Beyond Football: How Food Brands Reached New Heights on Instagram

It feels like January is pretty much reserved for Super Bowl hoopla. So much is made to create buzz around what a majority of Americans see as the winter season's silver lining, a sacred, cult-like event that garners nearly more worshipers than the Man upstairs.

The thing is, over the years, the Super Bowl has kind of developed into something extending far beyond the sphere of sports, with people who can't even tell you who's playing getting excited about it (*clears throat* me).

Indeed, there are three different categories that attract non-football lovers to the early February annual event:

Because we're super data-happy and we were dying of curiosity about the Instagram activity surrounding all of the aforementioned, we decided to dig into each of the subjects.

So while you're still figuring out what happened to the roman numerals, we're now taking you into the world of Super Bowl food and how its impact was not only felt on America's waistline, but on Instagram as well. Welcome to part deux. (See part 1 here.)

Product placement on point.

Some of us are in it for the game. Others are in it for the half time show and advertisements. But regardless of which side you find yourself on, it’s without question that everyone can agree on one thing: it's pretty much all about the food. Pizza, nachos, wings, you name it. Bring.It.On.

With a big social focus on Super Bowl grub (you know, all of the healthy stuff) in the weeks and days leading up to game day, many food brands took advantage of the hype to increase their engagement and reach, as well as follower growth on Instagram. A golden occasion to remind consumers that their brand is the one they should be using and hopefully tagging when posting about their #SB50 spread, hoping for that UGC boost.

With this in mind, we decided to take a look at how food brands were approaching the challenge and discovered three different strategies across four of Instagram’s top food and drink accounts (@wholefoods, @budweiser, @epicurious, & @infatuation).

Let’s take a look at how they rode the football wave to take advantage of this incredible buzz-leading-to-growth opportunity. (Be fair warned: the content below may induce some serious nacho cravings.)

1. Sponsored Posts

Looking to hit the foodies? Sponsored posts can provide a huge chance for targeted reach depending on which influencers you decide to work with. They are going to be the biggest voices within the Instagram food scene on game day, and offer a highly engaged and trusting audience. Regardless of reach, trust is huge, and their authenticity can also provide brands with new and high-quality followers.

Whole Foods chose well when they selected @eatingnyc to create a sponsored post. This over-the-top, extra decadent influencer produced their top performing UGC on Super Bowl Sunday. Her post reached over 100K users, providing the brand's account with 141 new followers.

Feasting FTW thanks to @wholefoodsnyc. #Superbowl #EATINGNYC

A photo posted by #EatingNYC: NYC Food & Travel (@eatingnyc) on

We’ll take it all, please.

Infatuation and Epicurious also went with an influencer known for her mouth-watering feed filled with highly caloric delicious bites. @cheatdayeats (the name says it all) produced their top UGC on game day, reaching over 60K users and bringing the @infatuation and @epicurious accounts 65 and 30 new followers respectively.

Queen Bey would totes approve.

2. Partnering Up

What goes well with game day food? Beer, duh. And when it comes to the Super Bowl, Budweiser is king. So if you’re looking to hit the event's biggest aficionados, take a lesson from @infatuation and associate your content with one of the most recognizable Super Bowl brands out there. Just ask Peyton Manning.

Alternatively, if you’re simply after product placement, another lesson can be learned from Bud, this time to reach the foodies of Instagram who will be looking for something to pair their spicy snacks with a refreshing tipple. Win-win. Budweiser worked with Infatuation, and they created top quality eye-catching posts with their photographer, @asphotonyc, to drive engagement and subsequent reach.

The content was shared by both @asphotonyc and @infatuation, offering double exposure. Combined, this content reached over 3M users!

@aspohotonyc featured 6 photos from the Super Bowl @infatuation and @budweiser photo shoot on her feed. A prime example of the high levels of engagement that smaller accounts can experience.

 @infatuation featured 8 total shots from @asphotonyc’s Super Bowl shoot on their feed. As mentioned, quality content drives engagement. Their average engagement on these posts sits almost 1% higher than their average of 0.77%.

As for @budweiser? They rode the wave to gain over 200 followers directly from both @infatuation and @asphotonyc’s content featuring their product.

The top performing post from @asphotonyc’s Super Bowl shoot for @infatuation and @budweiser, on @infatuation’s feed.

3. Contests

If you’re looking to take advantage of the Super Bowl chatter to boost your UGC, contests can provide users with that extra push. If people are going to be creating content, why not offer a few small incentives to have them tag you in it? Or better yet, partner up with another related brand to increase your reach. Smaller accounts typically see higher engagement rates, so opening up the contest doors to all of Instagram can be highly beneficial.

Epicurious and Infatuation teamed up on January 13th to run a series of contests that included 2 Super Bowl themes: a playoff spread and nachos. The results? New levels of reach for both accounts. Observe.

We've teamed up with our friends at @Epicurious to host the #cookit challenge. Over the next month we will be announcing different themes and challenging you to make something awesome at home. All you have to do is upload your photos to Instagram, hashtag #cookit and tag both @infatuation and @epicurious in your photos. The best photos for each week’s themes will be regrammed on both @infatuation and @epicurious Instagram accounts. Stay tuned for our next Instagram post to see this week’s theme. BONUS: Epicurious is hosting a #cookit class in Brooklyn to prep for the Super Bowl, and editors from Epicurious will be in attendance. If your home cooked-creation is deemed the most creative and ambitious, you and a friend will get to come join us for great food and even better company.

A video posted by The Infatuation (@infatuation) on

A possible regram on @infatuation’s and @epicurious’ accounts would mean over 600K pairs of eyes. Done.

@infatuation significantly increased their organic reach throughout the #CookIt campaign.

@epicurious also significantly increased their organic reach throughout the #CookIt campaign.

The #cookit hashtag went from a daily average reach of 0 to a total of 5M over the course of the campaign. Yeah, no biggie.

Winna winna (nacho dinna). Wink.

Each method proved to be successful in its own way. The first step to any successful campaign is knowing your goals. Depending on what the goals are, strategies like those mentioned above can be used alone or in combination to significantly boost engagement and subsequently, impressions. In addition, events like the Super Bowl (or MLK Day) continue to offer a greater reach for related brands.

Three Key Learnings

  1. Selecting the right influencers matters, as seen with Whole Foods and Infatuation, who both made sure to select ultra decadent feeds for their Super Bowl Sunday sponsorships.

  2. Working with a professional food photographer is worth it when it comes to increasing engagement, as seen with Budweiser and Infatuation.

  3. Doubling up through partnerships (both with contests and content) can offer a huge boost.

Don't forget to check out the first part of our Beyond Football series, where all things advertising are discussed. And stay tuned for tomorrow, where we'll explore the celebrity aspect of the event.

Want to track campaign performance like this for your brand? Hit us up!