Super Bowl Ads Score Big With Early Kickoff 

Super Bowl ads used to be tightly guarded secrets, revealed only during the game to maximize impact and surprise. But these days, brands seem to release them days or even weeks before the big game.

Why wouldn’t they prefer for the ads to be a surprise during the game? After all, companies spend so much money to secure ad time during the game, it seems anticlimactic that we’ve already seen these pricey ads before the game even starts. So, what’s going on?

The answer is rooted in two things: marketing ROI and the advent of viral social media content.

Gone are the days when Super Bowl ads were tightly guarded secrets that were unveiled with great flourish during the game to maximize impact and surprise. But this shift isn't about diminishing the spectacle; rather, it is about amplifying the return on investment in an era where social media reigns supreme.

With ad spots during the Super Bowl fetching as much as a staggering $7 million for a mere 30 seconds—and production costs reaching twice as high, companies are laser-focused on squeezing every ounce of value from their sky-high investments.

The Rise of Social Media Platforms

Brands began to utilize this pre-release tactic in the early 2010s, which coincided with the surging popularity of such social media platforms as Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. Advertisers quickly realized that social media provided a lucrative secondary market that all but ensured they would make back the money they had invested in their ad.

Volkswagen was the first to take this leap in 2011 with “The Force” ad featuring a kid dressed as Star Wars’ Darth Vader while trying to use his telekinetic powers on his parents’ Passat parked in the driveway.

Volkswagen bought two 30-second spots—one for “The Force,” advertising the new Volkswagen Passat, and another called “Black Beetle,” which spotlighted the Volkswagen Jetta. But a longer 60-second version of “The Force” ad—too long for the Super Bowl—was actually their best work. So, Volkswagen threw caution to the wind and released it early. The ad was a huge success and paid for itself before Game Day.

The next year, another vehicle manufacturer Honda followed suit with an early release of their 2012 "Matthew's Day Off" commercial. The ad featured actor Matthew Broderick playing himself but acting like the Ferris Bueller character. But this time, Broderick drove a Honda CR-V in place of the iconic red 1985 Modena Spyder. That commercial also went viral, cementing the belief that social media buzz ahead of Game Day was worth its weight in gold.

By 2015, more brands embraced the practice. On the Monday before Super Bowl XLIX, BMW launched its "Newfangled Idea" ad on YouTube. The ad featured Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel promoting the brand’s new i3 all-electric vehicle, a groundbreaking innovation at the time. Within days, the ad had attracted close to 4 million views, eventually becoming the top video on the BMWiUSA channel even before its Super Bowl television debut.

Following the online release of the advertisement, the @BMWiUSA Twitter handle saw a 42 percent increase in followers within a week, and its Facebook page experienced a 58 percent increase in followers in the same period.

Harnessing the power of social media was an advertorial goldmine. Brands realized that by releasing their ads early, they could tap into the viral potential of social media and engage audiences well beyond the big game's broadcast.

Clear Insights and ROI

And while the Super Bowl boasts a staggering viewership that exceeds 110 million in the U.S. alone, it’s no longer the only—or the most lucrative—game in town. Social media turned a one-time event into a prolonged conversation, multiplying ads’ exposure and engagement through shares, likes and comments across TikTok, YouTube and other platforms.

It also provided a low-cost way to reach targeted audiences with maximum effect. What’s more, social media’s sophisticated and easy-to-access analytics gave brands detailed insight into engagement, clicks, likes and customer attribution metrics. The result? Clear insights into the ROI of their digital campaigns.

While an early release on social media might spoil the big reveal for some viewers who tune in to watch the commercials air on game day, this new strategy underscores a broader shift towards maximizing reach and engagement in an increasingly digital world. Simply said, advertisers want more bang for their buck.

By releasing their ads early, brands aren’t diluting the excitement; instead, they're expanding the playground, engaging audiences across multiple platforms, and ensuring that their message resonates far and wide, well beyond the confines of the Super Bowl broadcast.

Evan Nierman is founder and CEO of the crisis communications firm Red Banyan.