In pre-internet days, watching the Super Bowl could be a harrowing experience if you didn't want to miss any of the game or the ads: Any time you spent away from the TV set was opportunity lost. But the birth of YouTube, coupled a few years later with the rise of the smartphone, meant that no one ever had to miss an ad again. During the Super Bowl, Google’s video sharing behemoth can serve as a kind of instant replay for commercials.
YouTube is consequently cashing in, not just with its usual AdBlitz video hub for advertisers that want to put various iterations of their ads up early (whether it's teasers for the ads or the actual commercial itself), but with an expansion of its Real-Time Ads program. YouTube charges a premium for marketers who use these services, tacking on extras like an exclusive series with high-profile YouTube Creators (like College Humor's Jake and Amir) that will attract more viewers to the AdBlitz hub.
"There's now a whole Super Bowl cycle," Tara Walpert Levy, Google's managing director of agency sales, told reporters at an event in New York Wednesday. "We're seeing folks wanting to put their campaigns up earlier and earlier." Thus the streaming giant opened up AdBlitz to marketers on Wednesday, a full 18 days before kickoff on Feb. 7; KFC and website builder Wix.com have already posted teasers for their Super Bowl ads. In a way, the Super Bowl is like Christmas for the advertising community: The season starts earlier every year, you have to spend more money, and for some people, it always ends in disappointment.
Real-Time Ads have been a little-used arrow in YouTube's quiver until now — the company is rolling it out to more brands in advance of the Super Bowl. Let's say a blackout occurs, like in 2013's game (the Baltimore Ravens vs. the San Francisco 49ers). A brand participating in YouTube's Real-Time Ads initiative has the option of instantly running a topical ad across the entirety of YouTube and Google Display Network; Oreo, for example, could roll out a quick video response that would reach anyone watching a YouTube video at that moment, rather than just a tweet or Facebook post, like they did in 2013.
"Real-Time" refers mostly to the immediacy of the ad's rollout across the Google/YouTube network. Levy said that because of the myriad levels of approval that creative work has to go through, these have tended to be preplanned bits, à la a spot created by Marco Rubio's Super PAC to run during the last GOP debate. "But we're moving closer and closer to real, real time," she added.
It might seem a waste of money to target people who are clearly watching something else, but that's not quite the case: According to a Google/Ipsos study, 84 percent of Gen Y viewers use their smartphone while watching the game, and YouTube conducted a study that found mobile viewership of Super Bowl ads increased threefold just from 2014 to 2015. "People reflexively come to YouTube to rewatch ads," Levy said.
The price of a Super Bowl ad in the big game has increased a whopping 76 percent over the last decade, according to media research firm Kantar Media; CBS executives have said they're selling spots for north of $5 million in Super Bowl 50, and that doesn't include the millions of dollars in other inventory that networks often force Super Bowl ad buyers to spend.
The advantages of posting an ad early, or creating a teaser for an ad, are therefore obvious — YouTube says commercials posted online before kickoff garner 2.2 times more views by Monday morning than those posted after the game has started, and 37 percent of time spent watching Super Bowl ads on YouTube occurred before game day. The days of getting only 30 seconds' worth of eyeballs from your Super Bowl ad are over.