How leaked Super Bowl ads are scoring for Google

Kia's 2014 Super Bowl commercial features Laurence Fishburne reprising his "Matrix" role as Morpheus.
AP Photo/Kia

With the lead-up to the Super Bowl, advertisers are trying to milk their investment by leaking their game-day spots, hoping to entice viewers to tune in. Already, there's one clear winner in the whole game: Google (GOOG). 

While Google isn't disclosing how much money it's earning from Super Bowl commercial pre-game buzz, the company is stoked enough by the number of related searches and video streams that chief business officer Nikesh Arora singled out the phenomenon during a Thursday conference call with analysts.

One of the biggest beneficiaries is Google's YouTube unit, given that almost every pre-released Super Bowl ad or teaser is also posted to the video site. Take Budweiser's Super Bowl ad called "Puppy Love," which is inspired by the beer maker's popular "Brotherhood" spot in last year's game. Since the Anheuser-Busch (BUD) brand posted "Puppy Love" on Wednesday, the video has racked up a whopping 23 million views.


Super Bowl commercials 2014: Watch, and vote in our poll!
Super Bowl commercials 2014: Watch, and vote in our poll!
For Google, the frenzy around Super Bowl advertising may be an unexpected turn of events. After all, it was only a few years ago that marketers started pre-releasing, or teasing, ads, realizing that such leaks could actually boost viewer anticipation. Prior to the advent of YouTube and other video sites, most marketers kept their Super Bowl ads under wraps, hoping to win over audiences with the element of surprise. 

"Now you might have seen all the teaser ads running on YouTube ahead of the big game Sunday," Arora said on the conference call. While Google Trends is showing more searches for the Seattle Seahawks than the Denver Broncos, Arora noted, "I don't know what that means for the big game on Sunday, but I do know that we are becoming central to the biggest brand-building campaigns of the world."

For marketers, the economics of a Super Bowl commercial are driving the trend to leak their ads. The cost of a 30-second ad reached a record $4 million for this year's game, which will be broadcast on Sunday.

"The commercial time is now only half the total investment of the ad," Kantar Media chief research officer Jon Swallen said. 

Advertisers may spend $1 million to produce a high-quality commercial, and then shell out millions more to promote their spots via search, video, and other media buys, he noted. All together, total spending for a Super Bowl commercial can reach $10 million.

Marketers may release either a full version, like Budweiser's "Puppy Love" commercial, or a teaser, such as this 10-second clip for Marvel Studio's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." Doritos has asked viewers to vote for one of several potential Super Bowl ads, but is keeping the winning spot under wraps until it airs the spot in the big game. 

"Because of the amount of money being invested, the stakes are larger," Swallen noted. "This isn't like a poker game where there's only one winner. There can be multiple winners, but there are also multiple losers, and no one wants to be on the losing end." 

While the successes and failures of the Super Bowl advertising game won't be known until Sunday, marketers' drive to score a touchdown has already produced one winner: Google.