With 2019 finally over, we’re taking a look at how some major tech brands — Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft — used TV advertising to promote their products and services in the U.S. Below, we highlight insights using data from measurement and attribution platform iSpot.tv. The date range is January 1 through December 8.

First, a topline insight: For each of the brands below, sports, and especially NFL football, reigns supreme for both spend and TV ad impressions. Excluding Facebook Watch, which primarily opted for ads during NBA basketball and skipped NFL games entirely this year, these specific brands combined have spent 69.81% more on ads during NFL football games than last year, and in turn have seen a 49.89% increase in impressions year over year.

With the avalanche of OTT/streaming options for consumers, sports remains one of the best ways to ensure a live, captive audience — but that’s not the whole story. News and late night talk shows also feature heavily when it comes to the programming with the most spend and highest impressions for the tech marketers we tracked.

Amazon Prime TV advertising 2019

We also uncovered interesting differences in frequency and duration of campaigns (more specifics below), but it’s worth noting that Amazon Prime — although it didn’t start airing ads until the end of February — has generally been the most continuous spender on TV advertising, followed by Microsoft Surface.

VB TRansform 2020: The AI event for business leaders. San Francisco July 15 - 16

Microsoft spends big, but Amazon Prime tops year-over-year growth

One of the biggest tech spenders on TV advertising last year was Microsoft, specifically for its Surface brand. The company spent an estimated $219.1 million on ads for the product, an 18.76% increase year over year. But that increase is modest compared to what we saw with Amazon Prime this year: The subscription service upped its spend on TV ads by an incredible 487.07%, although the total estimated spend still comes in under Surface at $210.1 million.

Microsoft Surface TV advertising 2019

It’s important to note that more spend doesn’t always equal more impressions. Although Microsoft shelled out more on Surface ads than Amazon Prime did, commercials for the latter generated more impressions: 11.4 billion compared to 9.06 billion. Another key difference is the number of spots each aired: While Surface’s 23 spots ran over 15,000 times, Prime’s 14 spots aired over 40,000 times.

For both brands, NFL is king when it comes to budget allocation and impressions generated, and the two notably spent nearly an identical amount: $37.2 million for Surface versus $37.5 million for Prime. The Walking Dead and NBA Basketball are No. 4 and No. 5, respectively, for spend for both. But differences pop up when it comes to second- and third-place programming: On the Surface side of things, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon had the second-highest spend (estimated $8.5 million), followed by NHL hockey (estimated $6.4 million), compared to Prime’s No. 2 of college football (estimated $6.1 million) and Ridiculousness (estimated $4.6 million) in third place.

Facebook spent heavily to advertise Groups and Portal

Last year, Facebook prioritized budget on ads that promote its platform in general, as well as specific services, including Groups, Live, and Marketplace ($147.6 million, a 105.75% YoY increase). Its 12 spots generated 5.8 billion TV ad impressions, with nearly half (2.48 billion) generated by an ad promoting Facebook Groups, featuring a father bringing his daughter to her first baseball game. With that kind of theme, you’d think MLB would be a big target, but Facebook prioritized spend to NFL football, which was also the biggest driver of impressions.

It’s worth noting that Facebook Watch, although with a relatively modest estimated spend of $12.6 million, had the biggest YoY increase in budget (120.46%). That said, its 13 ads have generated nearly 1 billion TV ad impressions. On the other hand, ads for Portal had a much bigger outlay, an estimated $103.7 million, representing a slight year-over-year increase of 12.62%, and its 19 ads generated 4.5 billion TV ad impressions.

Apple and Google focus on specific products

Although Apple and Google promote myriad products, we’re narrowing things down to focus on two with some of the biggest TV ad budgets this year: the iPad and Chromebook.

Although the iPad was the product Apple pushed the most on TV last year, there have been only two main windows of activity: during January, when a single ad ran up 824.8 million impressions with an estimated spend of $26.4 million, and again in late November through the present, with two versions of the same heartwarming holiday ad, one in Spanish. The English-language spot saw an estimated outlay of $22.4 million and generated 355.6 million TV ad impressions, primarily driven by, you guessed it, NFL football (162.6 million impressions). The version in Spanish had a much smaller estimated outlay ($210,700) and 20.8 million impressions, all from shows on Telemundo and Univision.

Overall, iPad ads have had an estimated TV ad budget of $49.1 million, whereas Google spent an estimated $76.6 million on ads for its Chromebook, with over 11,000 airings that have generated 5.07 billion TV ad impressions. While, yes, the NFL delivered big (195.6 million impressions), morning news shows and The Big Bang Theory (episodes of the final season earlier this year, plus reruns on TBS) are also in the top five for impressions generated for Google Chromebook.

“Switch,” encouraging computer users to ditch their old laptops for the Chromebook, was its most-seen ad, with 1.86 billion impressions and an estimated spend of $32.3 million. Google also targeted a Spanish-language audience, with five of its 20 Chromebook spots running in Spanish.

Holiday season trends

Of the brands and products mentioned above, Facebook Portal had the biggest spend from Thanksgiving to Christmas (November 25 through December 25), with an estimated outlay of $40.1 million — but that represented a 25.35% decrease from the same period in 2018.

Facebook also owned the most-seen spot in this time frame: the Christmasy, feel-good “Mama Claus” ad promoting Facebook Groups, with 770.6 million impressions. The biggest push for this spot occurred on Thanksgiving Day, during NFL football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which combined generated over 48 million TV ad impressions, with about 24 million each.

Speaking of football, while NFL and college football were big drivers of impressions between Thanksgiving and Christmas, airings of the holiday classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on AMC also made the top five list of programs when it came to impressions for Facebook, Apple iPad, and Google Chromebook.

What’s to come

There’s no denying the importance of news and sports when it comes to capturing live viewers, and we expect to see continued increases in both programming categories for tech marketers in 2020. But another area to watch is Spanish-language programming. Of the brands mentioned above, four ran Spanish-language TV ads (Surface, Facebook Watch, iPad, and Chromebook).