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What Makes a Good Super Bowl Ad?

The time has come to celebrate what many consider the peak of American sports entertainment: the Super Bowl. We are about to see the two best teams in the NFL battle for this year’s Lombardi Trophy. For some, the media frenzy and advertising campaigns that air during the game are more entertaining than the game itself. The Super Bowl is one of the most prestigious televised events in North America, and brands are willing to pay to take advantage of the opportunity to reach millions of potential customers. Despite NBCUniversal charging $7 million for a 30-second spot, all of the commercial time was sold out almost two weeks before the game, according to AdWeek. As marketers, we can’t help but think about the ads as we watch the game and analyze how well we think they conveyed their message. However, this begs the question: what makes a good Super Bowl ad, anyway? Let’s explore.

  1. It has to be simple, with a clear brand message.

If a brand is going to be spending millions of dollars for a single 30-second spot, they are going to want to cut through the clutter of the other competing commercials. Ideally, they want the audience to remember two key things about their ad: the ad concept, and more importantly, the brand behind the ad. Unfortunately, variations of this exact conversation will occur across the country early next week:

  • “Hey, did you see that funny Super Bowl ad with (insert memorable aspect here)?”
  • “Yeah, that was great! Who was the brand, I can’t remember?”
  • ”I can’t remember either, was it Tide? Pepsi? Volkswagen? Whoever it was, it was hilarious!”

In this conversation, the brand in question was able to capture the attention of the viewer, but wasn’t ultimately able to cement their name into top-of-mind consideration. Brands often try to throw a bunch of different elements at the viewer to stand out from the competition, but this often works against them. Good brand messages are memorable, clear, and often simple. Here are some examples of successful ads that stayed simple:

Volkswagen was able to create one of the most memorable and legendary Super Bowl ads of the 21st century with just a simple concept. In this 2011 Volkswagen ad, the company was able to incorporate their brand into the endearing ad while making it memorable, sweet, and easy to follow. The ad follows a young child dressed up as Darth Vader from Star Wars, who simply wants to believe they have “the Force.” 

Inspired by the statistic that 60% of body wash purchases in households were made by women, Wieden + Kennedy created an ad targeting this audience in a unique way. The 2010 Old Spice ad spawned the “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” advertising campaign, targeting women who want their partners to embody the classic and “manly” smell of Old Spice. 

  1. The theme and tone of the ad must align with modern values.

One key consideration to remember is that Super Bowl ads must align with modern values. This has been made especially apparent over the last two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some brands choosing to mask the actors in the commercials, while others don’t. 

This 2021 ad was commissioned by popular website design tool Squarespace, featuring famed country artist Dolly Parton singing a reworked version of her song “9 to 5.” However, this ad falls short in that it promotes working overtime and the “side hustle” lifestyle in a time when people are already mentally and emotionally drained from living through a global pandemic, isolation, and working from home. The ad features people happy to be working late hours on their own time, when perhaps a different angle should have been taken to highlight the features of Squarespace during the workday or on a weekend as a hobby. 

  1. The ad should stand out.

Another guideline that brands should follow is that the ad they produce should stand out from their competitors. An effective way to ensure that your ad will stand out is to add some unexpected elements to your campaign. For example, some companies may focus on causes outside of those affecting their traditional market. If a rideshare company like Uber or Lyft wanted to make a memorable ad, instead of simply promoting their services by showing a group of people having fun in the back of a car, they could list statistics of how many people are injured in drunk-driving accidents every year. Likewise, if a non-profit or charity wanted to capture the attention of consumers, they could add emotional components to their ads about the impact of what donations and volunteers do for their cause (providing communities with access to food, shelter, water, etc). 

However, brands should be cautious with how many surprises they add to the campaign. It has to be just enough to capture the attention of their target audience, but not so much that they could face backlash for fear mongering. 

The Super Bowl is an exciting tradition every February for football fans and marketers alike. While the game might not interest everyone, it is always fun to take in all of the advertisements during the game and consider the thought and strategy brands must have put behind each one to get their message across. So this Sunday, get out your snack spread, sit back, and get ready for a great night of entertainment!

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