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Sales & Marketing
Jonathan Sills  |  February 2, 2015
Super Bowl Ads: Worth it for Web Companies? Ask Google

If you’re interested in something, you generally Google it–whether it’s a product, a recipe or life advice.  So last weekend’s Super Bowl ads are no exception.

This year, three Web companies—GoDaddy, SquareSpace and Wix.com—took the reported $4.5 million plunge for 30 seconds of airtime and decided to advertise during the game, alongside gigantic brands like Doritos and Lexus. But was the marketing spend worth it?  Looking at Web-search data is one way to find out. Then I think it’s worth evaluating the companies’ creative efforts in this context.

One helpful tool here is Google Trends, which provides an index of relative search volume over various time periods, certainly one way to gauge the ads’ strength. The tool is also useful in evaluating Super Bowl ad campaigns of years past.

Remember ten years ago, when Network Solutions was the king of domain-name registration? Well, that was before rival GoDaddy’s splashy coming out during the 2005 game broadcast. GoDaddy’s Super Bowl spot that year was a game-changer: Google Trends data shows that GoDaddy enjoyed a huge spike in branded searches after the company’s ads aired, making a fresh case for Web companies looking to boost visibility to spend big on the Super Bowl. GoDaddy searches rose to near-even with their rival the following year, then surpassed Network Solutions after that. Each peak in the chart below generally corresponds to another Super Bowl broadcast.

 

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Source: trends.google.com

The original GoDaddy commercial was effective for a number of reasons, including the attention-grabbing (though perhaps tasteless) use of a scantily clad model—GoDaddy has clearly used sex in many subsequent ads. But the spot also featured prominent, repeated display and integration of the GoDaddy name and URL, both on the screen and in the audio, which was unusual for the time. So was the  “endcard” at the conclusion of the commercial (the graphic displayed) that invited the viewer to “see more coverage at GoDaddy.com”. This tactic is commonplace now but was relatively novel at the time.

We don’t yet have Google Trends data for this year’s much more subdued GoDaddy spot, which featured a guy working at his desk at work while all his friends were off watching the Super Bowl. But iSpot.tv, a reputable source that provides hourly, real time data pulled from Google, Yahoo and Bing (see http://www.ispot.tv/our-platform), showed 5,787 searches during the hour in which the commercial broadcast, and around 30,000 total searches for the day. Not bad, but according to iSpot.tv, far from the top of the pack relative to other Super Bowl advertisers (and certainly the ‘winning’ dog spot in the end, from Budweiser).

I’m not that surprised, since the ad was not attention-grabbing; I was also surprised the endcard featured a very small GoDaddy logo rather than a URL to visit.

SquareSpace, a tool to help small businesses build websites, made its Super Bowl debut last year with an ad that gave it a temporary bump in traffic over rival Wix (still far below GoDaddy), after which SquareSpace quickly reverted back to a lower baseline in daily search volume.

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As much as I love the Dude and the Big Lebowski, the Jeff Bridges commercial for SquareSpace struck me as extraordinarily disconnected from the company’s product and, for the casual viewer, a complete whiff.  Perhaps a celebrity grabs people’s attention. But while GoDaddy at least attempted to create a narrative around its target customer–the hapless small-business owner working late into the night to fulfill a dream–the SquareSpace ad asked viewers to visit “DreamingWithJeff.com” and, at the end, featured a SquareSpace logo and “a website built with” above it. So if I’m a fan of Jeff Bridges I visit the site. If I’m a small business owner or even someone creative aspiring to create a website, why would I visit based on this one obtuse narrative?

Remember, the Super Bowl itself is a flare that fires an initial signal to spark consumer interest in a product. And nothing in this commercial made it clear what I’m supposed to be interested in other than what Jeff Bridges is up to on the promoted website.

Commensurately, iSpot.tv’s tool showed 765 searches the hour the ad aired (13% of GoDaddy’s total referenced above), and 2,877 for the day (less than 10% of GoDaddy’s). Lest people consider social activity far more important than search, the SquareSpace ad lagged both GoDaddy’s and Wix’s there as well.

Which brings us to the newest kid on the block, Wix.com. This website builder invested significantly in its creative, enlisting former NFL superstars Brett Favre, Emmitt Smith, Terrell Owens and Franco Harris to create fictional websites for businesses they might envision running. In the span of a short period the commercial presented the different scenarios (Terrell selling pies, Emmitt advertising line dancing) and showed four separate screenshots of websites on monitors, making it a bit clearer what was actually being advertised. The endcard said “Wix.com, #ItsThatEasy”. In my opinion, it was the best commercial of the three.

While Wix saw nearly triple the search volume of SquareSpace during the hour the spot aired as well as for the night (again, drawing upon iSpot.tv data), it still lagged GoDaddy with about a third of that company’s total inquiries.  So arguably the jury is out for this newer brand.

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Perhaps in the days ahead, the longer tail of news stories and social media, along with related rollouts of these respective campaigns, will influence overall traffic and the willingness of people to try these sites out. But less than 24 hours after the game’s surprise finish, which over 100 million Americans tuned in and watched, we at least have some early data on who drew the most attention.

NOTE: If you want to see how the three companies are tracking relative to each other in the days ahead, check trends.google.com (data will lag by a day or two based on Google’s reporting). As of the time of this writing, it appears GoDaddy and SquareSpace got a bigger post-game bump in US search volume on their brand terms than Wix, but on Tuesday all three came back down again. 

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Jonathan Sills is a former marketing executive who is now an executive-in-residence at Battery Ventures.

 

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