Super Bowl LII Advertising: Who made you look?

Monday, February 5, 2018

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In our era of on-demand television, the Super Bowl is one of the few cultural events Americans still collectively watch as it unfolds across their big screens on the first Sunday night in February. On the field, the teams drive the narrative—and it’s on them to determine whether the night ends in an overtime nailbiter or a blowout dud. But, after the game (unless your team is the winner), the stories we remember best are the ones that frame the game—the commercials.

With NBC charging an estimated $5 million per 30 second spot for Super Bowl LII, brands are under incredible pressure to get their stories right. From comedy to corporate social responsibility and sometimes both, brands make high-stakes choices that will determine how their American audiences will perceive them for the year to come.

What makes the best Super Bowl ad? 30 seconds isn’t really long enough to create something artful and stay on message, though many try. It’s really about turning heads and keeping people’s attention in the midst of a rowdy social event. Then it's about advancing the brand equity and communicating the benefits of the product in a unique way.

To find out which brands lived up to the hype, we polled a few members of our leadership team, Design Director Sarah Fry, Chief Strategy Officer Chris Heile, President Dave Townsend, and CEO Wendy Vonderhaar. They may have had different ideas about what they liked and what they didn't, but they did agree on which ads made them—and everyone else they spent the evening with—look.

Jeep, "Anti-Manifesto"

Wendy: This was a great competitive response to everyone else's social statements.

Dave: It was great to see that car drive up that rock all in one shot, with the camera barely moving. So, so simple, and it completely heroes the Jeep.

Sarah: A lot of the car ads were disappointing. But, I loved that they took a stand. They don't need a manifesto because the Jeep speaks for itself.


Sarah: I really think Michelob Ultra has taken themselves too seriously in the past. Their television spots have felt like advertising for fitness products. This was the right mix of beer, fun and fitness.

Dave: Yes! You can be in shape and like beer.

Chris: And Chris Pratt is the perfect person for that idea, he's got the right attitude and personality.

Wendy: I like this, but I question these ads in a series because what are the odds that everyone sees the whole series?

AMAZON ALEXA, "Alexa Loses Her Voice"

Wendy: That ending! I was with it all along, but they lost me at the end with the Silence of the Lambs reference. I wish they would have brought it back to Alexa a little more strongly.

Dave: The concept is great. It brings attention to something that you are starting to ignore because it’s become commonplace. And Jeff Bezos is a major attention getter.

Sarah: I think this might be going against the brand promise a bit. They're asking viewers to imagine how scary their lives could be without Alexa.

Chris: Why would you show the product wreaking havoc?

DORITOS AND MOUNTAIN DEW, "Doritos Blaze vs. Mountain Dew Ice"

Wendy: I might have nightmares about Peter Dinklage in this commercial.

Dave: Thoroughly Super Bowl-worthy, high entertainment. Who’s the coolest guy? Morgan Freeman. Both he and Peter Dinklage command your attention.

Sarah: Fire and ice! I was watching to see where it went next the whole time. They found a really creative way to pay off the product benefit.

Chris: It’s interesting to see two products packaged together. That’s a really smart thing to do, to demonstrate the way the snack and the beverage can interact. And everyone stopped and paid attention to it. It was a true spectacle.

Tourism Australia, "Dundee"

Chris: Everyone stopped and watched this. And with two great actors, it appeared to be legitimate. Usually an ad that uses misdirection confuses you because the subject matter can feel disconnected. But this got increasingly silly, which clued you in. Conceptually, this was one of the best of the night.

Sarah: I loved this! The twist at the end was perfect.

M&M's, "Human"

Dave: Not sure I'm on board with the concept of Danny Devito going up to people saying “Do you want to eat me?”

Wendy: And I'm not sure what this says about the product...

Chris: That’s exactly what I would picture the red M&M would look like as a human.

Tide, "It's a Tide ad" series

Sarah: This lets P&G do a ton of cross promotion in a way that pokes a little fun at themselves. And the whole premise sets them up to make that claim, "Does that make every Super Bowl ad a Tide ad?"

Wendy: It connects perfectly with the tagline, "If it's clean, it's got to be Tide."

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