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Bud Light Crowned King of Ad Breakthrough for Super Bowl LIII

February 21, 2019

The Super Bowl is the most-watched television event in the US, drawing an average of 106 million viewers each year. So when brands spend over $5 million on an advertising slot, they want to make sure their creative is compelling enough to generate real ROI. Some brands use tried and tested formulas or try to break new ground, while others are just trying to be seen or heard. But executing a successful Super Bowl ad can be tricky, and not all advertisers achieve in making the impact they intended. One of the brands that generated real cut-through during this year’s Super Bowl was Bud Light.

Phoenix Brand Effect conducted its annual Super Bowl 360° report, which holistically measures in and out of game impact on advertisers, and found that Bud Light was among the top performers for this year’s event. Unlike many brands, Bud Light did not run just one creative concept throughout the Super Bowl, but four. This strategy of running a series of ads proved to be significantly effective, with two of the brand’s four ads (Game of Thrones and Special Delivery) landing in the top five slots of Phoenix Brand Effect’s list of best-performing ads.

Bud Light’s Game of Thrones partnership was the second-highest ranked Super Bowl ad on the Brand Ad Appeal metric, which incorporates memorability, brand connection, and likeability, while Bud Light’s Special Delivery ranked at third. The Medieval Barbers and Trojan Horse ads also managed to land in the top 15, demonstrating the value of creative diversity while staying within a general theme. Having a wider range of advertisements allows Bud Light to appeal to a broader audience, thus increasing their brand awareness.

So why was Bud Light so successful?

The short answer? Creative continuity.

The Game of Thrones partnership provided Bud Light a neat way to continue to use its “Bud Knight” character during the Super Bowl. The Bud Knight is not a new concept to TV viewers, with the character’s debut performance unveiled to audiences leading up to last year’s Super Bowl. This creative continuity means that audiences are already familiar with the concept, allowing the brand the ability to pick up where they left off from the knight’s last airing. This progression perpetuates a degree of familiarity as well as a level of excitement, as audiences anticipate the next ad in the series and follow the knight’s adventure.

Phoenix Brand Effect data shows that brands who use creative continuity in such a way are 12% more effective than companies that introduce a brand new concept during the Super Bowl. The average Ad Memorability score (the percentage of consumers able to remember the content of an ad 24 hours after viewing) for a Super Bowl advertisement is 47%, and Bud Light’s Game of Thrones partnership achieved an Ad Memorability score of 66%. In addition, the ad received a score of 61% for Brand Memorability (the percentage of viewers able to remember both the ad and the brand 24 hours after viewing), compared to an average of 30%. These figures demonstrate that not only were audiences able to remember the ad due to the continuity of the character, but were also fully aware of the brand it represented.

Connecting Outside of the Super Bowl

By continuing to develop themes and characters and creating a fluid narrative that exists outside of the Super Bowl bubble, brands are able to appeal to audiences that may not be watching the Super Bowl. What Bud Light has done by combining such a strong character with the most popular TV series of a generation, is construct a narrative that transcends linear TV by producing creative that people will look to consume outside of traditional TV airings. Additionally, the tie-in between Bud Light and Game of Thrones harnesses an additional international audience that may not be familiar with Bud Light, but are loyal Game of Thrones fans. This then creates a series of cross promotional opportunities, with Game of Thrones fans tweeting and posting the ad on platforms that might not have been reached with just a normal Bud Light ad.

One of the key reasons that the Bud Light – Game of Thrones partnership worked was due to the character being able to cross over into the Game of Thrones universe, without it seeming alien. Knights are one of the key character arcs of Game of Thrones, and therefore, having the Bud Knight step into Westeros is not unfamiliar for fans. If the brand ambassador for Bud Light had been a space captain, this partnership would have failed to take-off before getting anywhere near viewers screens.

Risks Involved in Creative Partnerships

However, this is not to say that there was no risk involved in Bud Light developing a partnership with Game of Thrones, especially mere months before the final season airs. The key to any partnership is that one brand is not eclipsed by the other, and with Game of Thrones being such a powerful brand in its own right with legions of loyal fans, there was a certain risk involved.

Luckily, Bud Light managed to accomplish the crossover without being overshadowed by its partner. Due to the familiarity of the Bud Knight character and the fact that the ads have been running for over a year (with new iterations coming out every few months), Bud Light’s partnership actually enhanced both brands rather than one outshining the other.

Keep the Creative Ball Rolling

One additional key learning that all brands can take from Bud Light’s strategy is to continue to use thematic advertising throughout the year, rather than exclusively for the Super Bowl ad. By spending millions of dollars on creating one piece of work for the Super Bowl and then never using it again, brands miss out on key interactions over the course of the year. Brands can generate far greater ROI if they utilize their creative outside of the Super Bowl rather than just as a one off. For all the time, effort and money it takes to create an exceptional Super Bowl ad, the common practice of never using it again can leave money on the table.

What Brands Can Learn from Bud Light

The Bud Knight may not have won the battle against the Mountain, but he did manage to win the battle of Super Bowl advertising. Bud Light becoming one of this year’s most successful Super Bowl advertisers is due in part to the brand employing a series of ads throughout the event that appealed to different audiences, meaning that there was something for everyone. However, it was the Bud Knight who deserves the MVP crown. By being brave and sticking to a well loved character that audiences were familiar with, the brand managed to generate far greater cut through and resonance than many of its competitors. Bud Light saw the success of its knight in shining armour last year and knew it was on to a winner.

Something for other brands to keep in mind is that if an ad works for the Super Bowl, there is a good chance the creative could work outside of that environment as well (given that it doesn’t wear out from being shown every day). Don’t just throw the ad away after the Super Bowl – reuse the concepts to drive anticipation for next year and build effectiveness over time, rather than starting over and building an ad from scratch.

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