Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

Super Bowl Ads Get All Meta (and Other Trends)

London, UK
Y&R New York CCO, Jim Elliott, on some self-aware Big Game ads

Given the near massacre of the Denver Broncos by the Seattle Seahawks this past Sunday night, I’m grateful there were other reasons to remain tuned into Super Bowl XLVIII through the 4th quarter. Not only did Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers kill it, but a number of other brands turned up to play, too (if only Manning & Co. could claim the same). Although not every spot was memorable (in fact, some were full-fledged bombs), there were some noticeable themes among the most interesting and successful of the lot.

Firstly, there seems to be a growing trend of self-awareness among advertisers: Super Bowl spots about being Super Bowl spots. We saw this with ads like the Ford Fusion pair, the Bud Light episodic, Colbert’s Pistachio duo, Turbo Tax and Esurance just after the game. Prior to the broadcast, we saw it in the Newcastle Beer work leading up to the game – a hilariously smart campaign playing into all the hype surrounding the big-budget Super Bowl advertising phenomenon — while not actually being an official Super Bowl advertiser. Like it or not, marketers understand that the general public is ad-savvy and that consumers (viewers) understand just how high the stakes really are for brands during the Big Game. Plus, the whole Super Bowl enterprise has reached a Hollywood level of absurdity that is practically impossible not to acknowledge and/or play into these days, which seems to help explain this trend towards self-referentialism. 

You’ll note another theme among some of the spots highlighted above: Serial or ‘episodic’ content. More and more brands are using this colossal stage in ways beyond a singular, one-time commercial moment.  Brands like Ford Fusion, Bud Light and Pistachios (recognise these names from the aforementioned paragraph?) are creating ‘episodic’ content that unfolds or evolves over the course of the game. In the process, these brands get to tell a larger story and leave viewers waiting for the next instalment to reveal itself in a later quarter. We’ll see more of that in future Super Bowls and other big broadcasts, I suspect. Which is great, because it opens the door to new storytelling possibilities. Add to that a little second screen content action and things could get downright freaky. 

As always, we saw a lot of celebrities being featured in the spots. The key difference this year?  There were A LOT more of them. It used to be that one celebrity appearance per spot was enough to get people talking. Not so anymore, it seems.  This year's game was a veritable arms race between brands hell-bent on flaunting their relationship with Hollywood's biggest names. Bud Light was a tour de force in that regard. As was Radio Shack and Time Warner Cable. Seemingly ‘unattainable’ celebrities made appearances, as well.  Bob Dylan for Chrysler? Amazing. Ben Kingsley for Jaguar? Killer. Laurence Fishburne for Kia? Whoa. Scarlett Johansson? Nice. Bruce Willis? Cool. The Muppets?? Unprecedented. And as if that weren't enough, we also saw and/or heard John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Saget (yes, he counts), John Krasinski, John Tuturro, John Voight, Anna Paquin and James Franco. Celebrities that used to only ‘do ads’ in foreign countries are now making an appearance here during the Big Game. Why? Because the whole event has gone completely Hollywood. It’s the biggest show on Earth and to not make an appearance would suggest a career slump. Imagine that.

Music also seemed to play a starring role in this year’s ads. Ironic, poignant, attention-grabbing music. Now, this isn't exactly a new trend, but rather it’s affirmation of what's always been true: A great track can elevate a story to a whole new place. And it's great at silencing a room. After all, most Super Bowl parties are loud, out-of-control social events where you need to grab viewers’ attention quickly. The Super Bowl is about entertainment, and music is and should be a massive part of the equation.  Yazoo for Turbo Tax.  Bob Dylan for Chobani. Passenger for Budweiser. Loverboy for Radio Shack, Ane Brun for Chevy. The Human Beinz for H&M.  U2 for BoA/(RED) - in this last one you could even download the song.  A music artist used to be perceived as a ‘sell-out’ if he or she licensed music to a brand, but that stigma is all but gone. These days massive, money-making, boardroom deals are being struck between brands, artists and entertainment companies – and the viewers get to enjoy the results. Commercials are a major way for artists to get their music heard today and to make money. Now more than ever, music is a major part of the Super Bowl commercial equation, and that’s a beautiful thing.

While some of these themes make sense when worked into brand campaigns throughout the year, some of these ideas just work better for one-time event broadcasts - Bud Light’s ‘Up for Whatever’ is a prime example of this. As the Super Bowl continues to attract tens of millions of viewers and social media users (this year’s game racked up 25 million tweets, up from the 24.1 million in 2013), advertisers will continue to engage fans and consumers by trying new things on Super Bowl Sunday. At least, let's hope they do — because you never know just how boring the game itself will be.

Work from LBB Editorial
Fuck the Poor Case Study
The Pilion Trust