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Who Will Ultimately Win the Super Bowl Advertising Game?

Image Credit: Master1305 / Shutterstock.com

The Big Game, as it is often referred to by fans, is over and the victors are finally getting their big parade through the streets of Kansas City. Sports analysts are practicing their craft, picking apart every play and offering up expert, play by play evaluations as to why and how each move on the field of play either faltered or triumphed in the process that ultimately determined a winner. Super Bowl LIV is the latest sequel in an ongoing saga of sport that has captured the minds and souls of professional football enthusiasts around the world for more than five decades. Last year’s Super Bowl drew 98.2 million viewers, according to USA Today’s Gary Levin. With so many viewers, the event has become the single most important advertising opportunity in televised sports. Sellers of everything from cars, beer, snack foods, insurance, video platforms, cinema, retailers, pundits of social issues and even political campaigns line up to participate in the collateral game of promotion, each willing to spend an estimated $5.6 million for a single 30 second airing of their message. Even with this high price, marketers eagerly line up to be selected to play in the Super Bowl advertising game.

Ad volume for this year’s event was expected to top $412 million, the mark established in the 2019 game. Last year’s unified marketing effort produced 91 Super Bowl ads spanning 49 minutes and 31 seconds of ad time. With such a large portion of advertising budgets at stake, the creative aspect of producing an effective message becomes as important as the level of play on the field as advertisers seek to win the “best in show” prize.

Super Bowl LIV provided many off-field advertising moments of humor, awe shucks, nostalgia and even grief. Perhaps the devise most notably lacking in this year’s advertising fare, compared to recent contests, was the use of anger, blame and insult in conveying a message. It appears that advertisers may have finally discovered that messages utilizing shock tactics and division to gain attention may be falling out of favor with consumers. The Secret Deodorant ad, designed to champion equal opportunity in sports for women, may just have set a new benchmark in how to effectively convey an important social message. Even the pollical ads, which made their debut at this year’s game, were thought provoking and polite in comparison to the typical approach.

The National Football League’s (NFL) “Next 100” ad promoting 100 years of professional football managed to successfully connect with multiple generations of football fans. A sequel to the 2019 NFL Super Bowl Ad promoting their 100th year, this year’s ad featured many of the game’s stars: Joe Montana, Steve Young, Ray Lewis, Brett Favre, Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley along with 32 youth (one for each NFL team). The recorded ad culminated with a live appearance in Hard Rock Stadium before thousands of fans. In an interview with USA Today, Tim Ellis, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for the NFL, said of the commercial, “It almost felt like a sequel. Which is a difficult thing to do, right when you’re dealing with something that’s highly successful, it’s always a challenge to basically not be too conservative and try to repeat what you’ve done. We took the more-risky approach, and it’s paid off.”

The Super Bowl advertising arena has always brought out players willing to take big risks to capture its audience’s attention. Planters, the iconic peanut brand, first introduced the Mr. Peanut character, with his cane, top hat and monocle, in 1916. The 104-year old mascot was scheduled to be killed-off in a campaign designed by the world’s leading nut roaster. However, the pregame social media portion of the shocking campaign which depicted Mr. Peanut’s death in a car accident had to be suspended due to the tragic, real-life death of Kobe Bryant and eight others in a pre-Super Bowl accident. The company was rethinking its marketing effort prior to the Super Bowl Game but decided to go forward with the ad during the game. Despite depiction of the rebirth of the next generation of Mr. Peanut, the effort is proving to be this year’s biggest advertising mistake by a major brand.

The biggest winners in this year’s Super Bowl Ad Game may be too elusive to call. Advertising fame, as much as beauty, is most often in the eye of the beholder and while entertainment value, creative devise and spin are important factors to achieving ad success, ultimately the only result that matters to marketers who risk so much of the annual advertising budget on one event is converting viewers into paying customers. And that winners list is yet to be determined.