Super Bowl advertisers just want America to have fun this year

Those of you who are aware of the Super Bowl will be aware that they have some of the best adverts during the match. In fact the ads are almost as eagerly anticipated as the game in the business world. 

Mashable report that after taking a serious approach last year, companies are bringing back the humorous ads during Super Bowl 50 in a short while.

Bud Light will suit up comedians Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer for a mock-election; Shock Top has signed Silicon Valley star T.J. Miller for what he boasts will be the “greatest Super Bowl ad of all time;” Skittles has tapped Steven Tyler for what will undoubtedly be a characteristically wacky spot; and Snickers is rumored to have talked to Steve Harvey about self-mockingly reprising his Miss Universe gaffe.


As the most widely-watched television event in the United States every year, the Super Bowl is of course just as big for Madison Avenue as it is for the NFL. Most advertisers work hard to tailor their message to as wide of a swath of that massive audience as possible.

The stories they choose to tell are therefore often reflective of what the industry perceives to be the cultural zeitgeist of the moment.

“It’s the one time of year when we can hold a mirror up to culture and play it back,” said Jay Russell, chief creative officer at Austin-based GSD&M, who worked on an ad for this years game promoting avocados from Mexico.

Advertising execs say the jokey atmosphere this year seems to be, in part, a reflection of the less-than-humorous news that has dominated the news cycle of late. With turmoil abroad and an electorate more divided than ever, Madison Avenue has decided that the country is in no mood for another year of somber commercials.


Higher stakes

In some cases, that means falling back on tried-and-true staples: light slapstick humor, celebrity appearances and soppy nostalgia (It is the big 5-0 after all) will all likely be in abundance. Maybe even a Clint Eastwood-style rallying cry for American exceptionalism.

But pressure from new technologies is also pushing advertisers to up their game.

The declining number of traditional TV watchers means that occasions like the Super Bowl — where all of America’s attention is universally focused on the same thing at the same time — are getting rarer and thus, more valuable. Social media and real-time digital ads also make for a more crowded conversation where it’s harder for a brand to stand apart from the fray.

In that environment, there’s a huge demand for commercials that are cinematic, compelling or outrageous enough to turn heads and get people talking.

And at a record price tag of “north of $5 million” — nearly $170,000 per second — you can be sure that advertisers are thinking carefully about how to make each of those seconds count.

“It’s high-stakes poker,” says Mike Sheldon, CEO of Deutsch North America. “I don’t know what it’s like to be a pro-athlete, but I assume it’s tons of pressure. I do know what it’s like to be a pro-marketer and I can tell you it’s a ton of pressure.”

For Russell’s agency, which is hoping to reprise the surprise success of last year’s “First Draft Ever” spot, the actual 30-second slot is the flagship product of a vast operation that encompasses videos for the website, social media platforms and solicitations for user-generated content among other content needs.

The agency has been working on the whole production since last June, and Russell estimates that about half of the time on set has been devoted to the actual ad.

Last year’s hit led to the biggest sales jump of the year for Mexican avocados, and the agency wants to replicate that success — and more.

“The cinematic quality of it is five times what it was last year,” Russell says. “And we’re doubling down on the humor.”


Some advertisers are turning to big Hollywood names in hopes of making a blockbuster splash. LG has tapped sci-fi director Ridley Scott — who also directed Apple’s iconic “1984” Super Bowl ad — and Liam Neeson for its first-ever spot. First-time Super Bowl advertiser Wix will channel Dreamworks’ beloved Kung Fu Panda franchise, and Hyundai has assembled an all-star team of three award-winning directors.

“These spots are going to have an epic presence,” says Beth Mock LeBlanc, chief creative officer at Orlando agency MLB Creative. “They need to because not everybody’s watching TV now. Everyone’s watching the Super Bowl but they are always getting pulled off in other directions.”

Still room to get serious

But just because advertisers tend to be lightening up doesn’t mean there’s not room for a weighty moment or two.

When Nationwide Insurance introduced a whimsical little boy only to kill him off 30 seconds later, it felt, to many viewers, emotionally manipulative and insincere — an attempt to shock for shock’s sake.

But advertising execs say there’s nothing wrong with quieting down the revelry for a serious message here and there — as long as it’s done judiciously and it comes off as genuine.

“Whatever you do, it has to strike a chord and it has to feel true to the brand versus just tugging on heartstrings,” Lehmann said.

Procter and Gamble’s “Like a girl” spot, which turned a gendered insult on its head, is one of the most famous examples of an ad that won acclaim for this type of emotional approach. Another was Clint Eastwood’s exhortation in “Halftime in America.”

This year, SunTrust Bank will air an ad about personal finances, Colgate will focus its first-ever Super Bowl spot on conserving water and Serena Williams, Abby Wambach, T-Pain, Randy Johnson, Tony Hawk, Harvey Keitel and other celebrities will discuss overcoming stereotypes for Mini Cooper in a campaign accompanied by a longform essay for each.

In fact, on the whole, the more serious Super Bowl ads have been outperforming funnier ads over the past five years, according to an analysis by Villanova University advertising professor Charles Taylor.

“They may well stand out more this year, with there not being as many of them,” Taylor said. “There’s a lot of evidence that serious ads can work at appealing to a large audience.”

Still, it seems the majority of advertisers have decided this year that Americans just want to kick back and have fun on Super Bowl Sunday.

Do you have a fascination with adverts and how companies promote their goods – especially during some of the biggest events in the world? If you would like to find out more, take a look through our Business and Enterprise courses here at The Sheffield College!


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