Why does an advertiser spend $5 million for a 30-second Super Bowl ad? One reason is to get people talking.
That’s what we did at Penn Social during AAF DC’s annual Between Downs panel discussion about Super Bowl ads. David Meeks, Managing Editor, USAToday Sports, moderated a panel of experts: Sawyer Blur, Senior Media Strategist, CHIEF; Michael Dumlao, Director of Brand, Booz Allen Hamilton; Kathy Baird, Group Managing Director, Ogilvy; Josh Golden, VP & Senior Creative Director, Yes&; and Tuesday Poliak, Chief Creative Officer & EVP, Wunderman.
A few themes emerged as they dissected several ads:
- Think big
- Make an organic connection between your brand and the story
- Break the fourth wall and be self-reflective—the audience will go along with you
- Smoothly perform a cultural hijack*
* Warning: Think through what you’re doing or the result could backfire.
“Is every Super Bowl ad a Tide ad?”
Tide mimicked other Super Bowl ads and asserted that they were Tide ads. The panel bowed to the wisdom of this “culture-jack” (as Michael put it). Josh said that Tide “owned every single ad” after that, since you were primed to think that any one of them could be revealed as a Tide ad.
Tuesday called it a brilliant way to command attention. Kathy added that Tide used “heightening”, an improv comedy technique in which the situation becomes more and more absurd. (FYI, she’s co-founder of an improvisational and sketch comedy theater.)
Sawyer, reveling in his role as the panel’s sole media strategist, spoke about the surreal cost of Tide’s ad buy—a CPM of $50 and an estimated 18+CPP of $122,000. While the numbers might make perfect sense in the context of their broader media plan, he thinks they underscore the reality-warping effects of the Super Bowl.
Busta brings heat, Missy cools the scene
Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman performed the ultimate lip-sync battle in this PepsiCo brand family spot for Doritos Blaze v. Mountain Dew Ice.
The panel praised the spot’s coolness and how the Fire v. Ice approach culture-jacked Game of Thrones. David liked that you wouldn’t expect to see these actors together, which added to the thrill. Kathy said that the concept was collaboration, a surprising idea that sets a tone for future PepsiCo combo spots.
The only complaint? Tuesday wished the Super Bowl was the ad’s debut. It had bounced around her office all week before the big game.
Eli and Odell practice their dance
Since the NFL allows end zone dances again, the NY Giants’ quarterback and a wide receiver practice one from Dirty Dancing. Tuesday said the parody is spot-on, including the “fun snippets before the dancing.”
David said the spot sends a positive message that’s quite different from what the public’s been hearing about the NFL. Michael felt that it reflected improved societal attitudes about masculinity and queer sensitivity. David agreed that even five years ago, you wouldn’t have seen an ad with two NFL players dancing together.
Sawyer, acting as our conscience, pointed out that as fun as the NFL spot is, the league and its brain health issues can now be discussed in the same breath as the tobacco industry.
“He’s not giving up on me”
David said this quote was the emotional kicker in Verizon’s ad about first responders getting thank-you calls from people they saved. The panel agreed that it worked so well because Verizon feels like an organic part of the story: The phone line used for emergencies becomes an emotional conduit, according to Josh. [Note: Producer Meredith Witte collaborated with McCann on the campaign.]
The spot’s authenticity is in sharp contrast to the “#LittleOnes” ad that Josh called, “This moment of inclusion brought to you by T-Mobile.” Kathy said it felt like an experiment but “it just wasn’t tied to the brand.” For Michael, it brought to mind Saturday Night Live’s Cheetos ad pitch, where adding a topical issue that doesn’t connect with a company’s core – no matter how well-intentioned – makes an ad instantly inauthentic.
Sawyer saw a different cultural mismatch: “Why use Nirvana’s ‘All Apologies’ as a lullaby? It’s a suicide song.” Other panelists cringed along with him. “Maybe it would have been better as a Tide ad,” said Josh.
Yet Michael said that the spot has achieved a measure of success because we’re still talking about it, as opposed to so many other ads that we don’t even recall.
Celebrating Alexa’s laryngitis
When Alexa loses her voice, celebrities come to the rescue. Tuesday said the spot was genius and has everything you want from a Super Bowl ad.
Josh loved that it was “classic sketch comedy, with a situation we recognize.” Kathy admired the range of pop culture from Anthony Hopkins to Cardi B and the sequencing of celebrities. Michael agreed that the celebs gave the spot “shock and awe,” then added, “I would love to have Rebel Wilson wake me up.”
Noting Anthony Hopkins’ parody of Hannibal Lecter, Sawyer said, “I didn’t know that Hopkins is only one character now.” He added that the video “crushed 42 million on YouTube … but there’s no halo effect for Amazon’s other videos.”
E*Trade just doesn’t fit
The humor fell flat in this spot where seniors work long past retirement age because they don’t have enough savings. “It felt like an ad from six years ago,” said Josh, plus the execution feels sad and it puts seniors in a harsh light.
Sawyer said the spot makes no sense because the E*Trade model of day trading is the opposite of best practice for retirement savings.
The mystery of Dodge Ram’s “Built to Serve”
David said “the Twittersphere blew up” after this spot aired because it used a 50-year-old sermon from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as its driving force.
The panelists wondered how the agency ignored the intent of MLK’s full sermon, which denounces car advertising. Michael said it shows a “breakdown in the creative process that glossed over the speech’s anti-capitalism.” Josh wondered if they simply “fell in love with the fact that it was exactly 50 years ago.”
Tuesday said that even if the message is right on, using MLK is shocking. She also brought up the Jeep “Anti-Manifesto” ad, designed to shame spots that get too big for their britches.
The audience got riled up about this topic as well. Hal Schild (SVP & COO, Yes&) said that the Ram “Farmer” spot from the 2013 Super Bowl was genuinely affecting and if Dodge was trying to match that former glory, it failed miserably. Edith Bullard (SVP Marketing, Yes&) asked “who was in the room” when the idea was proposed? She felt that a diverse team would have stopped the idea in its tracks.
Admiring women in a different way
David remarked that there was a different tone to the ads as a whole, with less sexuality than in previous Super Bowls. Tuesday agreed and called it a step forward … despite her fury that cheerleaders in skimpy outfits are still integral to the NFL.
Josh praised the three Olympic-related ads, which all focus on female athletes. David showed us one of them: The “Good Odds” spot about paralympic champion Lauren Woolstencroft, which brilliantly blends visuals and music. The ad is for Toyota’s Mobility For All line of products-to-be, which are currently prototypes.
On that note, David wrapped up the panel discussion and we returned to the party atmosphere where the conversations continued to flow.
Many thanks to beverage sponsor The Newseum and to panel sponsor Yes&, a new agency that was formed by bringing together three of the DC area’s best strategic, creative, and digital agencies: PCI, Carousel30, and LeapFrog Solutions. The Yes& agency introduced itself at the event with a rousing video that highlighted its approach to client service.
Zohar Rom edits this blog and is a writer and project manager. He drives brand success for clients and adores new challenges. Zohar is also a filmmaker; he earned the first-ever Best in Show at the Cable Advertising Awards and is directing Entitlement, a short film set in a future where sexual choices have new limits.