Super Bowl: brands win with inspiration and unity

Super Bowl: brands win with inspiration and unity

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By John Bishop, Vice President at System1 Research

Driven by digital reach and today’s fragmented media landscape, advertisers continued the trend of releasing brand teasers and commercials in the days leading up to this year’s Super Bowl. 

Yet, to see them all in one place, within the context of the game and halftime show, it remains intriguing to see how the various creative approaches splash across the screen to produce an overarching cultural portrait and individual brand stories.

The one tactic that was a clear driver of tone and style this year during the game was that of inspiration. 

Ads that inspired and spoke to the theme of unity scored highly with viewers. 

Humor was anticipated to be the driving theme this year, as the days leading up to the big game featured teasers and digital media that were quite offbeat. 

This could be an indication of brands riding the wave of interest in brand marketing around the Super Bowl to reach younger consumers on digital channels.

Given the fragmentation of media consumption, live events still do the heavy-lifting when it comes to driving large audiences. 

In fact, 66 of the top 100 telecasts in 2017 were regular season NFL games, according to MoffetNathanson, despite the much-publicized 9.7% decline in NFL season ratings. 

Comparably, advertisers have no other platform that delivers live viewers at such scale, even with an eye-popping $5 million cost for airing 30-second ad on NBC during last night’s game.  While live viewer ratings are still being calculated, early returns show a 3% decline from 2017’s game, which garnered 111 million viewers.  The comparison of such a large audience is striking when looking at the numbers other top live events delivered. 

September’s Emmy Awards managed 11.4 million viewers, while last month’s Golden Globes and Grammy Awards drove 19 million.  The 2017 Oscars topped each of these, just shy of 33 million viewers.  However, all of these events are in the midst of annual ratings declines, with this year’s Oscars at risk to be the least-viewed in its televised history.

Given that, it is not hard to see that missing the mark with commercials in front of the largest live audience each year can be detrimental for brands, not only from a consumer perception standpoint, but also as an overall threat to marketing and strategic brand relationships.  With seemingly more frequent creative and media agency account reviews, failing to deliver for advertisers –especially on the biggest platforms—can erode trust in client relationships. 

Similarly, knowing that the average tenure of a CMO has dipped to just 42 months, the stakes are just as high for advertiser’s internal marketing teams.   Not to mention the negative impact that a major marketing misstep can create with investors.  In today’s marketing landscape, the only reality is perception. 

Whatever is a brand manager and a marketing team to do, when looking to maximize creative storytelling for a brand, yet minimize the risk of falling short? 


Below are considerations around the six elements that are critical to effectively execute in any communication, in order to connect with viewers and drive positive feelings toward the brand.   Highlighted are game day commercials that implemented each element well, delivering high marks with viewers:

Emotion: Assuring that the basic idea of the ad creates a positive feeling, and that any tension built throughout is resolved by the end with optimism. Toyota’s Good Odds does a great job at driving positive feelings with a story of overcoming tremendous obstacles to achieve greatness.

Story Arc: Consumer comprehension depends on creating a storyline with a clear shape that obeys the peak-end rule.  NBC’s collection of Winter Olympics ads featuring American Olympic athletes, like Mikaela Shiffrin, connected in many ways with viewers, driving interest through building excitement.                

Fluency:  A brand’s distinctive assets (logos, colors, spokesperson, etc.) drive instant recognition and association.  Including fluent devices helps consumers make direct associations and drive recall.  M&M’s Human, starring Danny Devito, once again used the anthropomorphism of the tiny chocolate candies that consumers have grown to love.

Soundtrack: Identifying the right song to help carry the story is critical to set tone and also create stickiness in the mind of consumers.  Setting the pace and mood depend greatly on the right track for the narrative.  Budweiser did not even feature lager in its Stand By You spot that showed heroism in the aftermath of natural disasters that gripped the United States in 2017.

Character: Relatable, sympathetic and aspirational protagonists are the key to getting viewers invested in the story.  Compelling antagonists can further enhance interest and intrigue.  Amazon featured several celebrities lending their voices and personalities in Alexa Loses Her Voice

Narrative: The proper pacing and clear comprehension is important to engage viewers along the journey, comforting viewers with a story ends on a high note drives happiness.  With two shorter commercials earlier in the game building to the main course, the NFL’s Touchdown Celebration featuring the New York Giants in a “Dirty Dancing” spoof, delivered an unforgettable performance.

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Author: The Marketing Society
Posted: 05 Feb 2018
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