Last weekend, well-heeled advertisers spent $5m for 30-second ads during Super Bowl 50.

With more than 110m viewers tuning in to watch one of the sporting world's largest single events, the justification is clear: Super Bowl ads deliver reach few other televised events can.

But a super-expensive Super Bowl ad doesn't guarantee advertisers the results they hope for.

Mortgage lender Quicken Loans learned that lesson the other day when its Super Bowl ad sparked jeers on social media.

The ad promoted the company's Rocket Mortgage tool, which aims to simplify and speed up the process of applying for and obtaining a home loan.

But some viewers drew a parallel between the tool and the loose mortgage lending standards that caused the 2008 financial crisis, and took to social platforms like Twitter to criticize the company.

Quicken Loans responded quickly to dispel the concerns: Rocket Mortgage makes the mortgage process quicker and easier for consumers but the loans are still subject to stringent underwriting standards.

But even responding to negative buzz was turned into fodder for more negative buzz.

Clearly, Quicken Loans' costly Super Bowl ad missed the mark with some consumers.

No company spending $5m on an ad during the Super Bowl would want to find itself in a situation where it's having to defend itself publicly on a day when it should be basking in Super Bowl glory.

Traffic tells another story

Social buzz is just one part of the story, however, and negative sentiment can be deceptive.

Small minorities of vocal users can create a firestorm that appears larger than it really is.

With that in mind, Quicken Loans says that despite the criticism, its Super Bowl ad was a success. According to Jay Farner, the company's CMO, the ad drove 14,000 people to the Rocket Mortgage site within the first minute its ad was broadcast.

"The win was driving folks to the site," he told AdAge.

14,000 visitors in a minute does seem like a win, but is it?

Even if one assumes that Quicken Loan's Super Bowl was responsible for driving 100 times that amount of traffic – 1.4m visits – it's not clear just how big a win the ad really delivered.

While under this completely hypothetical scenario a cost of roughly $3.50 per visitor might compare very favorably to typical CPCs for mortgage search terms on Google AdWords, ultimately cost per acquisition is the metric that matters most and there are logical reasons to believe that Super Bowl ads probably don't deliver high conversions.

After all, many visitors are likely visiting without strong intent.

Of course, most Super Bowl advertisers aren't concerned solely with action. The Super Bowl is the quintessential branding exercise, so there are intangible considerations that can't fully be quantified.

But even so, Quicken Loans' experience demonstrates that despite their high costs, high-profile ad slots can still carry higher-than-anticipated risks and future Super Bowl advertisers will want to take those into consideration when crafting their ads.

And some might even find it wise to consider trying to capitalize on the event with lower risk, lower cost strategies.

Patricio Robles

Published 9 February, 2016 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (6)

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Chris Grant, Analyst who doesn't assume at Perficient

"After all, many visitors are likely visiting without strong intent." .... what are you basing that assumption on? People went to the trouble of typing in a URL while they were watching television. Is that so much different from the trouble of typing in a search term? Let's wait for the data, please.

over 2 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy


There's a huge difference in intent between going to Google and typing "mortgage" because you're looking to apply for a home loan, and seeing an ad during the Super Bowl and visiting a website out of curiosity.

over 2 years ago


Chris Grant, Analyst who doesn't assume at Perficient

Patricio, That's basically the difference between our views. I don't think the television viewers are visiting commercials' websites out of curiosity, not for something as plain jane as mortgages and not right then when they are evidently paying attention to commercials. Just my take on it. It would be great if Quicken Loans would weigh in on it at some point. They're right down the street from us; maybe I'll bump into one of them some day and ask.

over 2 years ago


Gagandeep Singh, Analyst at 3MEnterprise

It would be interesting to see how many actually created the account as it would be more qualified lead metrics. But still 14000 is a huge number especially when people are watching Super bowl.

over 2 years ago


Gerald Smith, Professor at Boston College

Patricio, good post -- I'm sitting in a waiting room whiling away the time, decided to see how effective the campaign's social media was. SocialMention gives RocketMortgage scores as follows: Strength 67%, Sentiment 6:1, Passion 3%, and Reach 65% -- quite positive. But your selective tweets cited above were all negative. I went through a #RocketMortgage twitter feed. On Feb 7, the day of the Super Bowl here were the tweets:
1 Organic Positive
2 Neutral
21 Organic Negative
1 Reactive from the Brand (to the negatives)
4 Promo from the Brand
3 Brand Ghosts (looked like shills for the brand)
Organic Positive:Organic Negative = 1:21

But before the Super Bowl commercial aired here were the tweets:
27 Organic Positive
15 Neutral
4 Organic Negative (about releasing YouTube the day of the Challenger disaster)
0 Reactive from the Brand
12 Promo from the Brand
188 Brand Ghosts
Organic Positive:Organic Negative = 6.7:1, and if you include the Brand Ghosts as positive = 53.7:1

Obviously post Super Bowl was poor social performance but they're probably happy with the pre SB social campaign and the overall campaign. My rough rough estimate is they achieved perhaps a 3mm reach with their tweet campaign.

over 2 years ago


Betsy Hines, Owner at Nation 21 Loans

This is almost one of the situation where companies can’t do right for doing wrong. The ad may have missed the mark, and they could have made it much clearer that it was a quicker application process at , they were advertising, and not the idea that the loans may have no underwriting. But then to have to explain and be berated on social media just makes it worse. However, I would be more interested in the data that shows how many site visitors took any action on the site, and not just the visitor figures. This should serve well as a lesson for other companies looking for a Super Bowl ad slot.

about 1 year ago

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