimate honour of having not just one but several parody accounts set up as the game went on.

Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, meanwhile, was the model for responsive posting by trolling Bud Light with a pic of Seth Rogen cracking open a PBR during his edgier, non-corporate days, then burning Coldplay’s half-time show too with the perfect snarky commentary for an old man/hipster/ironic beer brand.  

While Chris Martin and co were probably the biggest losers on social (then again, what did they expect when they decided to share the stage with Queen Bey?), a rather more unexpected flop was Facebook’s sports stadium feature – it wasn’t keeping up with the action, it didn’t work on Android and there wasn’t enough 
activity. 

Luckily, there was a handy channel nearby through which annoyed punters could collectively vent their spleen… Super Bowl and Twitter: they were made for each other.

Matt Chokshi is the client creative director at digital agency Zone

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