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What I Want to See in the Big Game

This month’s Super Bowl LV will be different. Sure, we have Tom Brady making his 10th appearance (but first as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer) and the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. But it will be the first Super Bowl in which the host stadium’s team is playing (even though they will be designated the visiting team). There will be a limited number of fans inside the stadium and likely (hopefully) fewer large watch parties.

Adding to the disruption of this annual spectacle are the numerous long-standing brands that have decided to take a pass and not advertise in the game. Coca Cola, Pepsi and Avocados from Mexico, among others, have opted out of advertising during the game. Is it because of the $5.5 million cost of a 30-second spot after a year in which many companies struggled financially? Or is it that companies and brands don’t know what to say after a divisive election year, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and calls for defunding police, and a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion across business and society? Given the paucity of quality ads in the past few games, perhaps this is the right call for those brands struggling to find their voice.

However, I’ll argue this is a prime opportunity to advertise in the Big Game. As I have stated since I started writing these posts reviewing Super Bowl ads ten years ago, my opinion is that brands should talk less about oneself and focus instead on one’s stakeholders and how the brand makes a difference in stakeholders’ lives and society. This year’s advertisers should be advocates. Not necessarily for political issues but for their employees, customers and communities in which they operate.

We have some good examples over the past 10 years of what I want to see from advertisers on Sunday night.

  • Chrysler “Imported from Detroit” was the one ad that really resonated with me in my first ad review in 2011. This ad was really a two-minute ode to Detroit and all it has gone through. As a native Michigander, the images of Detroit drew me in and brought back memories of venturing downtown to see the Red Wings and Tigers play. When Eminem’s Lose Yourself started playing, my head started nodding and I was hooked. What a bold move from Chrysler to use its advertising dollars, on a night when car ads dominated the spending buy, to pay homage to its city and her residents. It obviously worked: Google reported on the Monday morning after the game that “Chrysler 200” scored as the top search term.
  • Ram Trucks “Farmer” ad salutes the individuals who are at least as tough as its trucks and a critical piece of the fabric of this nation, but someone who is often overlooked. The ad reminds us of the people who feed us and to value and thank them. As the time, if you went to Ram’s website you would have learned it donated $1 per ad view to FFA to help the next generation of farmers. Moreover, according to Autotrader, Ram page views increased 55 percent in the aftermath of the ad running, certainly achieving one of its goals of driving consumers to learn more about them.
  • The best ad from 2017 wasn’t even in the game, but given that the ad was filmed, edited and produced during the broadcast itself, I include it for consideration and because it is the best ad among more recent games. You had to stay through overtime to the first commercial break after the game to see the Hyundai “A Better Super Bowl” commercial. Using virtual reality to provide three members of the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division stationed in Poland the ability to “watch” the game with their loved ones and tell us a little bit about these individuals and their families over the course of 90 seconds is not only ingenuous but also awe-inspiring. It is the only ad of the night to get me to pause and consider what I had just seen. The opening shot includes a statement that watching the Super Bowl “wouldn’t be possible without our troops.” The fact this ad comes from a South Korean company that knows the importance of U.S. troops certainly adds authenticity to the spot. It aligns with the reality of Midwestern and Southern Americans who tend to send their sons and daughters to serve in our military at a higher rate. Support for our troops rang true then across our divided country and this ad shows Hyundai in a new light. The ad wasn’t about a product or even the brand for that matter; it was all about our troops, their service and three extraordinary families.

AB InBev has announced its flagship U.S. brand, Budweiser, will not advertise in the game this year but instead is “reallocating the media investment” to raise awareness about the COVID-19 vaccine throughout the year, in partnership with the Ad Council. To announce its intention, the brand released “Bigger Picture” last week, with “Lean on Me” playing underneath the voice over, images of the “new normal” wrought by the coronavirus pandemic and the message that we Americans can do anything. It sets the table for others to similarly advocate for its stakeholders.

What do you expect this year? How many brands will take this road? Check back on Monday, February 8, to see who made the grade this year.

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