How the Super Bowl Kicked Off the Brand Storytelling Revolution

Think back to the most memorable Super Bowl ads ever produced — Apple’s 1984 spot probably comes to mind. It had it all: a quest-driven protagonist, conflict, suspense, and cultural relevancy. 30 years since the commercial aired, we still find ourselves talking about it every winter.

That ad, along with many others, has established Super Bowl advertising as the pinnacle of brand marketing. The captive audience and national platform afforded by the event transforms commercials into an entertainment phenomenon. However, Super Bowl spots aren’t just remarkable because they air during the big game. Their power lies in their stories.

Remember last year’s Tide Miracle Stain ad, in which a splash of salsa in the likeness of Joe Montana changes a superfan’s life? Or Chrysler’s Emmy-winning 2011 Born of Fire, which paints a picture of the Detroit’s checkered history to the beat of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself?”

How about those Budweiser Clydesdales aspiring to greatness, dreaming of a better life, and bonding with humans? Watch any one of these spots, or peruse the most viral Super Bowl ads of all time, and you’ll find they’re following in Apple’s footsteps by engaging audiences with brand storytelling.

But the media ecosystem has changed. Now, brands create entire universes of content to accompany their Super Bowl ads. Last year’s Coke Chase campaign invited viewers to vote online for the characters competing in a race that began on TV. The story continued with a series of web videos that could be used to “sabotage” racers, complemented by additional content posted to Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and YouTube.

This year, Bud Light’s Super Bowl teaser has already generated over 1.6 million YouTube views in a matter of days, while a second preview ad is close behind with 1.4 million views. In all, Anheuser-Busch InBev posted six short videos on its #UpForWhatever YouTube channel in advance of its Super Bowl spot, prologues designed to help frame the story to come.

Super Bowl Ads and the Future of Content Marketing

Others brands are opting to deliver their narratives through extended content. Super Bowl ads are getting longer: Chrysler set a record for its two-minute spot in 2011, while research shows the top 10 Super Bowl ads of last year averaged 89 seconds in length, more than double since 2010. Online videos – and not just those tied to Game Day – are mirroring this trend. In the last year alone we saw Chipotle, Intel and Toshiba, and many others launch branded online films, social movies, and video series focused on telling stories. Airbnb’s Hollywood & Vines ran over four minutes. Jaguar’s action-adventure film topped out at 13.

Given the recent legacy of compelling storytelling and steady migration to the web, one can’t help but wonder if the Super Bowl’s advertising power is responsible for the current online storytelling trend. Without first seeing the affects of in-depth brand storytelling on Super Bowl audiences, would advertisers have been so quick to embrace it? Without knowing consumers would willingly watch several minutes of commercial content, would brands have extended the length of their videos online?

We’re living in an age of digital brand stories. And it’s worth honoring the Super Bowl’s connection to TV advertising as the catalyst that started it all.

Want your business to tell great stories like this one? Contently gives brands the tools and talent to tell stories that people love. Learn more.

Image by Daniel X. O'Neil

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