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Why advertisers aren’t likely to step away from X before the Super Bowl

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This story is part of Digiday’s annual coverage of the Super Bowl. More from the series →

Even plagued by recent controversies and brand safety concerns, X (formerly Twitter) is still expected to remain the king of second screen viewing for this year’s Super Bowl for consumers, agency execs say.

That’s not to say that X will be at the center of Super Bowl campaigns this year, but no alternative has come to take its place as the reigning second screen. Instead, agency execs are recommending clients diversify their approach, working across multiple platforms to reach shoppers wherever they are online during the Big Game.

“It’s still this primary second screen just because nothing matches it for scale of real-time conversation during live events — sports, especially,” said Matt Talbot, co-founder and chief creative officer at WorkInProgress ad agency. “But it’s harder for brands to be active there because it’s uncertain and riskier.”

Historically, X has been marketers’ go-to social media platform to participate in real-time conversations and amplify marketing messages during live events, like the Super Bowl. Perhaps the most notable example of this was Oreo’s “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet circa 2013 after the lights went off during the Super Bowl between the 49ers and Ravens.

Since then, the text-based social media platform has new leadership, new competition from the likes of Threads, and new problems around brand safety. Late last year, X opted out of independent auditing, meaning marketers had to just trust X was brand safe if the platform considered itself so, even if those claims couldn’t be verified independently.

Said safety concerns pushed a number of brands and advertisers to flee the coop both in terms of media spend and organic presences. A new digital town square has yet to present itself, although many have tried (read why marketers weren’t sold on X’s alternatives here), leaving X intact — at least for the Super Bowl. 

“It just feels like sports, and particularly the NFL, are one of the few remaining verticals where X has actually been able to defend against places like Threads and Instagram and even TikTok,” said Liz Cole, chief social officer at VML ad agency. “It really does feel like the football conversation, specifically lives there.”

It’s unclear exactly what keeps football fans tied to the platform, but marketing pros speculate that “users who fall into the demo that uses their second screen for Super Bowl-related activity [don’t] care much about the goings on at X,” said Micah Freedman, vp of growth at Ruckus marketing agency.  

Vying for ad dollars last year, X offered marketers $250,000 in free ad space in hopes to incentivize marketers. That doesn’t seem to be the case this year as all of the six agencies Digiday spoke with for this story said X had not contacted them with promo pricing ahead of this year’s Big Game. Last year, X started touting the Super Bowl ad deal in early February, according to the Wall Street Journal.

TikTok offered a similar incentive last year, potentially positioning itself as a second screen competitor. But given the short-form video platform requires a heavier lift in terms of content creation, there’s more distance between ideation and posting, putting brands behind the eight ball when it comes to keeping up with real-time conversation in the same way that X can. It’s unclear if TikTok is offering the same incentive this year. In a request for details, the platform said it has spent the year rolling out incentives to advertisers, including those focused on the Big Game.

“One of the reasons [X] succeeds in this space is because of the amount of effort, or the lack thereof of effort, it takes to put something out there and join the conversation,” said Sam Kendrick, senior director of social marketing at Crispin Porter + Bogusky agency. 

Instead, TikTok may become part of a multi-layered approach to this year’s big game with brands teeing up teaser content ahead of the Super Bowl, leveraging paid media to push reach, as well as publishing in real time during the game and activating boots on the ground partners for discoverability, said Chris Shewmake, vp of communications strategy and media at Cactus agency. 

Should X’s direct competitor, Threads, release a chronological feed, improve its hashtag function and gain traction with users, it could also position itself as a second-screen, agency execs say. (A timeline of Threads’ growth here.)

“While Zuck is surely hoping Threads replaces Twitter as the ‘real-time town square’ for Super Bowl excitement, for me, the platform still feels like a shopping mall vs a town square — lots of brands vying for attention, without a lot of peer-to-peer interaction,” Shewmake said in an email.

However, agency execs say they aren’t telling clients to throw all of their eggs into the X basket for this year’s Super Bowl. Instead, marketers and brands should be looking to diversify where they activate, making X a part of the overall strategy as opposed to the main course. Instead of a single second screen, agency execs foresee a decentralized second screen as more social media companies enter the stratosphere.

It feeds into the idea of social fragmentation currently taking place, in which advertisers are investing in multiple platforms from X and Instagram to TikTok and Threads to meet audiences wherever they are. 

“It’s about having that diverse mix of places you’re posting and having success across the board versus knowing that you could just capture the zeitgeist on one,” said Kendrick.

All said, X will continue to reign as second screen supreme — at least for this year’s Super Bowl, per execs. 

“That being said, sports, and specifically the Super Bowl, is one of the last holdouts of the cultural water cooler where there’s a large enough, vocal audience to make a second-screen experience worth-while for viewers,” Alex Sopchak, partner and chief strategy officer, nmbl agency, said in an email.

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