Budweiser's "Lost Dog" ad was one of the most successful of Super Bowl XLIX. Photo courtesy Budweiser.

Budweiser’s “Lost Dog” ad was one of the most successful of Super Bowl XLIX. Photo courtesy Budweiser.

While most traditional media are scrambling to recoup dwindling ad revenue, TV ads are still big business — $69 billion was spent on them last year, a 5.5 percent jump over 2014. But the success of campaigns in the digital age can no longer be measured simply by focus-group responses and total exposure; for a campaign to be deemed effective, advertisers have to know a spot compelled viewers to search for it on YouTube or post it on Facebook.

Measuring digital success is where Bellevue-based iSpot.tv excels, a big reason it secured $21.9 million in funding last month. An iSpot licensee — a privilege that runs about $150,000 — can see the viewership of its ads, the search and social media traffic an ad generated, and how much it spent on a campaign compared with its competitors. The real-time data is accurate to 20 seconds, and can parse out an ad spot or campaign’s engagement by network, series, and episode.

CEO Sean Muller’s team has noticed patterns among the wealth of data it has available. While success might be measured digitally, one thing remains the same, Muller said: Good campaigns start with creative minds.

If a commercial is well-executed, consumers typically reward the brand with YouTube views, social media shares, and search traffic, iSpot’s criteria for digital performance. So it’s no surprise that movie trailers, the most heavily-produced ads on TV, are among the most successful at driving digital engagement.

Beyond the pure quality of the ad, iSpot has identified three categories successful commercials usually fall under. “The most obvious one is humor,” Muller said. “If you make a funny ad that’s well executed, people are going to talk about it, people are going to share it, people are going to watch it again.”

The humor masters, according to Muller, are Geico, Old Spice, and Budweiser. Funny resonates, which is why you probably remember this guy, even though the ad is five years old:

If an ad doesn’t hit the funnybone, it can go another direction — an uncomfortable one. Controversial ads might elicit disgust or a boycott from some viewers, but nowadays polarizing views usually translate to web traffic. Be it good or bad, the brand’s name gets repeated over and over on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

The 2015 Super Bowl featured a case study in polarization. “The Nationwide commercial with the dead boy was a very controversial one, but in a sense it was a very successful one because it got a massive amount of conversation and buzz going,” Muller said.

Finally, an advertiser can build an emotional connection. Whether it’s sentimentality, joy, or nostalgia, an ad that leaves the viewer feeling good often means that viewer will take to YouTube and watch the ad again. “The Budweiser ad from Super Bowl with the puppy and the horse is the classic example,” Muller said.

Advertisers also will take time to establish an emotional connection with viewers, sometimes at the expense of showing off their logo or product. Muller cites a minute-long Android spot that doesn’t show anything but animals playing together for 58 seconds. “One thing you’ll notice is a lot of advertisers try to make that emotional connection, and then, boom, they’ll put their seal on it. So you don’t even know who the advertiser is. What does this have to do with Android?”

If nothing else, there’s one takeaway from iSpot’s data: puppies help.