When we brainstorm at Access, we sometimes begin with the obvious. What ideas have been done a million times already, which just need to be said so they’re out there on the board and don’t inhibit the creative deluge later on in the session? We want to avoid a flow that’s interrupted by someone saying, “What if we hired a celebrity?/What if we did a big launch event?/What if we commissioned research?”, so we just get it all out to start with. And admittedly, if the brief calls for it, these can be effective ideas. But when you have the opportunity to make the most out of a $5,000,000+ ad buy, with the necessity that your message cuts through to the 110 million people watching, you cannot afford to take the easy way out.
The state of play
There were 65 national ad spots in the Super Bowl game and over 50% of those included a celebrity spokesperson *ahem* brand ambassador when you take out the nine movie/TV show trailers. In the current state of global affairs, brands and their agencies ran various options toward playing it safe with their Super Bowl ads, with a celebrity appearance their go route to the end zone of dull ideas.
The authenticity imperative
Whereas a few brands tried to tackle the elephant in the room by celebrating diversity and humanity through motivational voice-overs, they mostly fell short of the goal line, especially this completely tone-deaf Ram spot which is rightfully taking a beating on social. It is very interesting that year after year, brands walk right into the hypocrisy of some of their messages.
Insights for the win
Audiences are savvy enough to realize they are trying to be sold products by brands who pay an exorbitant amount for the ad space, which is why it pays to come clean. My favorite ad this year was the Tide series where David Harbour passes on the insight that in all the commercials you watch during the Super Bowl, everyone has clean shirts. What I like most about this is that the basis of the ad comes from the insight. Saatchi & Saatchi didn’t simply take a celebrity and hope they have enough star power to carry a lame and retold idea, it kicks off from a relatable observation for the viewer while demonstrating a knowledge of their audience by referencing fan-favorite advertising classics.
Hail Mary for creativity
Advertising is clearly an inexact science, and maybe as a marketer myself, I’m too finicky and skeptical, especially given that four of the top five rated ads according to USA Today’s Ad Meter included a celebrity and the top ad was the most star-studded of them all. I believe, however, that brands and their agencies may come to realize this investment is untenable, especially as they focus more spend on digital. But despite the digital marketing revolution, the Super Bowl continues to be the outlier in all of advertising where it has not evolved with the rest of the industry. It’s a place where brands don’t have social calls-to-action in their adverts outside of “watch the full story on our website,” while people are talking more about #selfiekid and the baby announcement turned branded content the morning after than anything that happened in a very exciting game. I hope that creativity emerges again on the richest of all playing fields. When the pinnacle in Super Bowl advertising was reached 34 years ago and has yet to be touched since, there’s a problem with creativity that needs to be spiked.