Even avid NFL fans have to admit that this year’s 13-3 defensive slugfest Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams was spectacularly blah. The game was uninteresting, people were suffering from Patriot fatigue, and consistent controversy has turned many people off to the NFL.
Yet, the Super Bowl has become such a cultural event that the spectacle around the game is often just as impactful as the game itself. Commercials during the game are seen as an added layer of entertainment despite modern viewers’ tendency to avoid ads like the plague.
This year’s Super Bowl ad cost was the most in history at $5.25 million per 30-second commercial. To put that in perspective, that’s almost $175,000 per second, or a whopping three times the median household income in the US!
The ads are being advertised themselves, sometimes weeks in advance. These ads may go on to live as continued campaigns or online to sites like Facebook, Reddit, and YouTube.
This upward trend of Super Bowl ad prices and the spectacle surrounding the ads themselves lays bare two things. First, brand attention is becoming harder to come by and thus more expensive. Second, ads are becoming their own content creation medium.
Advertisers are having an increasingly difficult time not only finding safe target demographics but also capturing viewers’ attention. The advent of smartphones, digital devices, and social media platforms means our attention is rarely on one thing. Thus, the Super Bowl’s expected yearly audience of over 100 million people is a coveted opportunity to relaunch a brand into the public consciousness, for good or bad.
The second trend speaks to a larger shift in the branding and content creation industries. Brands are attempting to blur the advertising and entertainment content lines with brand film productions and poignant advertisements. Ads are trying, more and more, to capture the national zeitgeist and reflect moral values to the viewer.
We’ve picked six successful and questionably successful ads for this recap on how brands performed during advertising’s biggest day.
Verizon ran a series of ads during the Super Bowl that focused on the stories of first responders who helped members of the football community during emergencies. According to AdAge, Verizon’s ads had the greatest digital share of voice, 13.5 percent, of any ad group during the Super Bowl.
It’s not hard to see why. These ads benefited from personal, emotional stories that connected the Super Bowl with Verizon’s mission to deliver reliable telecommunication services.
Amazon’s ad about Alexa’s many features, and some that didn’t make the cut, was the ad with the highest number social media impressions according to AdAge. The ad was funny. The idea of Harrison Ford’s dog being able to order a truckload of food seemed to speak to people on a fundamental level.
It also poked fun at Alexa’s usefulness while still demonstrating its value. The ad was self-aware, which is a surefire way to connect with audiences in the modern digital world.
One of the big predictions for content marketing in 2019 is the growth of collaborative efforts among brands. Bud Light went big this year during the Super Bowl with their surprising ad collaboration with HBO’s Game of Thrones. Chances are you won’t see anyone in Game of Thrones popping open a cold Bud Light, but apparently Bud Light has a taste for the Mountain’s bloodlust.
This unexpected blend was an instant hit with the internet, receiving almost 223 million social media impressions and millions of YouTube views according to AdAge. This promo was a fun example of how you can be rewarded for partnering with disparate brands in creative ways. Yet, involving properties in this way can be risky given that some viewers may not understand the references.
4. Women-Centric Ads
Women make up 45 percent of the NFL’s fan base, but advertisers rarely make direct plays to this demographic during their season ad campaigns. This year’s Super Bowl saw an about-face in that regard and presented many strong advertisements meant to expand brand reach into this demographic.
Brands like P&G, Michelob Ultra, Bumble, and M&M’s were among the top advertisers reaching out to women. Zoe Kravitz starred in Michelob Ultra’s spot, Christina Applegate in M&M’s ad, and Serena Williams in Bumble’s ad, all of which were about female empowerment.
One of the most impactful ads was Toyota’s ad about Antoinette Harris receiving the first football scholarship for a woman in a non-kicking position. In the face of the #MeToo movement, brands are smart to reach into this demographic and portray women in a heroic, progressive light.
This year the Super Bowl saw a plethora of robot-centric commercials, perhaps inspired by anxiety over an eventual hostile takeover by robot overlords. We’re experiencing an increasingly complicated relationship with technology. There is a widespread fear of automation taking people’s jobs, a rise in misinformation via social media networks, and worry over the cultural effects of electronic device usage.
Multiple ads featured robots, but the strangest ones by far were the RoboChild advertisements by TurboTax. These ads are a lesson in doing too much and having that work backfire spectacularly.
Many viewers reacted with horror to the robochild in the advertisement. That fact alone took away from the ad's message, which wasn’t strong to begin with.
The general robo-theme for the Super Bowl showed us that tech can be confusing, and the human element always wins in the end. In today’s tech-skeptic world, an approach that allays the fears of coming technological change can be a winning formula for tech-focused companies.
This ad comprised of a 37-year-old clip of the late artist Andy Warhol eating a Burger King meal. For a full 45 seconds. Captivating, right?
Well, according to a survey of Super Bowl ads by USA Today’s Ad Meter, this commercial ranked 58 out of 58. It was the worst of the worst. Considering the massive costs of purchasing even 30 seconds of airtime, Burger King laid a rotten egg on that one.
Why were people so turned off by Andy Warhol eating a burger from Burger King for a solid 45 seconds? Part of the problem is that the ad “just about alienated everyone” according to Artnet.
The ad wasn’t clear about what it was selling—many people thought it was a Heinz commercial since Andy was struggling to get the ketchup out. The Atlantic felt that the ad “crossed a line” by taking the original art out of context and using someone’s likeness to peddle corporatism posthumously.
A majority of viewers simply felt confused and were neither for or against the ad. Usually when trying to attract customers, phrases like “kinda vague” and “pretty odd-looking” are not ringing endorsements of your brand’s message.
Some people responded positively to seeing the cultural icon in the spotlight again. However, the ad remains an example of not understanding your ad’s purpose and playing to no one in particular.
Overall this year’s game was lackluster on and off the field. While there were a few entertaining commercials (read more about nine of Vincenzo’s favorites here), most brands were off the mark. Once again, companies that stayed on-brand, entertained their audience, and exhibited some semblance of creativity tended to be the most memorable and successful.