The Value of a Super Bowl Ad: Smartphone Game Marketers Enter the Fray in Search of New Frontiers; While Some Familiar Brands Look towards Other Tactics

Image of Clash of Clans characters charging towards an image of a football.
Clash of Clans was one of three mobile games that went big with a 30 second advertising slot in the Super Bowl this year.

With the largest audience ever for a television event at about 114.4 million viewers (according to preliminary figures from Nielsen), this year’s Super Bowl provided marketers with a prime opportunity to promote their brands. One thing many viewers may have noticed was the surprising number of advertisements that aired during the big game that promoted games for smartphones.

The kicker for the games advertised is that they are downloaded for free. The games make money through the use of a “freemium” model where revenue is generated via the sale of additional in-game content (a little while back we wrote a post that touches on the different ways that smartphone games can be monetized along with Sega’s move to focus on this segment of game development which you can check out here).

At the same time that smartphone companies were spending big on Super Bowl ads, companies such as GE,, and Visa—who bought ad slots during the Super Bowl in the past—decided to look towards other alternative Super Bowl marketing tactics as noted in an interesting article in Advertising Age. For these companies finding clever ways to piggy back on the hype and excitement of the Super Bowl without paying millions of dollars for ad time during the game itself provided significant benefits, at a more affordable price tag.

In the case of the three Smartphone games that chose to invest in Super Bowl commercials (Game of War, Clash of Clans, and Heroes Charge), being able to bring in new users is noted as paramount to the success of their “freemium” model. In this regard, the Super Bowl offers the promise of a very large base of potential customers to communicate with.

It’s worth noting that in the world of mobile gaming a minority of players purchase additional in-game content, so it’s important to keep growing the consumer base in order to increase the number of users spending dollars on bonus features within the games. If we assume that the percentage of individuals who will purchase additional in-game content is constant then this approach to growing the base of users should lead to predictable growths in revenue.

That assumption is certainly debatable, but in a mobile gaming market that’s becoming more saturated by the moment it can be understood why the aforementioned games are looking for growth beyond their traditional market segments. Advertising in the Super Bowl it seems could help in this regard. An article in AdWeek suggests that Game of War and Clash of Clans’ use of celebrities in their TV spots (Kate Upton and Liam Neeson respectively) had the benefit of helping with the mass-market appeal of the games.

The initial data from the Super Bowl suggests that the tactic employed by these mobile game companies paid off. An article in Wired notes that according to the analytics firm Appfigures, after the airing of all three mobile games’ Super Bowl spots each game saw growth in the number of user downloads. Heroes Charge went from being unranked to being ranked 86th in the iOS games category. Game of War also improved its position by 95 spots, while Clash of Clans moved up 18 spots. In social media these games generated a fair amount of views and buzz as well.

The most viewed commercial on social media platforms was for Game of War (featuring supermodel, Kate Upton). Despite having less than .4 percent of the views on social media that Game of War’s commercial had, Clash of Clans’ commercial saw more than 4.5 times the total “social actions” according to data from There are some reasons that we can speculate why an ad with a super model might get more views than one with an actor in his fifties, but the disparity in social actions between the two suggests some impressive strength in storytelling on the part of the commercial featuring the seasoned actor. Check it out below:

From a marketing management perspective here are some questions to consider:

  • What is an example of a brand that advertised during the Super Bowl that you felt would have been better suited spending their money elsewhere? Where would you have recommended they allocate their marketing dollars and why?
  • What might be some reasons to be skeptical of the value of Super Bowl advertising on the part of the three mentioned smartphone games considering their use of a “freemium” model?
  • As a product marketing manager for a smartphone game using a “freemium” model what metrics would you be most interested in tying your marketing campaigns to if you were trying to measure their value?
  • As the product marketing manager for a popular smartphone game would you consider hiring a celebrity endorser to promote your product? What factors would you consider in making this decision? What are some risks?