Whether you were pulling for Atlanta or New England, Matt Ryan or Tom Brady, or you were just waiting for Lady Gaga at halftime, there’s no question that Sunday’s 51st Super Bowl was one for the ages. The first overtime game, a record comeback, and historic wins for both Bill Belichick and Tom Brady drove the narrative for this always bigger-than-life sporting event.
But in between plays and quarters, those $5 million ads caught the public’s attention at bars and parties, making a statement about what resonates in 2017. That’s been the case for many years now. We get a glimpse about ourselves in these ads, the most-watched and discussed commercials of the year. And thanks to YouTube and web video, chances are good you actually watched a number of these spots before the game was even played.
The same study by Survata (commissioned by Adweek) that we referenced in last week’s post about social media during the Super Bowl indicates considerable interest in ads – before and after the game.
Nearly three in ten Super Bowl viewers say that pre-game teasing of commercials made the whole evening more fun. And more than a third say they frequently watch these ads online after the game has ended.
But the truth about what makes an impact in this very expensive advertising contest shifts from year to year, as the national mood changes. That speaks volumes about how audiences emote – what makes us laugh, cry, and perhaps even think. Not surprisingly, the current political spectrum had more impact on the messaging and tone of Super Bowl ads than any time before. And don’t just credit the creatives at national agencies for this content shift. The brands themselves – from Coca-Cola to Audi to 84 Lumber – had to approve ads that contained a poignant message.
The goal of Super Bowl marketing isn’t all that different from what personality radio shows are trying to accomplish: stand out in a crowded field in a positive, memorable, and entertaining way. As adman Jason Sperling explained recently to the LA Times, “If you are not creating something that transcends the 30 other ads in the Super Bowl, then you are wasting your money.”
Some of the old tricks still work. Melissa McCarthy’s slapstick special effects masterpiece for Kia (“Hero’s Journey”) was over-the-top funny, while some old school nostalgia was brilliantly on display in Honda’s ad (pictured above) featuring mesmerizing animation of celebrity yearbook photos (“The Yearbook”).
While there were the requisite cute, funny, and clever beer ads, they did not stand out as they have in Super Bowls past. In those days, Budweiser could simply trot out the Clydesdales and a cute dog, create a comforting American winter scene, and score huge audience points.
This year, they went in a very different direction. Their commercial told the fictionalized tale of Augustus Busch’s tumultuous journey to America, dealing with the trials and tribulations of being a stranger in a strange land. This classic story in “Born the Hard Way” was a timely one – a reminder to viewers that America’s brew was invented by a German immigrant.
And political stories and current issues were more a part of the Super Bowl commercial lineup than in years past when the buzz may have been about Mean Joe Greene, that crazy Apple “1984” ad, or those risqué GoDaddy spots.
The year’s version of a buzzworthy commercial turned out to be a controversial and yet effective for a brand most of us had never heard of – 84 Lumber. Their Super Bowl ad – “The Journey Begins” – originally ended with the now familiar border wall But Fox required them to change the ending. The version that ran Sunday night was edited to show an ambiguous conclusion with a mention to visit the company website to see the full version. Overwhelming web traffic crashed their site.
And it didn’t end there. Audi took on the issue of equal pay for women in “Daughter.” Coke ran a commercial from 2014, “It’s Beautiful,” about diversity. That same topic was the theme in AirBnB’s “We Accept.” These spots were reminders that the creative emphasis of this year’s Super Bowl ads was very different. It was OK to address issues like immigration and diversity in between Tom Brady facial expressions like never before. Politics has become a topic that Americans are apparently ready to deal with and talk about.
It’s notable that of the top 10 most shared Super Bowl ad, Unruly reports that Budweiser’s “Born The Hard Way” was #1. And the aforementioned spots for AirBnB, Audi, 84 Lumber, and Coke all made the top 10.
So what does this mean for radio’s personality shows attempting to stand out, be relevant, and yes, funny in 2017? So much of morning radio’s bit orientation smacks of tired reality TV shows. War of the Roses earns attention in the same way as Dancing With The Stars. You feel like you’ve heard it (or seen it) all before.
That’s not to say that every personality show should be discussing politics. It takes a special skill, touch, and wisdom to even approach the topics we saw during Super Bowl LI. Finding a way to weave in these issues on a music radio station has a much higher degree of difficulty than slotting in another edition of “Stump the DJ” or “Name That Noise.”
But this apparent shift in Super Bowl ad trends might be an early indicator there’s a willingness for these topics to be part of the fabric of shows talented enough to handle them. While radio plays an escapist role for many, the advertisers who took a shot on ads that combined storytelling with serious issues of the day tended to reap the benefits.
Perhaps the secret sauce is combining humor with politics, the technique used by It’s A 10 hair care in “Four More Years.” Their reference to the President’s unique coiffure was a great excuse for a catchy ad that was well shared after the game’s overtime period.
We’ve seen p0litical humor successfully play out on “Saturday Night Live” for the past year, a show with a reputation for satire and parody, especially on the Presidential level. As the rhetoric around the nation and on social media has reached a boiling point over the past two years, “SNL” has found a way to make us smile and perhaps provide a momentary escape valve. Melissa McCarthy’s send-up of press secretary Sean Spicer this past weekend was another sign that political humor may finally be a topic audiences want to hear about – or laugh about.
Will radio get the memo? Or will it be another edition of “Phone Tap?”
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.