As Featured on the Cover of the Memphis Daily News and Nashville Ledger
There is perhaps no greater scrutiny that a brand faces than during the biggest U.S. sporting event of the year. Courageous brands bet big that their ad will win hearts and minds, but alas, only 36 percent of Super Bowl ads earned favorable ratings from our team of advertising professionals likely making for some uncomfortable ad execs on the hot seat this morning.
In 2016, most brands focused on entertainment value when crafting their Super Bowl spots. After all, the country was in the throes of an election with serious ads cluttering every media channel, and the country needed some levity. Advertisers took a starkly different path in 2017 with the tone more serious and focused on themes such as friendship, empowerment, politics and unity.
This year, humor prevailed, although a few social issues broke through, including Budweiser on its disaster relief efforts, Stella Artois on clean water, and WeatherTech on jobs in America. Coca-Cola and Toyota also ran inclusion messages.
Known for its big-game humor, Avocados from Mexico tapped into a recent TV theme — living under a dome after the world goes to hell. The only problem? Someone forgot the chips! Mayhem ensues.
Similarly, Mountain Dew and Doritos entertained with an epic battle. Peter Dinklage and Busta Ryhmes — for DORITOS BLAZE — teamed up in a lip-sync thrown-down against Morgan Freeman and Missy Elliot, for MTN DEW ICE.
This year’s Super Bowl had its fair share of technical difficulties including half-time sound issues and a blackout resulting in 30 seconds of uncomfortable dead air. During the 2013 Super Bowl blackout, Oreo exploited it beautifully with this infamous tweet: “Power Out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” This year, Tide was the winner: “Clean clothes are still clean in the dark. If it’s clean, it’s a #TideAd.”
It wasn’t just the ad content that was unusual this year, as advertisers made some notable strategy adjustments as well.
Despite the first-time introduction of micro-spots — timing out at just six seconds each — more brands invested in longer spots as a method for enhancing their storytelling efforts with nearly half of advertisers electing to run 45-second spots or longer.
Following that long-form ad trend, several brands bought more than one ad and connected their stories across those ads. Michelob Ultra, in two spots featuring Chris Pratt, show Chris getting ready for his big game debut in spot one, only to find out he’s simply a casting “extra” awkwardly trying to get noticed in spot two.
Similarly, in Bud Light’s first Game-of-Thrones-like parody of the night, the king attempts to give a pep talk to his loyal subjects, but it’s not going well. So, he levels with them admitting that while they may have more horses, more men, and arrows with fire, they also have the Bud Light, and that can’t stand. In spot two, we see the Bud Knight join the battle and save the day. If you’re questioning the “dilly dilly” concept, bear in mind that the ubiquitous catchphrase has earned more than a half million mentions on Twitter since the spot first launched.
This year brought a significant decrease in the number of brands pre-releasing their spots in advance of the big game — down from roughly 65% last year to approximately 35% this year. This is the first year since Volkswagen started the pre-release trend in 2011 that we’ve seen a decline, indicating a notable shift in brand strategy toward a preference for in-game vs. pre-game buzz.
Despite the decline in pre-released ads, those released in advance saw a lot more engagement than prior years — likely due to decreased competition. Pre-game winners were YouTube stars “Rhett & Link” in an ad by Wix with more than 77-million YouTube views — which, interestingly, was not a very popular spot on game day. Last year’s top performer came in at just 17-million views.
Super Bowl ad popularity polls are common after the big game, though popularity doesn’t always equate to effectiveness. Often, consumers can’t recall the brands associated with some of the most entertaining or moving spots and even if they can, they may not be inspired to make a purchase.
Memphis-based RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy’s team of advertising pros assessed this year’s commercials according to what matters most: viewer connection, strength of storytelling, memorability, reinforcement of brand differentiators, likelihood viewers will remember the brand, and likelihood to drive brand affinity and sales.
Treat – These brands were real treats to watch:
Amazon – “Alexa Loses Her Voice” – Alexa has a cold, but never fear, the brand has some unusual replacements ready including Anthony Hopkins, Rebel Wilson, Gordon Ramsey and Cardi B. They prove that nobody does it better than the original Alexa, which is of course a knock against the knock-off brands.
Tide – “It’s Another Tide Ad” – After recent brand sentiment concerns over the unimaginable Tide pod challenge, Tide needed a big-game win and boy did they deliver. Over a series of four ads, Tide cleverly spoofed prior Super Bowl spots in this delightful ad campaign.
E*TRADE – “This Is Getting Old” – In a brilliant strategy to fire up the working class to aggressively plan for retirement, this brand shows us a comical day in the life of an 85-year-old without the financial means to retire.
NFL – “Touchdown Celebrations to Come” – For thirty teams, the Super Bowl is actually the start of next season. The NFL showed us how Giants players Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, Jr. are preparing for the new season — and their touchdowns to come — with a little inspiration from the film “Dirty Dancing.”
Sprint – “Evelyn” – Tapping into the artificial intelligence trend, Sprint showcases what could happen when your robots mercilessly mock you for your uninformed choice in cell phone carrier.
Trash – These brands trashed their multi-million-dollar opportunities:
Febreze – “The Only Man Whose Bleep Don’t Stink” – Following last year’s stink-themed spot, Febreze reminds us once again to imagine smelly bathroom experiences while we’re enjoying our wings. For the love of good advertising, please stop.
Skittles – “Spot for One” – In a highly-anticipated move, Skittles didn’t buy a spot in the big game. Instead, they produced an ad to be shared with only one random consumer named, Marcos Menendez. We had the “pleasure” of watching Marcos react to this super-secret ad — an experience that was mind-numbing at best. If the comments on the brand’s Facebook live footage are any indication, there’s an ad exec on the hot seat today.
Super Bowl LII was one for the record books — from the historic underdog victory by first-time Super Bowl champions, the Eagles, to a massive strategic shift by the big brands betting big on the big game. Only time will tell if the decisions these companies made will boost or detract from consumer affinity for their brands.
This Memphis Daily News and Nashville Ledger cover story was part of CEO Lori Turner-Wilson’s regularly syndicated “Guerilla Marketing” column.