Reflections on the AdBowl

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After having watched the 50th Super Bowl just two days ago, I am still feeling a bit nostalgic.  While I’ve heard the game being called the Sloppy Super Bowl due to the numerous clumsy fumbles, as an aspiring advertising professional, it comes as no surprise that I was most fixated on the advertisements anyway.

In my opinion, there was something particularly powerful about this year’s array of advertisements, and I made a conscious effort to watch the completely uninfluenced, objective reactions of my friends.  While in my head I silently cheered when the much-anticipated “Commander” came on, I also made a point to observe how the viewing experience resonated (or didn’t) with my friends.  After all, they themselves are the unbiased ‘consumers’ who we advertisers obsess over, unaware of the amount of preparation, planning and complex targeting that goes into crafting these commercials for even the most absent-minded of Super Bowl viewers.

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Perhaps what’s most exciting to me about the Super Bowl as a platform is how the advertisements possess an unrivaled ability to bring people together.  It goes without saying, but there really isn’t another time when such a tremendous, diverse audience of people (over 111.9 million viewers across 54.3 million homes this year, to be exact) are all receiving the same branded messages, all at the same time.  I looked on at my friends ad after ad, each experiencing a range of emotions; they were captivated, laughing, discussing or even confused, but more broadly speaking, it reminded me of the brilliant impact this industry has on our very own culture.

The big-picture takeaways I gleaned from this year’s Big Game (or should I say, the ads, and how people responded them) are as follows:

  • People crave stories. 

Recently I saw Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide Chief Creative Officer Tham Khai Meng post this tweet about the Super Bowl: 

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For the most part, I’m in agreement with him, with the exception of the Commander. Even though very few people can drop $115,000+ on a car for a father-in-law in a slump, viewers felt connected to the juxtaposed nostalgic narrative as well as the stunning visuals. While the other ads were entertaining, Phillip Pullman said it best: “after nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Viewers inherently expect to feel something when consciously placing their attention on these once-a-year, multi-million dollar pieces.  The stakes are high.    

  • Still, they want to be entertained above all else.  

The Doritos ad… dumb? Yes.  Arguably pointless? Also yes.  Entertaining? Without question.  It’s not surprising it was one of the most-tweeted-about spots.  Despite wanting stories, they also watch the Super Bowl purely for fun, not to be put through an emotional rollercoaster. In fact, more than three-quarters, or 77.1%, of surveyed viewers say that look at Super Bowl commercials as entertainment.   Think Puppybabymonkey.  Weird, catchy, simple, and so utterly effective.  

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  • And finally, they don’t want to think.  

After the premiere of “New Money” for PayPal, my friend uttered out.. “that looked cool, but.. I don’t get it,” and I remember thinking “what! how could you not get it!” It took me a moment to step back and realize that most aren’t readily thinking about gaps in behaviors between generational cohorts (including spending and working, the focus of the ad) and the implied cultural nuance.  It is of the utmost importance to step as far outside the advertising world as possible and consider how real people think. Is your message convoluted with advertising jargon or confusing attempts at being ‘creative’? Real consumer input has never been more important.  

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Overall, this year’s super Bowl made me optimistic about the future of advertising.  As AdAge said, this year was all about fun for commercials, and it’s in this light-hearted yet highly-innovative and creative direction that I think our industry will once again begin to make serious impact.  When you have 111.9 million viewers tuning in, with one-in-five (22.8%) Millennials (18-to-24 year olds) saying that the most important part of the game is the commercials, it’s a well-deserved reminder that advertising isn’t going anywhere. In fact, as this year garnered the event’s third-highest viewership ever, it’s apparent that consumers are increasingly craving memorable connections and experiences with brands.  It’s up to us to destroy connotations of advertising as ‘junk,’ and ‘noise,’ and instead to move boldly in the direction of enriching and bettering people’s lives.  

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