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Are Live Ads Making A Comeback?

On Sunday, February 5, over 100 million Americans will tune into the Super Bowl, one of the most watched and highly anticipated live television events of the year. But the big game won’t be the only thing playing in real time.

In an unprecedented move, Snickers announced that it will air the Super Bowl’s first-ever live ad, starring Star Wars’ Adam Driver, which will play during a third-quarter commercial break. And the candy company isn’t alone. As soon as the game ends, Hyundai will run a 90-second commercial that Friday Night Lights director Peter Berg will shoot, edit, and produce live.

Considering that a coveted 30-second Super Bowl commercial slot costs up to $5 million, brands typically create their ads months ahead of the game — often pre-releasing the spot online in advance of the big game to build buzz and capitalize on the investment. Although this can be an effective way to build zeitgeist, it’s still hard to stand out among approximately 80 national commercial slots.

That’s why Snickers and Hyundai are wise to raise eyebrows and deviate from the norm. A live ad reflects the excitement created in a live event, and it creates anticipation in consumers who are curious to see how things will unfold. Given the recent growth of live video in the social sphere, consumers may accept (and even embrace) any glitches or unplanned moments that occur.

The Rise of the Live TV Ad… Again

While live commercials are new to the Super Bowl, they’re hardly a new phenomenon. In fact, they used to be an industry norm. During the early days of the Today Show and Tonight Show, for example, a live Polaroid spot would show an instant photograph develop in real time.

Although these live ads fell out of fashion in the following decades, more recently they’ve seen a successful resurgence. When Garmin partnered with the Tonight Show in 2008, its live ad garnered 76% better brand recall than other commercials. But it’s only been in the last year when live ads have really started to make a splash, appearing not only in expected talk shows but in highly anticipated live events, too. NBC aired live commercials by Oreo and Toyota during its December broadcast of “Hairspray Live.” Furthermore, Target sponsored a four-minute ad break during the 2016 Emmy’s in which Gwen Stefani sang a song live, undergoing seven different costume changes and dancing in front of Target’s famous bull’s-eye design.

Cross-Platform Campaigns

This rise of the live television commercial could be credited to the success of new “live” video streaming tools on social platforms like Facebook and Instagram. According to Facebook, users – on average — watch videos that are live more than three times longer than they watch videos that are not. People also prove to be more engaged when watching live videos, commenting ten times more than they would on regular video content.

So why wouldn’t television marketers want to ride this wave of engagement, not only by creating live content, but by integrating live TV commercials with a solid and supportive social media campaign?

A recent study found that American agencies and marketing professionals had gone from spending 29% to 35% of their total advertising budgets on cross-platform campaigns, which includes television and online video ads, between 2014 and 2016. That’s an industry-wide increase of $10 billion. And that money is being spent on integrated live campaigns, too.

For example, prior to Snickers’ live Super Bowl premiere, the brand will be streaming 36 hours of live video content, complete with celebrity cameos, on its website and Facebook page. Although digital ads promoting the live stream effort will cost the brand “several hundred thousand dollars” (on top of what it’s spending on the actual Super Bowl spot), the brand thinks that the result will be worth it.

And if these live ads do prove to be successful, on a stage as big as the Super Bowl, live commercials could become a mainstay in the new advertising age.