Research Digest

Unlocking TV Advertising Success Beyond the Big Game


  • Over 115 million Americans tuned in to the Big Game in 2023 — making it the most watched game in history.
  • Big Game viewers are using secondary devices for texting (47%), browsing social media (43%), ordering food (25%), playing games (25%), and even discussing the ads they see (69%).
  • But TV advertising is about more than just awareness plays now — over 2 in 5 of all new programmatic ad dollars are expected to go to Connected TV.
  • To learn how marketers approach CTV advertising during the week of the Big Game, we took a look at Performance TV campaigns run by MNTN advertisers.

Every year in February, millions of viewers tune in to watch the biggest football game of the year. However, viewership has lagged in recent years, with the last big turnout being in 2015 with 114 million viewers. Last year’s game helped turn that trend around. 115 million Americans tuned in — around a third of the country — making 2023’s game the most watched in history. 

And of course, those are just the viewership numbers for traditional television. Other estimates put the total audience at closer to 200 million viewers when factoring in other devices. In fact, 36.7 million households specifically tuned in through Connected TV. As Paul Ballew, Chief Data and Analytics Officer of the NFL, had to say, “The Super Bowl is singular across the television and media landscape, not only in its unparalleled viewership, but because it is largely watched in group settings. With that in mind, additional measurement is needed in order to have a complete picture of the total viewership of this special event.” 

Viewers aren’t just using those other devices to watch the game, of course. Half of the fun of the Big Game as an event is checking in on social media and with friends, according to a study from AdColony. Those viewers use their mobile devices to text (47%), browse social media (43%), order food (25%), and play games (25%). 

As far as the audience goes, It’s not just football superfans tuning in to watch. 43% of total viewers watch the Sunday night game just for the commercials (60% among women). Unsurprisingly, for marketers that number skews even more away from football fanaticism — our 2023 Peeks Poll found that 58% of marketers tune in for the ads alone. And speaking of mobile device use during the game, that same AdColony study found that 69% of viewers use their phones to discuss the ads they see, and 51% will search for the ads to watch them again. 

Advertisers Need To Look Beyond Awareness

So obviously viewers enjoy the commercials — but how much do those Big Game creatives run advertisers? A lot: a 30-second spot cost around $7 million in 2023. That’s a 204% increase over the cost 20 years ago. 

But luckily for advertisers who can’t imagine dropping that much on one ad placement, these days, TV advertising is less about reaching mass quantities of viewers to drive brand awareness. Thanks to the rise of Connected TV, advertisers of all sizes can reach the audiences that matter most to them, without having to drop millions at once. And they know it — 76% of advertisers think that the TV networks and the NFL get more out of the Big Game than the advertisers (not a great sign for ads that cost $7 million a pop). 

While awareness strategies still have their place, successful advertisers must look beyond tentpole moments like the Big Game to see true success in this evolving channel. Instead, advertisers should take advantage of the ability to personalize their TV advertising efforts through Connected TV — creating an evergreen presence that drives performance all year ‘round.

Making Campaign Touchdowns With CTV

So what’s driving this shift to a more performance based approach to TV advertising? Programmatic Connected TV.

Before the pandemic, 53.5% of CTV ad dollars were spent programmatically, and now programmatic ad buying on Connected TV is on the rise. In fact, more than 2 in 5 new programmatic ad dollars are expected to go to CTV. And for a good reason — like other digital marketing channels, programmatic CTV allows advertisers to match their ads to the right consumers when they take an audience-first approach. (In other words, a strategy that focuses on targeting specific types of users rather than buying media based on the content an ad is served with.)

Clearly many marketers know about the power of programmatic CTV and are taking advantage of it — and if you’ve ever launched a campaign on paid search or social, you probably already know the basics, so you can, too. But in order to unlock performance marketing on CTV, a programmatic approach is key — and this can only be best accomplished with automated optimization. Like paid search and social, which use machine-learning algorithms to drive performance, the right CTV advertising partner platform will take the reins on your campaigns to optimize for your performance goals based on real-time data — a feat that can’t be achieved when performed by human hands alone. This kind of optimization allows advertisers to get specific about the goals of their CTV campaigns.

To learn how marketers are advertising on CTV during the Big Game season, we took a look at the performance of the campaigns run by MNTN advertisers. We found that total advertiser spend that week increased YoY from 2022 to 2023. And not only that — per-advertiser spend also increased, indicating that it’s not just major brands that have been investing more in Connected TV, but the entire spectrum of advertisers running performance campaigns. 

That’s true when we take a look at some of the top-performing industries from both our 2022 and 2023 performance data. While football-related verticals like food and beverage are (unsurprisingly) some of the top advertisers by conversion rate on the MNTN platform, there are also a few verticals you might not expect to see mentioned in the same sentence as the Big Game. With women’s health providers, psychic readers, and sleep apnea machines making up some of the top spots, it’s clear that Performance TV has its place no matter what vertical you’re in. 

Advertisers are also running more campaigns on Connected TV around the time of the Big Game. We found that the number of campaigns that week in 2023 increased by 20% over the same time the year prior, indicating an increased demand for CTV campaigns that drive direct outcomes vs. those that just increase awareness.

The Importance of Measurement and Attribution

The final piece in a successful Connected TV playbook that capitalizes on all of this new performance technology is accurate measurement and attribution. One of the benefits of performance-based CTV marketing is that it gives advertisers insight into how well their campaigns are performing — allowing them to huddle up and evaluate what to change if things aren’t going as planned. (Of course, this is only true if your CTV ad technology is optimized for performance. There are still plenty of CTV ad platforms out there that still have more of a focus on reach and awareness, so don’t fumble your ad play by mixing them up.) 

The key to that accuracy is an attribution model that fits this channel. Unlike other digital channels, which can allow marketers to employ a last-touch or click-through attribution model, Connected TV advertising can require a more nuanced approach. MNTN’s Verified Visits™, for example, is built to give marketers a deterministic way to track the performance of their CTV campaigns. By tracking a user starting when they view an ad on their TV screen, then to a visit within a predefined window, and finally determining whether it was another media source that drove the visit, Verified Visits helps marketers know that user’s exact journey. And that kind of insight is what gives marketers the power to see how their ads are performing and assess how those campaigns can improve.

Ultimately, by looking beyond awareness plays to focus on performance, advertisers will be able to benefit from the true power of today’s TV advertising capabilities, and get their campaigns to the end zone (no expensive Big Game ad required).

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