Big Game Delights, but Lacks Surprises

February 9, 2016 // By: // No Comments


One of the reasons why “The Big Game” is consistently one of the most watched live events of the year is because of the many layers of discovery and surprise, from the players enjoying their history-making moment to the over-the-top halftime spectacle to the ads that keep us entertained when there’s a break in action on the field. However, over the years as the media has turned the game into an EVENT that occupies hours of airtime before a player even steps on the field, there continues to be fewer surprises for viewers.


The overall theme for viewers in 2016 was delight, but definitely not surprise. Many of the commercials we saw were hyped days or weeks before the Super Bowl so we knew what to expect – we knew the themes, the celebs and in many cases we saw the entire extended version of the ad rather than just the 30 seconds that aired during the broadcast. I am sure Snickers was very “satisfied” after seeing the story about the making of their commercial on the front page of the business section of The New York Times on Friday, February 5th. And, with all the advance publicity secured for the Amy Schumer/Seth Rogan partnership for the Bud Light commercial, it was not particularly impressive to see them together endorsing the new Bud Light Party for 2016.

This trend of driving publicity for the commercial’s creative and stars well in advance of game day has been eating away at the surprise factor for several years now, as marketers become hungrier for longer than 1-2 leads and tails on their Super Bowl investment. There were actually almost no “surprise” moments during last night’s telecast with the possible exception of “The Good Wife” announcing its final season and Betty White doing the “dab” during the pre-game show.

However, there was certainly “delight” as Americans love to see their favorite celebrities endorsing big brands. Celebrity endorsements seem to be a never-ending trend in Super Bowl commercials with celebs (old and new) stomping for brands in a large majority of the commercials. We saw the current stars of the moment (James Harden, Ryan Reynolds (x10), Amy Schumer, Serena Williams and Kevin Hart/Van ) and we also saw some retro favorites, Scott Baio, Dan Marino, Deion Sanders and Phil Simms, pop up and remind of the nostalgia we love to see at Super Bowl times. Super Bowl ads are a great way for A-list celebs who normally don’t like to do commercial endorsements to become part of a pop-culture moment. By appearing in just one iconic Super Bowl they protect their personal brand from overexposure because they are not part of the traditional campaign ads –but rather part of a cultural moment. Think Brad Pitt for Heineken (2005) or Will Ferrel for Old Milwaukee which ran during the Super Bowl, but only in Nebraska. One ad, one appearance — and these big names become part of the moment when everyone is watching.

In a nice change from 2015, with a few exceptions (“Commander” for Audi R8 and Colgate’s “Every Gallon Counts,”) the general mood of the commercials was light and entertaining — rather than preachy or tear-jerking. Kevin Hart does his schtick as a dad looking out for his daughter on her “First Date” for Kia and Van Halen lend their classic 80s vocals to endorse the Acura NSX. During the past two years the commercials were more serious or heartwarming (Budweiser Clydesdales + Dog) in general. Even in her ad for #GiveADamm, Helen Mirren for Budweiser delivered a serious message about the dangers of driving while intoxicated, but had a light-hearted and cheeky tone compared to commercials of the past.

The Big Game Ad Winners

Even without a big celebrity, cute animals or pre-show hype, the clear winner was the Doritos “Ultrasound” spot. It paid off on the outrageousness and typical gender roles (a fetus reaching through its excited mother’s stomach to get the a chip from a seemingly disinterested Dad) expected for Super Bowl ads that must appeal to both men and women watching the game. But more importantly, the creative helped endorse the delicious and crave-able taste of Doritos, which helps sell the product, not just drive awareness for the brand. Food products must sell on taste first, and kudos to the Doritos team for never forgetting the basic element of food marketing especially when they were spending over $5M on this one spot.

The Heinz “Ketchup Game Day Hot Dog” commercial was another winner because when you are selling a food product that is as generic and well-known as a 140 year-old ketchup and a second-in-category mustard you’ve got to figure out another way to make the brand stand out. To drive home the brand’s superiority in condiments, the team also went for the “crave-able aspect of the Heinz products, using a stampede “hot dogs” as pure testimonial for the great taste of Heinz. Then by adding the cuteness of a little dog climbing all over the owner, the brand won both for taste and cuddles.

The true big winner of social media on Super Bowl weekend was Beyonce. From launching a track on Saturday that she then performed the next day during halftime, announcing her world tour (an ad following her performance), launching a line of apparel and completing overshadowing the actual headlining act. Brand Beyonce was in effect, even without an ad.

Big Winners on Social or Digital

Just as nearly all of the brands released their game day ads before they aired, brands took advantage of the second screen and served up supporting content on social media. Brands delivered more than longer-form ads, providing colorful context and complementary content. Taco Bell leveraged the element of surprise leading up to the announcement of their new menu item by releasing videos before the game with celebs holding a “green box” that represented the new menu item. On Saturday, the brand staged a series of pop-up concerts at Taco Bell locations nationwide and broadcast them on Snapchat hosted by influencers and musicians celebrating the new item and discussing how great it is (without revealing the new item — the Quesalupa). Additionally, they supported the activation with surround sound influencer support to help spread the news on social media well before the kick-off.

Mini also leveraged the power of influence by enlisting its super-star commercial talent in advance of the big game. The celebrities featured in the clip shared the ad well in advance of — and just after — it aired live during the telecast. This groundswell approach allowed the brand to open multiple touch points, all unified by the #defylabels hashtag and embedded video.


About the Author

Samantha Turtle

Samantha Turtle is a Vice President in the agency’s Sports & Entertainment Department.