The football is only half the fun at the Super Bowl! Besides the halftime show, in which Justin Timberlake was dwarfed by the razzmatazz of the grand event, another firm favourite of its viewers are the adverts when brands play ball.
2018 saw the average cost of a Super Bowl advert rise to over $5million for a 30-second airtime slot. Drawing more than 111 million views for four consecutive years, companies with deep pockets pay to use this grand stage to promote their products and services.
With numerous brand hits and misses, the 2018 Super Bowl adverts fluctuated between funny and sombre, a shift from last year’s political statements. Brands shied away from risky themes and statements, rather playing it safe with humorous tactics to engage audiences. It’s a safe space to play in, but does it make a brand stand out when all the ads are about who is telling the best jokes?
This year’s NFL’s much loved advert featured the New York Giants’ Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr re-enacting moves from the movie ‘Dirty Dancing’. Amazon’s Alexa ad, featuring Jeff Bezos, Gordon Ramsay, Anthony Hopkins and Rebel Wilson, showed Alexa losing her voice and being replaced by the all-star celebrity cast. The ad was so successful, people were calling for the commercial to become a reality. Let’s hope Jeff and co haven’t done for Alexa’s sonic brand identity in the process of cracking the gag.
Then there was Tide. They clean ran away with it (sorry, we had to.) The laundry detergent slammed its competition with humour in a series of adverts during the commercial breaks. David Harbour, Stranger Things actor, provided memorable humour getting the audience to question whether every Super Bowl ad was a Tide ad. Your typical car advert? Nope Tide ad. Your typical beer advert? Nope a Tide ad.
So, what brands went for the sombre approach? Budweiser tugged on our heartstrings with their ‘Stand by You’ commercial which showed them providing water to areas recently impacted by natural disasters including Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and California.
Rather than promote their vehicles, Toyota, an official sponsor of the upcoming Olympic Games, showcased Lauren Woolstencroft, an eight-time Paralympic gold medallist who was born missing a portion of her left arm and both legs below the knees. The emotional advert focused on beating the odds with hard work and perseverance.
Hyundai’s ‘Hope Detector’ advert, showed Hyundai owners learning that a portion of their purchase has gone to cancer research in pursuit of a cure. They were shown a short film on how their purchase had helped changed the lives of those affected, followed by an emotional surprise to meet those behind the videos. The brand realised that they wanted to build a brand that people wanted to buy based on something they were proud of, not just gas mileage, which has led to their 2017 and 2018 Super Bowl adverts.
It was all laughter and emotion. One brand stood out for seeking to make a socio-political statement, and boy did the make a mess of it.
Ram Truck’s ‘Built to Serve’ commercial is the 2018 Super Bowl advert that has quickly received negative backlash on social media – besides Justin Timberlake’s lack lustre performance. The carmaker has received criticism for the advert which features people helping others while a section from a sermon from Rev Dr Lurther King Jr on the value of service serves plays as the voice over. The general sentiment: Did Ram really just use Dr King’s words about the value of service to sell trucks?
The advert highlights the poor execution in storytelling and the misjudgement of their audience. Furthermore, the full sermon cautions against spending too much money on buying cars. Brands cannot assume their audience, with access to technology and information at their figure tips, won’t do their research.
Sadly, for Ram, there is a good story to tell. There is a nation of Ram volunteers – real men and women who own Ram trucks who will help out during disaster – but that was lost in their advert. Perhaps Ram lost the audience by relying on the voice of Martin Luther King, when they should have been trusting in their own brand voice.
The Super Bowl is the grandest stage for brands to connect and engage with consumers. What we see from the 2018 Super Bowl adverts are more brands moving towards emotional storytelling in order to achieve this. That’s great, but humour and soft messaging whilst entertaining, doesn’t say what you stand for, and get it wrong in your execution and you lose the trust of your audience.
Here are some tips to make sure your storytelling techniques create engagement and trust so that your brand lives happily ever after.