Anatomy of the Best Super Bowl Ads
Year after year, the Super Bowl continues to captivate – not just for the sportsmanship and the game itself, but for the amazing commercials. Many of the ads and campaigns go on to define what it is to be the best-of-the-best in the industry. But what makes these ads so special? And why do they only seem come out to play during the Super Bowl?
There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to this very special time of year for advertisers and audiences around the world.
Advertising during the Super Bowl is a decision that requires a lot of thought on the part of marketing executives. First off is the hefty price tag – at $5 million per 30-second ad, the steep cost may be enough for some marketers to shy away from securing a spot.
However, for those brands who have reaped the rewards of having their commercial play during the Super Bowl or those wanting to get in on the action, we’ve interviewed Tracy Arrington, SVP Marketing/Media and lecturer at the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations to analyze the components of some of the best Super Bowl ads. Here she shares what lessons your brand can take away for the creation of your own commercials.
What Makes for a Great Commercial?
Before we explore the greatest Super Bowl ads, it’s important to first look at what makes a great ad.
Great advertisements stem from the notion that brands want to create a winning perception about the product and/or service they are offering and they ultimately want their target audience to take actions (i.e. purchase their products or services).
“All ads should be creative, engaging and targeted to the right audience,” says Tracy.
Since all marketing and advertising is subjective (beauty really is in the eye of the beholder), traditional advertisers really try to hone in on who will ultimately be purchasing their products. Great advertisers should really care about appealing to their primary target audience and their secondary target audience.
However, the Super Bowl turns this traditional advertising approach on its head.
For example: while the primary audience of the 2017 Super Bowl were males (51%), the remainder of viewers – 49% were females. In fact, the NFL estimates that 45% of football fans are females. For advertisers, this meaning that when it comes to making an important segmentation choice – to appeal to men or women with your commercials, the audience is almost literally split down the middle. It’s been said that if you try to speak to everyone, you speak to no one.
So how do Super Bowl advertisers navigate these dicey waters?
What the Best Super Bowl Ads Have Done Well
Super Bowl ads are unlike traditional ads in the sense that their target audience is a little bit harder to pin down.
“The Super Bowl’s audience is geographically, demographically and behaviorally diverse, so many people fall into the trap of trying to make everyone happy,” says Tracy. “Which is impossible. So don’t try to do it. Consider the scale of the event, the audience, the environment, the brand’s objectives. Super Bowl ads should connect the brand to the viewers and the viewers to the brand,” she says.
Let’s take a look at some of the best Super Bowl ads in 2018 and examine why they had so many views.
1. They Stick with What Works
Year after year, some brands stick with the same themes as the previous year, reviving older storylines, creating a continuing storyline, or a “to be continued storyline.”
In what has now become a well-known campaign, Bud Light coined the phrase “Dilly Dilly,”, in their medieval-themed ads. Each year they release a new ad with the popular catchphrase and similar theme. If it worked well once, why not keep it going?
Here is one example:
2. They Have Celebrity Status
Chances are, if brands are willing to invest in the $5 million dollar spot, then they are a brand with money. Why not go all the way in and find the latest celebrity to appear in your ads? Just make sure they are not part of any scandal that can damage your brand reputation.
Most of the best Super Bowl ads feature well-known celebrities.
In the most-watched ad from 2018, “Tourism Australia Dundee” actors Chris Hemsworth and Danny McBride are the feature characters. What doesn’t sell a place like a familiar face?
3. They are Odd and Zany
Some ads get people talking because of how outside of the box they are. They have you scratching your head and wondering how what you watched is even related to the product. Yet somehow, the product is now in your head.
4. They Create an Emotional Connection
Although humor is a popular route to take when trying to craft the perfect Super Bowl ad, some brands choose to go a different route and tug at the viewer’s heartstrings, reinforcing their values as a brand.
Take this Budweiser commercial for example, in which the brand “toots their own horn” by way of showing how they are giving back to those in need.
5. They are Funny
Humor always seems to be the trend when it comes to the best Super Bowl ads. Whether it be sarcastic humor, or slapstick humor as in the Groupon video below.
The Best Super Bowl Ads: Do They Have to Be Funny?
You may have noticed that in recent years, Super Bowl ads have become more and more humor and entertainment-based. But is humor always the way to go?
“Humor is a great tool,” says Tracy. “It connects the brand to the audience in an emotional way, which means that the ad will have higher recall than a message without that connection.”
On the other hand, in some instances, humor only takes you so far before you start to lose a handle on what the ad is actually trying to sell.
There has to be a balance between being entertaining and portraying the brand – sometimes brand names are not shown until the very end of the ad, which according to some marketers and advertisers, is too late.
The peculiar nature of the Super Bowl and the spectacle it has become, puts the pressure on companies to up the ante each year and design with entertainment in mind. The demand to create an ad that is both captivating and entertaining often makes brands lose sight of their main messaging. Besides being funny and entertaining, there are other ways to create an emotional connection to your audience. Tracy says that surprise, joy, envy, love, pity and even fear and shame can be powerful marketing tools.
Here are some other guidelines for crafting a standout Super Bowl Ad.
Criteria of the Best Super Bowl Ads
Although the best Super Bowl ads actually do attempt to be ‘everything to everyone,’ there are still some standards of advertising that Super Bowl ads adhere to in order to get the greatest reach.
“The Super Bowl is the event of all events and the competition isn’t just on the field. The cost of entry is high, so there’s the expectation that the ads will be the best of the best,” says Tracy. “Humans love competition […] with an audience this large, you’ll get some fans no matter what you produce.”
4 Considerations to Producing a Commercial that’s on Par with the Best Super Bowl Ads
1. Brand Focused
Some of the best Super Bowl ads focus on the brand, the brand values and what makes the brand so great. This may seem a little on-the-nose for some, but it can still be an incredibly effective approach, especially if your audience is broad and your goal is to raise awareness. Ultimately, if the ad reinforces what differentiates you and why audiences should choose your brand above all others, then the mission is accomplished.
2. Structured for Longevity
Understanding the demographics of those who are watching the actual event is just one piece of the puzzle. In truth, these commercials will live on, online, where they must continue to have appeal. This can be both challenging to create, but rewarding when pulled off. If your ad is so entertaining that people will choose to find it and watch it online, then you’re winning!
Consumers are inundated with ads and videos from every possible brand, all day long. So how can you, as a brand, set yourself apart from other brands and think outside of the box? Sometimes this can be done with humor, or it can simply mean knowing your competition as well as you know your own brand and then telling your consumers how you do it better. Note: If you’re thinking that going for comical content is right for your brand, here’s How to Infuse Humor in Your Script.
4. Connects with the Audience
Whether it be through humor or other emotional tactics, some of the best Super Bowl ads connect with the audience. Super Bowl ads are crafted in such a way that the ads feel as if they are speaking directly to their consumers, one-on-one. They literally bring your brand voice to life.
Super Bowl Ads Final Thoughts
Super Bowl ads, whether you look forward to them every year or not, have become part of today’s world of marketing and the way brands can tell their stories, sell their products and showcase their values in the modern world.
Some of Tracy’s favorite ads include the Mayhem series from Allstate. “Apple’s work is phenomenal, as always. And anything from Nike. They take risks and don’t operate from a place of fear,” she says. “Everyone should aspire to work that way.”
What are your favorite Super Bowl ads? Share them with us in the comments below.
About Tracy Arrington
Tracy Arrington is a marketing and media executive with more than 20 years of experience with the world’s top brands. Her tough, yet diplomatic nature and dedication to efficient, effective and ethical performance has led her to deliver results for clients including AT&T, Bank of America, BMW, Dreamworks, Nike, Taco Bell, the Texas Lottery, the US Air Force and Walmart.
Tracy serves as the SVP/Marketing & Media for Brain+Trust Partners, a think-tank specializing in development, management and leverage of modern data infrastructures. She is an Assistant Professor of Practice at the University of Texas at Austin, teaching Media Investments and Integrated Communication Campaigns in the top-ranked Stan Richards School of Advertising and PR.