With Super Bowl ads costing $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime, plenty of brands looked for ways to be a part of the ad world's busiest day without breaking the bank. Creative alternatives this year included digital-only campaigns, an "anti-commercial" contest, a 53-hour livestream and even a Broadway musical.
Some brands, like Frank's RedHot and California grocer Northgate Market attempted to hijack other Super Bowl ads, with an emoji contest and a pre-roll campaign, respectively. But perhaps the most successful attempt at leveraging other brands' media — referred to as "hackvertising" by some — was engineered by Cars.com with "The Big Match."
Instead of running a Super Bowl ad — as it last did in 2013 — Cars.com inserted itself into consumers' Super Bowl conversations on Twitter by responding to every ad that aired with custom creative, at a time when millions of viewers are second- or even third-screening the event.
"It was fun to do in real time, 'pressure cooking' ourselves in a week."
Senior Director, Brand Marketing, Cars.com
"We took a digital-first approach because the targeting and efficiency that digital offers us allowed us to make sure we were reaching people who were in market for a new car and intercept them during conversations around the game," Seth Goldberg, senior director of brand marketing for Cars.com told Mobile Marketer. "Digital made so much more sense with regards to spend and message, and allowed us to get in front of them multiple times instead of just the one time we might air a TV spot."
From previous years, Cars.com knew that web traffic spiked during the game, as people start researching the cars they see during commercials. To magnify this, Cars.com decided to respond to each auto ad. But the cars appearing in other, non-auto ads — like the Audi in Expensify's ad — also offered opportunities, as did ads without cars; a Colgate ad about "pearly whites" could lead to a conversation about a pearly white car, for example. Cars.com even riffed on the Maroon 5-featuring half-time show, presenting "Five Maroon Cars" with a "Halftime Showroom" video.
With this in mind, Cars.com shot all its content on the Monday before the Super Bowl, crafting custom responses to all the ads that had been released in advance, along with generic responses that could be tailored in real-time.
Then, on game day, it convened a "war room" in Chicago — comprised of over 40 people not just from Cars.com and its agency R/GA Chicago, but from Twitter, as well — that would watch the game and quickly customize and publish content.
"Twitter came in to work with us, not only on the media plan, but also to understand creative best practices," Goldberg explained. Among other things, Twitter helped Cars.com layer its new conversation targeting data on top of the marketer's own in-market shoppers audience data. "Getting them in the room was a no-brainer."
In addition, Cars.com ran paid media across social media, combining its own targeting with that of each platform. The marketer also optimized its SEM buy as different topics peaked and posted in its organic channels. And much like Super Bowl coverage, the campaign didn't end at the final whistle. After the game, Cars.com stayed in the conversations around Super Bowl ads by running pre-roll ads as customers rushed to rewatch the night's ads.
The hard work paid off, according to the company. During the game, web traffic to Cars.com was up 42% year-over-year, compared to a 17% increase during the rest of Super Bowl Sunday. The campaign drove more than 27 million video views across pre-roll and video website cards, driving a 65% increase in engagement rate over Twitter's benchmark. It also notched a 32% share-of-voice within the auto vertical on the social network. Plus, the success trickled down to Cars.com's Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), with partners seeing a 384% increase in traffic to their specific brand pages.
"It was fun to do in real time, 'pressure cooking' ourselves in a week," Goldberg said. "We really got our brand out there in a relevant way."