Blog Post By: Bryan Williams

Don’t Spike Your Ad Spend: Smart Budget Allocation During The Super Bowl And Similar Events


“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”- John Wanamaker

At HYFN, our team of strategists and ad operations specialists work on devising smart spend strategy day-in and day-out. We pride ourselves on driving no-waste media for our clients, ensuring we maximize each and every dollar. So when the Super Bowl came around, we found ourselves neck-deep in work during the event adjusting spend to achieve the highest engagement for our advertisers. After the fact, we extracted insights from our spend strategies to share with you. While these insights were pulled from Super Bowl data, the techniques could be applied to any big event in 2017 and beyond — be it the Oscars, Coachella, or the NBA Finals.

The following insights are driven by first-party data from four campaigns run by four different national advertisers in a similar vertical that ran media adjacent to or during the Super Bowl. Each advertiser had different campaign windows and goals but share a common element of working to maximize their spend during and surrounding a large event. One focused on syncing social with a TV spot that launched a new product, and another promoted Facebook Live parallel programming. We also compared both of these to a baseline of accounts in a similar vertical that didn’t run any Super Bowl-specific advertisements.

Engagement rate was used as the primary metric for this study because it is particularly useful for advertising around major events in encompassing audience sentiment toward the campaign, letting the advertiser know how much it connected with audiences’ past standard view or click.

Scenario 1: Sync product launch social campaigns around TV spots during a large event

Engagement Rate Scenario 1

What you see in the graph: In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, our first advertiser strategically spent a significantly lower amount than on the actual day of the game, and again dropped the spend in the days following. As a result, engagement rates started to climb about 24 hours before game day, and remained relatively consistent throughout the game and the days after. Due to this spend strategy, the engagement rate post-Super Bowl remained significantly higher than in the days leading up to the weekend.

The ‘why’ behind this strategy: If your goals are to sync TV spots with a social campaign, it’s most efficient to hike spend on the day of the game. You can expect costs to increase of course, though volume will also increase, leading to a successful awareness campaign. However, spending on game day just to spend — with no strategy to offset or benefit from the large spike in ad demand and pricing — is not advised.

Recommendation for campaigns on the day of: If you’re capitalizing on multi-screen storytelling by running a social sync with a TV spot or other day-of-only activation, your audience is likely to actively engage with you on social during the game. To spark a lift in engagement, hold off on spending until the day of, and then greatly increase spend to make sure you’re saturating the audiences you want to hit. Drop spend down to a standard campaign budget level the following day.

Scenario 2: Brand awareness with Facebook Live event prior to a large event

Engagement Rate Scenario 2

What you see in the graph: Our second advertiser hosted a Super Bowl-oriented Facebook Live event on the Friday before the game itself. We promoted the event through Sunday morning, and ran ads in-concert with the advertiser’s standard campaigns not related to the event over this time period. In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, the brand spent a significantly higher spend than on the actual day of the game. As we dropped spend on the event-specific campaign, engagement increased and then dropped again on Sunday due to two reasons:

  • Spend on the Super Bowl themed Facebook Live event was the main driver in the variations in overall spend leading up to Super Bowl Sunday. As we decreased ad spend over the weekend on the event-specific campaign, the relative size of the audience base shrank, reducing the engagement rate back down to the level of regular campaigns.
  • The Facebook Live event hit engagement rates of over 40% on Saturday and Sunday. However, the event campaign stopped spending early on Sunday, leading to an overall drop in engagement rate as the non-SB campaigns were the only campaigns running. When we increased spend again on the following Monday, we achieved a residual bump in engagement rates that was incrementally higher than before the event weekend, mostly due to the positive effects of the Facebook Live event.

The ‘why’ behind this strategy: The strategy to spend more money in the days leading up to the Super Bowl allows for minimal spend needed throughout the weekend. The temporary drop in engagement rate you’ll see during the Super Bowl will recover once spend is increased after the event.

Recommendation for pre-event campaigns: Pre-event marketing is a successful way to leverage your ads dollars. However, higher bids on the day of the event should encourage you to reserve your dollars for post event spend rather than compete with an older message during game day. That is to say, if you’re running awareness campaigns prior to a large event, focus on spend in the days leading up to it, reducing it as the actual event approaches. Then, bring spend back up to standard or elevated levels in the days following.

Scenario 3: Brand awareness while a large event is happening

Engagement Rate Scenario 3

What you see in the graph: Similar to the case of our second advertiser, we increased spend up until two days before the Super Bowl for our third and fourth advertisers in the same vertical who did not run campaigns with Super Bowl messaging. As we decreased spend from the Friday to Saturday before the event, we achieved an increase in engagement due to lower spend reaching only the high-engagement audiences for these accounts.

Yet again we decreased spend on Super Bowl Sunday, but this time engagement rates dropped as well, indicating that even the high-engagement audiences interact less than usual during the game. In the days following, we increased spend to above pre-weekend levels before leveling it off, because ad costs were low enough for reach to hit lower-engagement audiences.

The ‘why’ behind this strategy: If there is no reason for you to run ads with event-specific messaging, boost spend a couple of days before the event and then keep your bid price at an inflexible level throughout the weekend, allowing your campaigns to ‘coast’ in a sense. This will allow you to reduce your reach to high-engagement audiences at a lower spend.

Recommendation if you are not activating: Think of your campaigns not related to the event as riding a bicycle. Pedal hard and spend at increased levels a couple days out from the event, then ‘coast’ by decreasing spend during the event itself. You don’t want to be competing with costlier ads closer to the event without any event messaging in place. Once it has passed, start pedalling hard again with an increase in spend and you should see engagement rates recover, or even witness a favorable bump.

It should be noted that every account is different in terms of product, objective, and goals, so any blanket statements toward any specific scenario will be subject to adjustment based on the nuances of the account. However, you can learn from these examples to help take the worry out of social ad spending during big events in 2017 and beyond.

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