Today’s the day advertisers try to do to each other what the LA linemen want to do to Tom Brady: crush ’em. But creating the perfect Super Bowl commercial for the game’s 100-million viewers comes with challenges.
“Every other (TV) show, advertisers know how many men are watching, how many (people) in an age group,” says Glenn Gerstner, an associate professor of sport management at St. John’s University. “The Super Bowl has no demographic. It’s everybody.”
So the main goal is to simply grab eyeballs, sometimes using the element of surprise.
One of the busiest commercials so far is for Stella Artois and stars a truly odd couple: Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) of Sex and the City and The Dude (Jeff Bridges) from The Big Lebowski.
In it, Carrie arrives at a bar and is asked by the maitre’d, “Cosmopolitan?” But she refuses her signature drink, calling for a Stella instead. (It’s not only a curveball, but presumably the character’s first carbs.)
Then The Dude shows up and eschews his expected White Russian for a Stella — while wearing the same jelly sandals and Pendleton cardigan he wore in the movie. As in, the exact same ones. Bridges saved them.
Authenticity is top of mind, says Corinna Falusi, chief creative officer at Mother New York, the agency behind the ad.
“(The actors) said that their concern about how the character would be perceived by their fans was the uniquely most important thing to them,” Falusi explains.
Bridges came up with the idea to have The Dude order a “Stella Are-tose”.
Parker, who glitters in gold sequins, worked with her personal stylist to chose an outfit that seemed like something Carrie would wear in 2019. (Anheuser-Busch, the parent company of Stella, did not confirm exactly when the commercial would air.)
Of course, celebrities are always a big draw, as advertisers try to attach positive associations to their brand.
Steve Carell, Lil Jon and Cardi B — all known for their humour — will shill for Pepsi. Easygoing Tony Romo will pitch the comfiness of Skechers. Christina Applegate, often cast as the hip, funny mum, chauffeurs around M&Ms like they’re her own bickering kids.
“The key factor is the familiarity,” says Nick Kolenda, a consumer psychology researcher. “There are so many emotional connections that people already possess with celebrities. The brand doesn’t have to build a bond from scratch.”
Humour plays, but some brands try to piggyback on more serious emotions. It’s a strategy feminine hygiene company Always used effectively back in 2015 when it interviewed young girls about what it meant to do something “like a girl,” turning what was once an insult into a compliment. The ad was a hit.
This year, Coke will run an animated spot celebrating diversity, and Kia will tout college scholarships.
Toyota and Bumble — yes, the dating app, which managed to land Serena Williams — are celebrating the power of women.
Marketers are also hoping for shareability.
An ad sent to friends or posted online gets advertisers more visibility and bang for their buck.
“(Viewers) want to share something but don’t want to share something too sales-y in nature,” Kolenda says. “By creating something entertaining, advertisers can camouflage the promotional (aspect).”
Take the 2008 ETrade campaign that starred a CG talking baby. The character was so popular, it showed up during Super Bowls until 2013. This year, Doritos is trying to go viral with a music video starring Chance the Rapper and the Backstreet Boys collaborating on an updated I Want It That Way.
“A lot of people bash advertising when it’s too entertaining,” Kolenda says. “Geico is a good example. Their commercials seem like an unrelated comedic titbit, but they force brand awareness. They don’t want to sell in that moment. But when you need insurance, you’ll think of them.”
One head-scratcher this year is a Michelob Ultra Pure Gold commercial with Zoë Kravitz whispering into a microphone and tapping on a beer bottle. It’s supposed to trigger autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), a phenomenon in which particular sounds give listeners a tingling sensation. (In fact, there is no solid science behind this, but there are several ASMR channels on YouTube dedicated to soft-speaking women folding clothes, crinkling paper and even stirring soup. One of them, Gentle Whispering, has more than 1.6 million subscribers.)
And then there’s Skittles, which is taking a wild new approach by pushing offline engagement. Last year, it skipped the big game and instead showed a multimillion-dollar ad to just one 17-year-old fan, live-streaming his real-time reaction on Facebook Live.
This year, the candy once again won’t be airing an ad during the Super Bowl. Instead, it is debuting “Skittles Commercial” — an actual staged 30-minute musical, starring Michael C. Hall (“Dexter”) — today at New York’s Town Hall at 1pm for one performance only. All 1500 tickets sold out quickly, and the company claims the show itself won’t be broadcast.
The idea? Do something so out of the box that people buzz about the weirdness of it before the Super Bowl.
Of course, you can spend buckets of money, and it still all backfires.
“One of the tensions we often see is that companies try to get too creative,” Gerstner says. “Sometimes an ad is over and everyone looks at each other and can’t remember what it was for.”