February 12, 2024

Who Won the Super Bowl and More Importantly Why?

abstract football flying with particles wave

The Super Bowl is a wonderfully flat playing field for advertisers, with all brands given their $7 million shot to try to capture the truly last mass media event in American culture. Because media spend is relatively equal, it’s an opportunity to see how creativity can be used to make the most of that investment. 

True, consumer understanding and insight are critical. But with so many brands advertising, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. It doesn’t matter how insightful and breakthrough you and your brand are if nobody notices you and struggles to remember you.

So how did brands get noticed in Super Bowl LVIII? Celebrities are an obvious go-to and we saw a lot of ads that speak to the power of celebrities. People tell market researchers that they prefer regular folk, but there is a reason why this was “Taylor Swift’s Super Bowl!” Celebrities are people we know, they’re easily recognized, and we’re fascinated with them. 

The best use of a celebrity? My vote would go to Dunkin Donuts, a brand that has been playing a nice long game with the hilarious, yet authentic Ben Affleck partnership. The introduction of Tom Brady and Matt Damon brought a fresh, attention-grabbing extension of that campaign, where the prominent branding was part of the joke.

But how do you go up from a strong celebrity presence? We saw too many brands respond by putting in as many celebrity cameos as possible. Sure, that might get attention, but it won’t get memorability, and really smart brands are thinking about the Super Bowl as part of a year-long campaign. Who or what they will be pulling through the rest of the year has to be part of their Super Bowl strategy.

That’s why the most strategic brands create their own celebrities for deployment during the Super Bowl. Budweiser’s Clydesdales campaign is a wonderful example of this, with instantly recognizable brand celebrities, that can easily be woven into every frame of brand storytelling. “Old School Delivery” was a nice execution, but again the real genius here is the discipline of consistently building up ownable brand assets year in and year out. This type of creative doesn’t wear out, it gets better with age.

Visuals alone are, however, frequently not enough. It’s easy to turn away from ads and tune out voice-overs, but what our brains are hardwired to pay attention to is melody, especially familiar melody. Pfizer gave a masterclass on the importance of investing in world-class music to stand out in the Super Bowl while breaking free of the typically generic clichés of corporate science branding through a distinctive visual style. Better yet, brands that invest in their own audio soundtrack. We saw this best with State Farm’s “Like a Good Neighbor” jingle/tagline becoming the focal point of their Super Bowl ad, through Arnold Schwarzenegger’s multiple attempts to pronounce the jingle correctly.

Again, there were a lot of brands with great messages and insights, but really breaking through requires focusing on the fundamentals of great branding, moving beyond the logo at the bottom, assuming that people won’t pay attention to information-rich copy and multiple vignettes of everyday people. The Super Bowl is a 30-second exercise in long-term thinking, how will you make people pay attention AND remember? If you think about the ads you actually recognize or remember 24 hours later, chances are celebrities, brand assets, and audio played a key role.