Brands rejoice—Super Bowl is the one time of year Americans don’t mute their televisions during commercials. In fact, people look forward to the $166,666.67 dollar seconds (USA Today). As ad space during the Beyonce concert, er, I mean football game, goes up in price, advertisers are looking to get more bang for their buck as well. I saw commercials for commercials this year. Bud Light showed Amy Schumer and Seth Rogan suiting up on a commercial, apparently, getting amped up for...their commercial. They’re entertaining, surely, but do ads like these have influence over our buying power any more?
Do Super Bowl Commercials Have Influence?
And not just Super Bowl commercials, but television ads in general? The answer is yes...or at least maybe. For right now, anyway. Seth Godin is highly touted as one of the most influential leaders in the marketing world, and he believes that influence is dying off. The “TV-industrial complex has been canceled. The model that we can interrupt people whenever we want to is over”(fastcompany). And in many ways, it seems like he is right. Do you still have a cable subscription? Wall Street research firm Pacific Crest affirms what your gut says is true—the number of households with cable has fallen 10% in the past five years. On the flipside, Netflix has seen the number of households with the service nearly double to 35% since late 2011. Amazon and Hulu also saw subscribers rise 40% and 45%, respectively (Business Insider). Contradictorily, TV created 33% more branded online searches per TV rating point during 2011-14 than in 2008-11 (IPTV).
While the question of their effectiveness is still up for debate, we all know Super Bowl ads are, if nothing else, entertaining. Here’s a breakdown of some of the interesting ads from Super Bowl 50.
Are you great? Everyone likes to think so, of course. Sofi decided to target a segment audience and highlight their negative personas, or people that aren’t a great match for their product. By saying, “You’re probably not great,” many of us watching were thinking, “heck yes I am!” Wanting to prove it, some of us eager beavers might head to their site.
DefyLabels — Mini
Using Serena Williams as a spokesperson, Mini went the inspirational route, asking everyone to defy the labels imposed on us by other people and define ourselves. Thanks. If I was getting my inspiration from a car company about who I am, I’d be struggling right now. Especially because I drive an old car with a cracked windshield. One thing Mini got right is that they seemed to target women over men, while a high percentage of the advertisers stayed with the men. Last year, 114 million viewers watched the game, and Nielsen reports that about 47% of those were women (USA Today). That’s a big market to ignore, especially if your product is good for us gentlewomen. The number of people using the #DefyLabels hashtag on Twitter was more than half female, as well.
Chunky’s shows that if you have a supportive mom and a bowl of MSG-filled soup, you can achieve the most unrealistic dreams (Campbell’s). Shot from the perspective of a child, teenager and then adult man, we see several failures before, finally, our champ makes it to the NFL. This commercial is on theme, if football is why people tune into the Super Bowl. Though it tries to play the emotional card, I’m not sure it succeeds. Maybe that’s because I don’t have a son, eat the soup or have a mom who didn’t age from the time I was six to 26. Their hashtag, obviously, more closely related to the female demographic as well, with three quarters of the tweets coming from people who can actually be moms. The #MomPride hashtag had less action than the #DefyLabels hashtag, meaning the nameless mom generated less resonance than Serena Williams.
Pokemon reminded us, in the most epic way possible, that they have been around for 20 years, and that most of their customers are aging nostalgics. In 2006, when Pokémon Diamond and Pearl were released, the games sold primarily to preschoolers, first to third graders, and fourth to sixth graders. A short while later, when Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver launched in 2009, that pair of games saw a large increase in the number of high school aged children and adults from 19-24 (Siliconera). While Pokemon’s fans are aging, the brand still went the route of targeting through children and teens. Their sales are on the decline in North America, so we can track their progress to see how effective an easy five million dollar ad slot during the Super Bowl can be.
Axe veered from the heteronormative thousands of screaming women chasing after a man route. But not far. They must have saturated the terrible men's fragrance market, as they’re moving onto harrier pastures—men's grooming. Axe is trying to speak to the every man. It’s okay if you’re ugly. Poor. Like to crossdress. Disabled. Etc.
Shocktop hit us with the Hangover-style humour that I hoped was fading. The “dude, we’re way too cool of a brand to say nice things to you” approach. With an actor that couldn’t enunciate properly, I had a hard time following what was happening. But after rewatching, it’s now clear to me—an orange slice and unkempt male make cynical jokes at each other for far too many costly seconds. Target: men. Because men drink beeeeeer.
For one of their ads, Doritos went for the dog approach, which always gets me. Like last year’s Budweiser commercials where we all (all of us, right!?) cried when little guy reunites with his horse buddy. As a brand, Doritos has a funny approach to their marketing. I like that they don’t take themselves too seriously and are willing to play around. Target audience: dogs.
For another ad, Doritos got topical, mimicking Tinder in real life. This can be a good approach, as people see it as funny and relevant, and may be likely to share with their networks. Dopey guy swipes left on all sorts of “unwantable” women (goth, too young, too ugly, mother). Perhaps a little misogynist. Target audience: dudes.
For yet another ad, Doritos has a man eating chips during his wife’s ultrasound (men, sigh, when will they ever learn!). Again, they’re going the funny route and when uppity wife (women, sigh, they’re so uptight!) throws the chip across the room, she goes into labour as the fetus dives for the chip. Stereotypes are easy because they’ve been engrained in all of us, so playing on them is easy too. Stupid man goes into ultrasound unaware of the significance of life event and subsequently becoming a father. Woman, acutely aware of the wonder of bringing life into the world, needs to teach man a lesson through her anger and by associating with the other female in the room, the doctor. Boring. Target audience: bros.
From women in bikinis to using a woman powerhouse as a spokesperson, it feels like Bud is trying something new. But as they promote the ol’ bud light party, the common theme is obvious—drink alcohol, have a great time! I like that they stayed topical as well, building off the hype and media coverage of the US presidential election. And who doesn’t love Amy Schumer?
Well, as a Canadian I guess it’s obvious: I’m a Drake fan. So naturally, I loved this commercial. T-Mobil played on one of the most popular music phenoms of 2015 and perhaps one of the most hated: cell phone carriers. They helped us, 112 million of us, feel like we are all part of one club: the I hate cell phone companies club. By highlighting an industry weakness, T-Mobil is reminding all of us how dissatisfied we are with our current rate packages...and offering a solution! No hidden fees! The “Un-carrier” is the anti establishment. And like we’re seeing in the US presidential campaign, people of every political stripe love their anti-establishment candidates. From Bernie Saunders to, sigh, Donald Trump, these two gain in the polls because people see them as different from the other candidates; a change; fresh. T-Mobil is hoping for the same. Their true test will be delivering on that promise and having happy customers spread the word on digital media later.
Avocados from Mexico
I thought this one was hilarious. They helped us laugh at ourselves through our inability to complete a Rubik's Cube, our excessive use of emojis and a shared hatred of the discomfort of planes.
Traditional Meets Digital
One thing many of the ads have in common is that they push their audience to social. Tons of hashtags were flashing on the screen: #Pokemon20, #DefyLabels, #MomPride #BudLightParty, #YouGotCarriered, #BolderThanBold, #AvosInSpace, #SoFiGreat, etc. Every brand pushes a hashtag so that all the other folks sitting at home watching the Super Bowl to see the real big players—the brands—can follow along with the conversation. If it works and a brand can engage their audience, they can bridge that gap between traditional and digital media. One of the most common complaints about traditional advertising, like TV commercials, is that brand managers don’t know who is seeing their ad or have a way to prove ROI. Tracking impressions and volume of usage on the hashtag they promote is one way to see if their message is resonating. Using utm codes is another way for a brand to understand the audience they are reaching, but are not always ideal for the big screen.
The Broncos may have won the game, but who do you think is the real winner?