Super Bowl Ads: An Emerging Social Conscience

Another Super Bowl, and naturally, my team lost. After a miserable first half, the mighty Tom Brady, perhaps the best quarterback of all time, finally emerged from Sleepy Hollow and led his team into an overtime win. Atlanta had a fairytale year, a terrific MVP quarterback and a Hall of Fame receiver, but they collapsed.

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We all know that the Super Bowl is only partly about football

It’s also about eating and drinking, a day for partying with your friends. And for brands and anyone who’s interested in marketing, it’s about the advertisers who drop millions of dollars for a chance to get in front of one of the biggest TV audience of the year.

Super Bowl ads are an effort to reach Americans on a fundamental, emotional level

They remind us that football is an American sport and this is our big tradition. We may love our craft beer, but we look forward to those Budweiser ads that break our hearts year after year—those magnificent Clydesdales, the puppies, the young servicemen and women coming home to cheering crowds.

While we can count on the usual awful to mediocre ads, there are generally a few that are really clever and leave us laughing out loud. Melissa McCarthy’s saving the whales/trees/rhinos ad for KIA may have been the best ad of the day. Procter & Gamble’s ad for Fabreze, depicting the halftime stampede to the bathroom, was terrific. But I’m holding out for Terry Bradshaw and the Tide ad. Score another big, big hit for those clever folks at Procter & Gamble. I’ve watched this one a few times now, and I laugh out loud each time. But it’s not just about Bradshaw–there’s a message here: It’s not about what’s on your shirt, but what’s in your heart. Peter Fonda fans loved seeing him back, though this time in a Mercedes rather than riding a chopper, “Still lookin’ good.”

It’s difficult to escape our troubled political climate

Many advertisers took a stand for diversity and inclusiveness. Coke reprised a previous ad, “It’s Beautiful”. When it was first broadcast in 2014, it prompted a backlash because it featured “America the Beautiful” sung first in English and then in Hebrew, Spanish, Keres, Tagalog, Hindi and French—these languages are, after all, spoken by Americans all over the country. Budweiser left the puppies behind this year and chose a serious political message in defense of the immigrants who have braved danger and adversity in pursuit of the American dream.

Standing for something besides the product

Super Bowl ad slots cost an estimated $5 million for 30 seconds, yet many brands are dropping the hardcore pitch in favor of a more socially conscious narrative—and may be taking sides for or against Trump. There’s a push for companies to show their social awareness. KIA’s message, for instance, is about environmental awareness. Aligning with a message shows that companies have a point of view, that they’re aware of the world around them.

Good marketing tells a story

The best ads aren’t just pitching their attributes. They’re telling a story because a story has the power to reach its audience on an emotional level, truly connecting with them. These are the ads—and the products—that we’re likely to remember when we get ready to make a purchase.

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