Michelle VangelMichelle Vangel

Football is the epicenter of Super Bowl Sunday, but tens of millions of Americans look forward to other parts of the big day.

While 112 million people watched the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, only about 5.4 million Facebook users identified themselves as fans of those teams, according to 2015 data. For many, Super Bowl Sunday is about getting together with friends and family to enjoy creative commercials, star-studded halftime shows and snacks that pose serious setbacks to those New Year’s Resolutions.

Tens of millions of people broadcast what each part of Super Bowl Sunday means to them on social channels. For brands tuning in, that means an opportunity to leverage the power of social data to better understand the hearts and minds of target audiences.

Cision’s Global Insights team analyzed social conversations on Super Bowl Sunday about food and beverage brands, synthesizing and interpreting millions of posts from Twitter, Facebook, forums and other sources to better understand how people responded to commercials and what resonated with consumers.

Though this analysis specifically focuses on the food and beverage industry during the Super Bowl, the insights benefit brands of all types even with the big game in the rearview.

Mainstays get people talking

The Super Bowl may be the only time when a communications team can pitch spending $167,000 per second without getting laughed out of a boardroom. If you do pitch, you’d better be sure to justify the $5 million investment for a 30-second commercial with quantifiable results.

Though tying sales data directly to one Super Bowl ad often takes time, social media listening tools allow brands to measure their share of voice against all other advertisers, competitors and all brands mentioned.

Doritos and Budweiser emerged as Super Bowl 50’s share-of-voice titans, controlling 31 percent and 21 percent of the food and beverage share of voice, respectively. When compared to just their competitors, the brands further separated themselves. Budweiser controlled 43 percent of share of voice for all beer brands. Doritos achieved 61 percent of all discussion among snack brands.

Doritos dominated share of voice with its final Crash the Super Bowl Contest, which since 2006 has aired a fan-made commercial during the Super Bowl. This contest has the added bonus of driving results even before the big game, as people can check out the contenders ahead of time. Instead of a couple 30-second spots, Doritos gets dozens that people enjoy watching and get invested in before the game.

Budweiser, on the other hand, has long ridden Clydesdales to Super Bowl success, even in recent years, where the company added a mischievous puppy to its stories.

Experience wasn’t the only path to generating social chatter. A Super Bowl newcomer, Avocados from Mexico, generated the third-largest share of voice — 10 percent — beating out Super Bowl veterans like Mountain Dew, Pepsi and Coca-Cola.

Volume isn’t everything

Yes, brands did a great job of getting people talking, but discussion volume alone doesn’t adequately portray impact.

For example, Doritos, despite earning the largest share of voice, received mixed reaction to its spot, which showed a soon-to-be-father at an ultrasound munching Doritos only to discover that his unborn child instinctively wants some of the chips.

“The ad was more contentious in topic than Frito-Lay may have realized, but the reaction ultimately leaned positive in tone and got people talking,” said Cision Senior Insights Analyst Caitlin Jamali.

While this insight shows how sensitive audiences can be around certain issues, Budweiser could learn from its messaging just how much people love its Clydesdales.

The hairy-hooved horses didn’t fit the theme of its first commercial that featured Helen Mirren admonishing those who drink and drive. The second was an aggressive commercial that told the story of what Budweiser is by showing what it is not. As an aggressive beat played over images of teams celebrating, people partying and industrial machinery cracking grains, phrases like “Not Sipped,” “Not Following” and “Not A Hobby” appeared on screen. Though powerful, the ad featured only a few seconds of the iconic Clydesdales at the beginning and end.

“While discussion for Budweiser drove the second-highest share of voice of the competitive set, buzz leaned negative in tone as viewers were disappointed that the horses did not play a prominent role in the advertising,” Jamali said.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Butterfinger yielded less than 1 percent of overall share, but still enjoyed success with its “Bolder than bold” commercial that featured a bull rider parachuting from an airplane and eating a candy bar.

“Butterfinger drove the highest social net sentiment score of the Super Bowl commercials analyzed,” Jamali said. “It received praise for being funny and was noted as a favorite.”

Lessons from the Super Bowl

Key insights from social discussion of these and the dozens of other commercials from Super Bowl Sunday include the notion to reaching people amidst a sea of competition.

“Ultimately, light-hearted ads that are uncontentious in topic resonate as viewers do not have to read deeply into an idea and can enjoy situational humor,” Jamali said.

Though situational humor can provide a significant impact, brands need to consider the timing, overall theme and perception of their brand. Failing to tailor communication will ultimately result in failure.

For example, Budweiser broadcast an important message about drinking responsibly. It managed to keep the mood as light as possible without undoing the intent of its message. Had it made light of the situation, it would have faced backlash.

Social analysis is an important tool in the brand’s use to create relevant content that resonates with key audiences, to inform messaging and content strategy, and to understand results. That’s true not just for Super Bowl Sunday, but every day.

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Michelle Vangel is Vice President of Insight Solutions at Cision.