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The Super Bowl is one of the highest-grossing media events in the world. The US championship match draws viewing figures in the hundreds of millions, which meant that on Sunday big brands were looking at a $5 million price tag for a 30-second advertising slot...
With such a prime piece of marketing real-estate, these global companies pull out all the stops to impress - and while it represents the ultimate in big brand marketing, that doesn’t mean there aren’t important takeaways for a business of any size. There’s a lot to learn from this year’s series of ad spectacles, so let’s dive into some of the most prominent trends...
They got meta
A noticeable theme this year was fourth-wall-breaking that played with audience assumptions of what advertising actually is - perhaps indicative of a shift towards more authentic marketing. Tide’s laundry detergent commercial featuring David Harbour, for example, begins as a typical car or beer ad, until Harbour reveals that “Nope. It’s actually a Tide ad,” pointing out the crisp and clean clothes of all the actors in continually shifting ad formats. Later on, Harbour also crashed what appeared to be an Old Spice commercial (owned by the same company as Tide), which played with audience expectations in the best kind of way.
Another great example was Australia’s ad that initially appeared to be a trailer for a new blockbuster movie, featuring a number of Australia’s biggest stars such as Chris Hemsworth, Hugh Jackman, Margot Robbie, Ruby Rose, Liam Hemsworth, and more alongside Danny McBride. A short while through the supposed buddy comedy sneak-peek, McBride realises “Wait, hold up. This isn’t a movie. It’s a tourism ad for Australia.” The ad did a fantastic job of showcasing Australia’s beautiful travel destinations with a comedic twist and was so popular it actually launched a petition for a real film to be made based on its premise.
They didn’t take themselves too seriously
A comedic and light-hearted approach was at the forefront of many ads this year, with a particular stand-out being Amazon’s spot for their new home assistant device, the Amazon Echo. In the ad we see the Echo’s pesona Alexa losing her voice, resulting in a star-studded cast being recruited to fill in for her. From Gordon Ramsay screaming out instructions on how to make a grilled cheese to Rebel Wilson setting the mood from a roof-top bath, the ad did a great job of demonstrating how the Echo could be useful whilst also having some fun with the concept.
This ad poked a little fun at the fact that the NFL has become known for its players’ elaborate touchdown celebrations by taking them to the next level. After a successful practice score, Giants quarterback Eli Manning and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. suddenly execute a perfect recreation of the iconic dance and lift from “Dirty Dancing.” The team’s offensive line even got in on the action, filing in as backing dances whilst “Time of my Life” played in the background. The ad was hugely popular online and really helped to shine a positive light on the NFL’s sporting attitude.
They used multiple platforms to their advantage
In a series of humorous yet bizarre ads, Skittles teased the idea of “the most exclusive commercial ever.” According to a fake newscast, they would be releasing a special ad that would only be viewed by one man by the name of Marcos Menendez. Later ads featured David Schwimmer in a variety of odd situations wondering whether this was a shot from the exclusive commercial or not. Skittles did not run the commercial during the match, but instead, created a Facebook Live event later where viewers could watch Menendez watching it. This not only drew plenty of intrigue from audiences but also specifically drew them to Skittles’ social channels where they could find more branded content.
One of the most show-stopping ads of the match was Netflix’s trailer for the latest film in J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield franchise. What made it so exciting was that the ad dropped just hours before the movie went live on Netflix’s streaming platform right after the Super Bowl ended, completely undercutting the months of build-up audiences usually have to deal with between trailer announcements and actual movie releases. In this case, the ad itself isn’t the most innovative thing - it’s Netflix’s clever timing to send audiences directly to their site after the match.
They played with references
Jeep also made good use of timing to celebrate the new installment in the Jurassic Park franchise, “Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom.” Their commercial took us back to the original film, featuring a clip of Jeff Goldblum escaping from dinosaurs in the park jeep, which transitioned into a modern-day Goldblum with a new Jeep model, being chased by the same T-Rex. He outwits the beast, only for it to be revealed he’s actually sitting in a car dealership rather than roving through a jungle. This reference was a great way to invoke some nostalgia and bring a bit of excitement to the Jeep brand.
Another spot hat made good use of pop-culture was Doritos and Mountain Dew’s rap battle style video featuring Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman. The video featured Dinklage and Freeman lip-syncing along to Busta Rhymes’ “Look at Me Now” and Missy Elliott’s “Get Your Freak On” (both of whom made cameos in the video). It also nodded to Dinklage’s role in the “Game of Thrones” series by pitting the “Doritos Blaze” and “Mountain Dew: Ice” flavours against each other to create ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ - which is the overarching title of the Thrones book series. These references were able to immediately engage with audiences who had a connection to the works and allowed the companies to have plenty of fun with a clever mash-up.
They celebrated a cause
Budweiser chose to use their spot to promote their clean water initiative. Filmed at a Georgia brewery where the company cans water for disaster relief, the ad follows the efforts of one employee as “Stand by You” plays in the background and various clips of relief efforts are intercut. Over the past three decades, Anheuser-Busch has provided more than 79 million cans of drinking water in response to natural disasters. Amidst all the match’s levity, the ad worked to remind viewers of the communities still in trouble around the world, evoking emotion and shining a light on the brand’s charitable endeavours.
Following in the footsteps of its past commercials, Coca-Cola used its spot to celebrate diversity. Their minute-long ad showed different people around the world drinking different Coca-Cola products, whilst a poem entitled “The Wonder of Us” was read over the top. A notable line of the poem was that there’s a Coke out there “for he, for she, and her, and me, and them,” which received a positive reaction from many consumers online for its inclusion of gender-neutral identities.
So, what are the takeaway trends?
Getting meta: Brands are recognising that audiences are tired of predictable marketing techniques and breaking them apart in response
Injecting some silly: Companies didn’t take themselves too seriously and came across as well-humoured and down-to-earth
Multi-platform: Brands took advantage of the possibilities offered by our mutli-media world and drove audiences towards more content
Referential fun: Taking advantage of the power of nostalgia and existing fan-bases, brands used popular references to enhance their message
Celebrating a cause: Companies looked to inspire audiences with stories of positivity and unity in the world around us