Brands played it relatively safe at Super Bowl LIII and many were less than impressed with the lack of creativity and edginess they’ve come to expect from this stage. Recently, politics has been a major storyline for the NFL and many claimed that the focus on Colin Kaepernick had led to the declined ratings over the last three years. Political sentiment bled into 2017’s Super Bowl spots when brands like Airbnb, 84 Lumber, and Budweiser created ads referencing the contentious political climate, and to a lesser extent in 2018 (though Ram Trucks definitely went this route.)
Details and Implications:
This year, a combination of higher scoring games and fewer controversies have seen the NFL’s regular season ratings return. Although research has shown people supporting brands that take a stand (particularly younger demos), a recent poll by Morning Consult showed that 2/3rds of consumers think it’s inappropriate for brands to make political statements during the Super Bowl specifically. Watched by people across every spectrum, recent controversies like Gillette may have also made brands apprehensive to push any messaging that might alienate wide groups of viewers.
Brands that did go with CSR ads focused on ones that are universally well-received, like women empowerment and helping the disabled. Most brands decided to go for humorous ads, which tend to have broader appeal. Many went with nostalgic celebrities (Backstreet Boys, Jeff Bridges, Sarah Jessica Parker), hoping to hit the NFL’s main demo of older viewers. Noticeably, one theme was the use of robots, playing to the tech anxieties viewers have over AI, big data, and job loss. They also provided a foil for brands trying to seem more human and relatable. And a few other items/trends of note included:
– Amazon had a big presence at this year’s Super Bowl (besides Bezos in the box suite). Amazon Web Services was an official sponsor, and for a second year, their star-studded Alexa ad was one of the most well-received. Amazon Prime’s Hannaand Bezos’ owned Washington Postalso had spots. And as a whole, there was an increased presence from tech brands, such as Hulu, Bumble, Wix, and more.
— According USA Today’s Admeter, the NFL 100 ad performed the best followed by Amazon and Microsoft. Bud Light’s Game of Throne ad was also did well and surprised many with its cross-promotion. In contrast, poor performers included Burger King, Wix.com, and Mint Mobile’s Chunky Milk.
— For the second straight year, Twitter hosted #BrandBowl, a competition that recognizes the brand that gets the most engagement during the game, regardless if they have a TV spot or not. While fan-favorites like GoT/Bud Light and Marvel received plenty of buzz, Frank’s RedHot earned over 3.5 million impressions for their Twitter competition that also engaged 40 other brands.
Although a 30-second spot cost a record $5.25 million, a mix of Patriots fatigue, a boring game, the Kaepernick boycott, and a Saints boycott led to the least-watched Super Bowl in 11 years. Brands like Sunny-D, Snickers, and Mercedes-Benz got in on the criticism (though Mercedes deleted their tweet).
While you can’t make the game more exciting, there are still ways for brands to tap into the public sentiment. Brands must also break the monotony and find new creative ways to connect with audiences, because past themes and executions have since become tropes for savvy viewers.