Scoring The Superbowl Ads & Search: Do Broadcast Marketers Get Online Acquisition?

Way back in 2007, an iProspect/Jupiter Research study found that two-thirds of those online are motivated to search online due to an offline channel such as a TV ad. Since 2007 was an eternity ago in internet time and search continues to grow, that number has surely only gone up.

That TV ads cause viewers to search is clear from search data as well. And people don’t just search for brands. They’re just as likely to search for taglines or products. Remember the “It’s Bacon!” Beggin’ Strips commercial from 2006?

It's Bacon! Searches

Based on the 2009 Superbowl commercials, marketers clearly understand the importance of having an online presence. Nearly all the ads included URLs and many had microsites made specifically for the campaigns. But did these marketers realize the impact their ads would have on searcher behavior? If a brand can’t be found in search for its name, product, or commercial slogan, then it’s losing a prime opportunity for acquisition.

For instance, below is a snapshot from Google Hot Trends in the last minutes of the Superbowl (the arrows indicate queries driven by commercials):

Superbowl Commercials: Search Trends

We know many of these brands spent big bucks on producing and airing the Superbowl ads. How did they do with search acquisition?

Search presence scorecard

Below are the brands and dominant slogans of select 2009 Superbowl commercials. As you can see many of them can be found for their brand name (although the asterisks signify significant display issues), but many can’t be found for their slogans. [Edited to remove the Vizio example, as I need to do more research on this.]

In cases like this, buying search ads (at least for the peak search period after airing the ads) could ensure some presence. (That appears to have happened in a few instances. For instance, Castrol Oil aired an ad for their microsite, but it can’t be found at all in organic search on Google or Yahoo. But Castrol did buy paid search ads for the query.

Superbowl Commercials: Search Visibility

This scorecard also gives a sense of how many brands are still investing in expensive TV advertising, but not in paid search (at least for these queries). I found 9 of these queries in paid search on Google, 12 on Yahoo, and 12 on Live.

The scorecard shows rank alone, however. It doesn’t represent how clickable the results are. In many instances, the results are confusing mix of sites with obsure titles and missing descriptions. Other sites are often more appealing and are more likely to get the click. In the case of [are you venza], for instance, Toyota has poor visibility, but another Superbowl advertiser, ranks #1 on all three engines with a blog post.

Taking a closer look: microsites and display issues

This was the year of the microsite. Microsites can be a great way to have flexibility in campaigns because you can build them outside of the normal site development cycle. you can tailor them exactly for the campaign without worrying about site constraints. And sometimes they’re the best experience for customers.

But microsites can proliferate and customers can become overwhelmed. Which site should they engage with? The paid search domain often conflicts with the ranking organic result.

In addition, microsites can sometimes be forgotten when the campaign ends, but the sites remain live on the web and customers continue to find them.

It can be difficult to build up a new site’s search ranking (content, links, and awareness). By using an established site, you can be more confident that searchers can find it. And having multiple sites listed in the search results may seem like a good thing, but it can be confusing for the searcher and might not provide the best experience with your brand.


Hyundai was a dominant sponsor. They ran ads for their Genesis coupe and sedan during the game, as well as sponsored the pregame show. But as a consumer, I’m presented with a confusing array of choices if I do online research about their cars. In just a few moments, I found,,,, and The flashy coupe ad promoted (and [edit your own] became a hot search trend soon after):

Superbowl Commercials: Hyundai "edit your own"

But was no where to be found for those searchers (since it redirects to, only the latter site can be found).


Sprint seems to have done fairly well according to the scorecard. But the results themselves paint a different picture. This result for [NFL Mobile Live Sprint] has a vague title and no description at all:

Superbowl Commercials: Sprint/NFL

And while Sprint is the third result on Google for [the now network], the snippet could definitely use some help.

Superbowl Commercials: Sprint Now Network

Don’t be an asterisk

The latest Ad Council initiative to keep kids from drugs (in this case steroids), stayed on the Google hot trends during most of the game. And the scorecard looks positive. But this is the result searchers see:

Superbowl Commercials: Don't Be An Asterisk

Looking through the rest of the Superbowl advertisers shows similar issues: all-Flash sites that aren’t search-engine friendly, a flurry of microsites that cause consumer confusion, and vague and non-compelling titles and descriptions in search results. Sure, these brands will get some acquisition from search, but they could have had so much more. And searchers could be the best customers for these brands, because these are people who saw the ad and actively sought more information.

What can we learn?

Clearly, these issues can’t be solved with a few bullet points. How can marketing departments and advertising agencies work in close harmony with developers and IT departments when each have different production cycles and goals? It can be done, but the solutions are often unique to the situation and are far from easy.

But here are a few things to keep in mind as you consider how to move your organization towards a more integrated relationship.

  • Make sure your primary domain can be found for branded searches. This foundational step will help you through any marketing campaign and should be taken care of before you spend a lot of resources on awareness.
  • Don’t go overboard with microsites. Consider a strategy that uses subdomains or subfolders of the primary site, rather than a microsite for every campaign. (This can be difficult when site ship cycles don’t match marketing schedules.)
  • Use a blog or other format to add content about your various initiatives. Make sure your slogan is somewhere. And don’t just add it as a tagline; xplain why you’re using it to build a connection with potential customers.
  • Ranking isn’t enough. Make sure that your site provides a compelling and useful result that compels searchers to click. You can use the Google Webmaster Tools Query Report as one way of finding out what you rank for that searchers aren’t clicking on.
  • Use tools such as Google Trends and Google Insights (and any of the other many great keyword research tools out there) to find out how your customers are really searching for you. Many businesses don’t optimize for key slogans and taglines when those might be what people are searching for most.
  • If you use Flash, make sure you’re using it in a search-friendly way.

Search is the primary way that people navigate the web these days. Most of us even type domain names into our favorite search engine rather than use the address bar. If you’re investing in an online presence and offline advertising, make sure you make the most of the search acquisition potential.

(For more discussion on Super Bowl ads, see Techmeme.)

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Features: Analysis | Search & Society: General | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. She built Google Webmaster Central and went on to found software and consulting company Nine By Blue and create Blueprint Search Analytics< which she later sold. Her book, Marketing in the Age of Google, (updated edition, May 2012) provides a foundation for incorporating search strategy into organizations of all levels. Follow her on Twitter at @vanessafox.

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  • chiropractic

    Wow Vanessa did you get to enjoy the game at all? This is an incredible summary and so soon after the game is over.

    I admit I opted to stay home rather than hang with internet geek friends primarily because i wanted to study traffic patterns related to offline ads being searched. In two cases I reported on, Dennys and Vizio apparently were not prepared for traffic spikes that hit moments after ads ran.

    And twitter, OMG. Last year you could almost count those tweeting play by plays on one hand. This year it was a violently flowing river of information related to the Sunday game.

    As you said in the first paragraph, the number have certainly gone up. I’m curious what percentage of the population now considers it normal to watch TV and be online simultainously? What will the real-time stream be like in 2010?!

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