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Running a successful automotive ad campaign during big events

Not a single member of the Akamai automotive team has been to a Super Bowl party in the last 12 years. It's not because we're anti-social - quite the opposite - during each Super Bowl, we find ourselves in the same location where we are collectively sitting with one eye on the game, one eye on our screens and usually on a call (or several) with our automotive customers.  We are waiting with bated breath after their television ads run during the game and hoping for huge spikes in visitors to their sites. Our singular aim during Super Bowl is to ensure that the traffic our customers drive online is as large, error-free, secure, high-performing and successful as possible.

Through the course of the years, we've honed some real de-facto experts in understanding the relationship between the most expensive television ads in history, and the (hopeful) visitors they bring to web sites. We've seen real linkage between these mediums in a single campaign as well as not-so-great execution campaigns at various levels. This collective experience has forged a runbook that we use with auto companies (and other advertisers) for Super Bowl and other event-driven marketing campaigns. 

One of the more common asks we get is how big is this going to be and how much traffic should a company expect after they've run a television ad.  While we have general guidelines, it's an inexact science at best and continuous improvement of our runbook is a must. Traffic impacts infrastructure, planning, costs, even parts of the campaign execution, so good forecasting can only improve the end product.

Below, we're going to share some insights into what factors can impact ad-driven traffic to a web site during the Super Bowl, as well as other big events. We typically use a peak visitor-per-hour metric as our guidepost on how well an ad "popped" in terms of driving traffic online. Let's share some information about what we tracked and saw across our automotive customer base during the game. 

  • Between the coin-flip pregame (~6 p.m. Eastern) and the end of the game, there were a total of 12 automotive ads that ran during the U.S. broadcast feed. We also tracked ads that ran well before, during the 220 hours (approximate) of pre-game shows but those ads tend to be less interesting in terms of driving online behavior.
  • 11 of the 12 TV ads were supported by a web site that is powered by Akamai and therefore, we had a really good view on what's happening with the industry on Super Bowl Sunday.
  • None of these sites had issues or problems on game day. Our team, in concert with some wonderfully talented customer teams, loves to make the hard stuff look easy.
  • Collectively, the 12 ads totaled 11 minutes of air time. Usually, auto companies buy about 1/3 of the ad inventory for the Super Bowl and certainly automotive is the largest single industry running spots during the game.
  • In aggregate, these 12 ads drew 2.4 million visitors to their corresponding web sites during the entire day. With 111 million people in the U.S. watching the game, that's a very impressive 2.1 percent take rate.

How Did the Ads Do (In Terms of Driving Online Traffic)

Below is a stack-rank of the visitors/hour that each ad drove to their respective web sites. The labels represent each TV ad and site (A, B, C etc.) but they are meaningless from graph-to-graph.

SB Img 1.png

Interesting to note that even the "least" successful ads drove big spikes in traffic to the site - five times the normal amount of visitors. And, outside of driving online traffic, many of these ads have alternate or other primary goals. Driving eyeballs to the site might not even be on the radar of the campaign.

Does Placement Time Impact Visitor Count?

The most common question we get in preparation for Super Bowl is: based on when the ad runs, how many visitors will it drive to the site? Below, we've charted the ads according to the time in the game that they ran.

SB Img 2.png

The earlier in the game, the more likely viewers will visit a site after watching an ad. Or, the more likely there will be more viewers available - had it been a tight or interesting game after the 1st half (sorry Panthers fans), perhaps high visitor counts would have extended into the 2nd half. Perhaps we'll call this "the Von Miller impact" in future years.

Do Viewers Have Tablet/Phone in-hand, or Laptop?

We charted each site's visitors based on device type - Phone/Tablet vs. Desktop/Laptop.

SB Img 3.png

The average for all of the sites and visitors was 60.5 percent for Phone/Tablet. The range within the ads and sites varied from 73 percent to 39 percent. Generally, the younger the average age of the buyer of the car brand, the more share of phone/tablet visitors vs. desktop/laptop.

Last year was the first year that we saw mobile overtook desktop as the pre-dominant device type, at just over 50 percent. This year's share of 60.5 percent tells us, and our customers, that mobile share will increase as mobile capability, penetration, screen quality and functionality does.

Will a Longer Ad Mean More Visitors?

A surprise here - our advice to customers has been - the longer the ad, the more visitors to expect. It's not incorrect to assume that a two-minute ad will have a deeper engagement with viewers and those viewers will be more invested to see and learn more. Here's the charting of ad time vs. web site visitors.

SB Img 4.png

The basic theory (longer ad = more visitors) is true at the two-minute mark. However, the difference between 30 seconds and 60 seconds was negligible. Lesson learned: a 30 seconds ad can have compelling messages that brings visitors to the sites and a 60 seconds ad is not a guarantee of driving double of the visitors counts.

The Kardashian Effect

Kim, Khloe, Kris, Kourtney were not stars of any auto ads this year, but did a big name celebrity pitch person drive more people online? There was a fair amount of pre-game press regarding the preponderance of actors, musicians, hawking products and/or services. Let's see if that brought people to the sites.

SB Img 5.png

Nope! Of the 12 ads we tracked (including one non-Akamaized site), only four featured a celebrity and none of those added appreciably to online visitors counts.


Our automotive practice within Akamai takes pride in helping our customers achieve their goals and objectives, whether they be within their consumer marketing sites, dealer/distributor portals, supply chain or connected vehicles. The best way for us to be effective is to understand our customer's business inside and out. The Super Bowl is probably the highest profile example of that, but it's only one day a year. The remaining 364 days, we're still on the job, making the auto industry's problems our problem and using everything at our disposal to find the best solutions. The information that we've shared above will feed into our practice and make us even stronger next year - after 12 Super Bowls, we know that next year will have more than a few new challenges and problems to solve.