What Super Bowl Ads Can Teach Us About Mobile Video

In the marketing world, the Super Bowl marks the beginning of all-new advertising campaigns featuring some of the largest brands in the world. It used to be the case that almost all the ads that aired during the game appeared for the first time during the broadcast, but that has changed in recent years with the ascendency of online video. Now, most Super Bowl advertisers post their ads online the week prior to the game.

With nearly 20 percent of all online traffic coming from mobile devices, Super Bowl advertisers have more to consider than just the time and channel for the distribution of their ads. They also need to consider the implications of smartphone screen sizes on the viewing experience.

Watching video on four inch screens challenges the viewer in many ways. It can be harder to view dark scenes. Audio, including narration and music, can be harder to hear. On-screen text, or supers, can strain the eyes if they’re too small. Shots featuring quick cuts and activity in the background can disorient viewers and make it more difficult to track the narrative.

On the other hand, video shot in clear, vibrant lighting, featuring lots of close-ups and large on-screen supers, minimizing narration and music (or the extent to which it’s necessary to hear in order to follow the narrative) can deliver deep impact, even on smartphone screens.

Anyone in charge of their company’s video strategy, therefore, would be well advised to watch this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads on her smartphone. I did just that this year. Here’s a summary of what I discovered.

Preface: I did not attempt to rate an advertiser’s ability to deliver a memorable message. I focused only on production values. I also searched only for 2014 Super Bowl commercials and used only YouTube. Here’s a link you can use to discover what I found. Interestingly, I also found lots of ads, many of them really good, that reference what has become code for the Super Bowl: “The Big Game.” Advertisers not sponsoring the actual game use this language to signal their association with it. On YouTube, the result is a lot more clutter than what fans will encounter during the televised broadcast.

More smartphone friendly:

  • Microsoft “Empowering.” While the narration is deliberately robotic and therefore sometimes difficult to understand, that’s in service of the ad’s overall message. It features lots of close-up shots and easy-to-read supers, both of which drive an emotional message about technology.
  • T-Mobile “#nocontract.” This stars one of the best former college quarterbacks of all time, Tim Tebow, who has been trying to land a pro contract for many months. The ad humorously shows Tebow in a variety of heroic situations off the field, and each scene develops slowly enough for the viewer to keep up. While there is some audio, it isn’t necessary to get the joke. Tim Tebow remains extremely popular, for the most part, in spite of his lack of football success after college. That’s why he can get a commercial job like this.
  • Budweiser “A Hero’s Welcome.”Featuring a heart-warming and easy to follow story, this spot features very little audio and outdoor scenes that take their time to develop.
  • Kia “The Truth.” While there is plenty of narration to follow, Lawrence Fishburne’s reprising of his role as Morpheus in “The Matrix” trilogy is instantly recognizable. It features big close-ups and lots of slow, Matrix-y cuts that also pack plenty of punch.

Less smartphone friendly:

  • Chevrolet “Romance.” The ad’s visuals alone don’t clearly reveal what’s happening, i.e. that a rancher is bringing a bull to a pen full of cows for breeding, It can be tough to tell one bovine from another, so the ad requires narration. That, coupled with its darker hues, make this ad relatively harder to follow on a phone.
  • Budweiser “Puppy Love.” This spot employs very little sound, but its scenes cut from one to the next rapidly. I found it harder to follow on my phone.
  • H&M “#Covered or #Uncovered?” Featuring a scantily clad David Beckham racing to and from a photo shoot, the ad cuts quickly from scene to scene. Those scenes tend to be darker (commentary on lighting, not on mood). This makes it a bit difficult to follow, especially since it’s apparent that H&M hopes viewers will flock to Twitter to use these hashtags.

Check them out yourself and imagine how you might learn from them to hone your video strategy for mobile devices.

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