The Super Bowl is the most watched event on US television. As a result, brands put great effort into developing dazzling Super Bowl ads, and over the years viewers have come to look forward to the commercials almost as much as the game. Until recently, simply having an ad in the Super Bowl would get a brand talked about. But today consumers have come to expect more from brands than just a TV spot. An ad – even a Super Bowl ad – is no longer enough to catapult a brand into the cultural conversation.
Coca-Cola realised this. As the world’s most iconic brand, Coke has produced many memorable Super Bowl spots in the past, but was seeing diminishing returns from traditional communications. In 2011, the company publicly stated that it wanted Coke to deliver “the world’s most engaging content.” Starcom Mediavest’s (SMG) rather daunting challenge was to begin fulfilling this ambition, by finding a radically engaging way to connect with viewers of Super Bowl 2012.
The old “epic ad” Super Bowl model assumes that people are glued to the screen during the commercial break. Research showed that in fact they are – but not the TV screen. Watching television along with a second screen, such as a laptop, tablet or smartphone, was becoming a more and more prevalent habit, and it was predicted that more than 60% of 2012’s Super Bowl TV viewers would be watching this way. While the TV broadcast of the game was a one-way transmission, the second screen was a place for conversation. SMG knew people would be checking sports blogs, tweeting their reactions, and sharing their highs and lows with friends online as the game progressed.
If Coca-Cola was to produce the world’s most engaging content, this second screen was where the brand needed to be. The Super Bowl strategy was to focus not on a TV spot but on a live social experience that would unfold in real-time along with the game. This experience would add to the fun of the event, and engage people more deeply than a commercial could. SMG would use paid media – before and during the game – as an entry point, to showcase the live experience and direct people to their second screens.
Working with ad agency partners, SMG launched the ‘Coke Polar Bowl’, a real-time experience that cast Coke’s famous polar bears as fans of opposing teams, and had them reacting live to events throughout the game. Each polar bear was animated live using puppeteers, allowing the bears to express all the same feelings as the fans, at the same time. The bears’ reactions were streamed to CokePolarBowl.com, where viewers could enjoy them on their second screen devices throughout the event. Users could share video clips of their favourite polar bear reactions with their friends, and send the bears photos and tweets. The bears interacted directly with fans by responding to some of the many messages they were receiving.
SMG also broke new ground with Coke’s Super Bowl TV ads, by running spots that reflected the current state of the game at the time they aired. Two versions of each ad were prepared, showing the polar bears reacting differently depending on which team was winning. The agency negotiated to gain clearance for the final version to be decided just prior to its commercial break – a truly real-time execution.
The Coke Polar Bowl generated unprecedented levels of engagement, conversation and positive sentiment. Nine million people viewed the digital stream for an average time of 28 minutes each, which far exceeds the 10 minute industry benchmark for live stream viewership. The 252 million total minutes of livestream viewing translates into over $15m in media value for Coca-Cola.
And the campaign put Coca-Cola in the cultural conversation. During the game, Coke was the most talked about advertiser on Twitter, with over 60,000 mentions. Not only was this 2000% higher than in 2011, but the conversations were significantly more positive. It was the most successful start imaginable for Coca-Cola’s quest to provide the world’s most engaging content.