The Super Bowl is one of the biggest television broadcast events today. In the United States alone, viewership has been steadily above 100 million tuned in live on game day. Nielsen’s 2017 report places this year’s count at 112 million viewers (the record is at 115 million for Super Bowl XLIX in 2015). In the age of streaming and social media, that’s more than just a big deal, it’s a golden advertising opportunity, and companies know it.
You’d think that anyone would jump at a chance to reach that many people, but running a Super Bowl ad can actually be more of a risk. A 30 second commercial spot cost upwards of $5 million this year, and factoring in production and campaign expenses, we think the term “Big Game Ad” definitely doesn’t just refer to the football game. While the measure of success is uniquely up to the brand’s strategy and goals, a truly successful ad can boost a brand’s message and reach with immense positive impressions and even elevate it into pop culture halls of fame.
All of that said, it’s no wonder the Big Game Ads are a cultural phenomenon in itself. A number of people even tune in just for the ads (and, yes, the halftime show), some KCM Team members included. From a content producer and brand enthusiast perspective, there’s always plenty to talk about even after the game, and the overtime, is over. A bunch of the team gathered to re-watch the year’s rundown of commercials and discuss our thoughts (Google Sheets vote data from the entire company included).
Budweiser is one of the longest-running Super Bowl advertisers as well as having some of the most memorable ads. The beer brand has been trying to set themselves apart the last couple of years from its competition (commercial or craft beers). Budweiser’s commercial from the 2016 Super Bowl attacked craft beers outright and had the tagline, “Not Backing Down.” This year, they changed their tone to a more inclusive brand-centric story. The original intention of Budweiser’s cinematic “Born the Hard Way” was to show a little bit of Anheuser-Busch’s 165 year-old history to remind consumers there is heart and soul behind the beer. As told to Adweek, the ad "isn’t just an opportunity for Budweiser to tout its heritage; it will also introduce the brand’s new marketing messaging for the year and likely longer."
We all think it was well-done and cinematic, and appreciate the thought and planning that went into the campaign. Despite some historical inaccuracies that could make some people feel wary, it was overall a good marketing move. However, no one can deny the concurrence of the broadcast with the current political climate. As a result, the impact of Budweiser’s ad was significantly increased, from being touted as an inspirational and epic immigrant story, to a political move against the current administration's stance on immigration. The company itself maintains that despite the political relevance, the story of Adolphus Busch is the center of the message: "It’s the pursuit, the effort, the passion, the drive, the hard work, the ambition, that’s really what this is about more than anything else.”
Perhaps the most politically inclined of this year's Big Game Ads, 84 Lumber's "The Journey Begins" tells the story of a Mexican mother and her daughter on their arduous journey to make it to America. Their struggle was juxtaposed with shots of a construction set, referencing 84 Lumber's work, and ends at a cliffhanger on the 90 second television spot, telling viewers to find out what the ending is online. FOX had reportedly turned down the full script because it was too controversial, as the ending features a border wall with a big door (presumably built from the earlier construction scenes). At the end, the words “The will to succeed will always be welcome here” appear on screen, a pro-immigration message as well as an allusion to 84 Lumber's marketing goal: to increase awareness of the company's labor opportunities. They hoped to appeal to possible future employees who work hard and believe in the "American Dream." Hopeful message aside, the ad is one of the most talked about this year, drawing both positive and negative attention. The ad drew so much attention in fact that it caused their campaign website to crash in the hours and a few days following the Super Bowl.
Before anything else, Audi's 60-second ad "Daughter" looks beautiful. Set in a warm, moody treatment that evokes American grit and with a deep, charismatic voiceover of a father's voice feeling elegant and tender at the same time. By all aspects, the ad is meant to tug at the heartstring, a father's love and hope for his daughter to withstand odds against her in a male-dominant society. At the end of the ad, Audi drives the point home in case there was any doubt of its message, and turns it into a political stand: "Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work. Progress is for everyone." Audi uses the ad to introduce #DriveProgress, which will be used in the coming year to promote new and ongoing initiatives, according to the press release. The feedback is again mixed -- the pay equality debate dividing many opinions. On our Google sheets survey, our events intern Melody wrote: "Love the message, but dislike the company for their lack of authenticity. Great takeaway from the ad as it raises awareness on gender stereotypes/equality, but the ad backfires as Audi does not practice their message in their own company."
Views on Youtube: 12 mil
Runtime: 60 s
Agency: Venables Bell & Partners
Production: Somesuch + Anonymous Content
Director: Aoife McArdle
The idea of a live Super Bowl ad was definitely interesting to us, but we can't help but feel that the execution was lacking. To prove the commercial was indeed live, Snickers arranged for a 36 hour Facebook live stream from the commercial set. Campaign Live did a recap of what Snickers did to fill those 36 hours. There was a can of beans with the caption, “guess how many beans are in this can,” a “security duck,” and guest appearances by Tyler Oakley and Betty White. However, for those who did not watch the live stream, Snickers made sure it was obvious when the ad aired. The text “LIVE” appeared on the screen for a split second at the beginning, and Adam Driver mentions the current score, “21-3” to provide additional proof the commercial was live.
When Driver misses his cue and makes a mess, it all happens fast and the entire commercial falls apart. The humor in the ad was that everything goes wrong in the live ad, set pieces fall etc, and there was no take two, because it was shown in real time. However, if you weren't paying attention to the build up, it gets confusing real quick. The idea falls flat when you're aware that they planned for things to go wrong, and so it all happened as planned, even though it was supposed to show that things can't always happen as planned when live. The commercial ends with the line, “You ruin Super Bowl commercials when you’re hungry,” supposed to be a continuation of Snicker’s ongoing theme of commercials showing characters who weren't themselves because they were hungry. Although, it was hard to tell that that was the point even after the follow-up spot where Driver apologizes for ruining the initial ad. Overall though, we get where Snickers was going with it (nice try!) and hope this might mean we see more live ads in the future!
Mr. Clean's augmented reality-style ad showing a sexy version of the brand's icon gets a mention from us not just for the humor (and truth-yes, guys who clean are sexy), but for their social media status during the game. While the Snickers' live Super Bowl ad almost requires the other real-time media platforms in their execution, Mr. Clean made a case for engaging on social media - by being a clever troll. During the game, the brand tweeted planned reactions to other ads as they aired as well as live tweeting game updates.
— Mr. Clean (@RealMrClean) February 5, 2017
Many Big Game Ad lists say Mr. Clean did well in being universally enjoyable, and we agree. Certainly amusing and even refreshing, Mr. Clean's ad made it memorable without any controversy, and may be the source of many memes to come.
Hyundai's "A Better Super Bowl" was simple and complex all at once. The message was simple: connect military personnel and their families (always works) to bring them a better Super Bowl experience. The commercial wasn’t a stunt or a stretch in terms of Hyundai’s values. Hyundai has supported the U.S. military for years by working with dealerships near military bases, developing incentive programs, and being rated as a top employer of military personnel. Hyundai chose to highlight their campaign “Better Drives Us” slogan by starting off with something every American can get behind- supporting our troops.
As simple and effective as the message may be, the execution was complex: to film the ad during the Super Bowl and have it ready to air by the end of the game. We felt that Hyundai and their agency Innocean took things to the next level, and could not have happened without collaborating with the NFL, Fox Sports and US Department of Defense. It usually takes a few weeks just to produce the shooting portion of the commercial and then another few weeks to get to the final, client approved cut. Hyundai's team did it all in one hour. To film, edit, and air a commercial within the span of a football game is such an incredible feat that we deem Hyundai’s “A Better Super Bowl” the winning ad from Super Bowl LI.
It has been said the the Super Bowl is the biggest advertising event of the year. Often sparking many conversations in the weeks before and after the actual game, in speculation and analysis of the commercials that could make or break brands in some way. If you look at the history of Super Bowl commercials, the very first in the sense of the ad made specifically for release during the game and treated like a short film less than a traditional advertisement was Apple's 1984 commercial directed by Ridley Scott. The ad was broadcast during the Cold War and had political overtones. Ads soon after became more plot-driven and economic, political and socially relevant - a reflection of the times. As the marketing trend for honesty and authenticity in story-telling goes strong, more consumers are now attracted to brands that they feel genuinely support causes that align with their beliefs. Taking the history, trends and amount of controversy and surprising technology in this year's ads into account, it's safe to say Big Game Ads are only going to get more interesting from here.
P.S. That Eggo x Netflix tie up turned Stranger Things Season 2 trailer? Yasss.