The Super Bowl doesn’t just give lovers of advertising something to look forward to every year—it also largely determines which ads we’ll still be talking about a year later.
At their best, Super Bowl ads can redefine storytelling in fun and inventive ways. At their worst, they are a bafflingly inane waste of money on a scale usually reserved for the federal government. Either way, they’re always worth a watch.
So as game day rapidly approaches, which spots will you want to keep an eye out for? Which will become the talk of Twitter and be prime for parody on College Humor? Most importantly, which commercials will set the bar for what brand marketing could or should be in 2014?
We may not have gotten a sneak peek at all the ads set to air next Sunday, but here we analyze a few already generating buzz—and the spots, whether loved or loathed, that are unlikely to be ignored.
Both Axe and GoDaddy are known for their sexualized spots, and both change direction this year in an attempt to appear more mature. Axe embraces the classic ’60s call to action “Make love, not war” in a spot that features a series of seemingly serious vignettes with bellicose world leaders appearing poised for global conflict. But then we discover they’re actually big softies and hopeless romantics. Hashtagged #KissForPeace, the spot, from BBH London, also includes a callout for nonprofit Peace One Day, with which Axe has a partnership.
Star power abounds in Bud Light’s “Epic Night” storyline, spanning two ads and featuring a highly anticipated cameo from Arnold Schwarzenegger. The spots, a :60 and a :30, were the result of a massive stunt created by the brand and BBDO to give one unsuspecting guy the night of his life. Hundreds of actors and an array of hidden cameras helped create the charade, which includes Schwarzenegger dressed for table tennis in full Björn Borg regalia. The ads launch Bud Light’s new tagline: “The perfect beer for whatever happens.”
Honored with the top spot in 2013’s USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter, Budweiser’s “Brotherhood” told the compelling story of a young Clydesdale reunited with his trainer. This year, the story continues in “Puppy Love,” one of two game-day ads for Bud from lead agency Anomaly. The trainer returns with the iconic Clydesdales, along with a 10-week-old puppy. The ad is directed by Jake Scott, who helmed last year’s much-loved spot. A second Bud spot, “Heroes Welcome,” is a shout-out to the men and women of the armed services.
Peanut butter cups are big business these days. Hershey reportedly makes enough Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups each year to feed one to every person in the U.S., Europe, China, Australia, Japan, Africa and India. That’s likely why Nestlé decided to invest in a Super Bowl ad to launch its Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cup. Created by agency Dailey, it personifies chocolate and peanut butter as a “perfect couple” that seeks counseling to spice things up. The spot will appear in the fourth quarter and attempt to drive online chatter with the hashtag #CupTherapy.
Focused on “celebrating the customer,” CarMax returns to the Super Bowl with a spot dubbed “Slow Clap.” The brand’s first game-day ad since 2011 follows a car buyer’s drive home from the dealership. Lining the road to give him a celebratory slow clap are cheerleaders, competitive pie eaters and many more, including a sure-to-be-tweeted cameo by Sean Astin, reprising his 1993 role as Rudy. In addition, the brand and agency Silver + Partners re-created each shot for an online version called “Slow Bark,” featuring an all-puppy cast.
With the yogurt wars raging, Dannon’s Oikos line won’t be alone when it returns to the game. Chobani also kicks off a new campaign from Droga5, which means Dannon must milk even more pop culture cachet from celebrity pitchman John Stamos. So, Stamos reunites with Full House castmates Bob Saget and Dave Coulier, already generating buzz. Chobani, meanwhile, features a bear rampaging through a market. Luckily for the Full House uncles, the brand showdown will be settled through consumer response and not gladiatorial combat.
Danica Patrick makes her 13th appearance in a Super Bowl ad for GoDaddy in “Body Builder,” this time sporting quite the new physique. Thanks to a custom muscle suit, Patrick joins a bunch of weight lifters sprinting through the streets in search of a small business perfectly tailored to their needs. The message: GoDaddy helps businesses “get found” online, representing a big shift from its usual salacious scenarios and “GoDaddy Girls.” The spot (one of two in the game) is via Deutsch New York and directed by “Super Bowl King” Bryan Buckley.
Just because the Super Bowl is an all-American spectacle, don’t expect Jaguar to downplay its Britishness in its first spot for the game. The automaker and agency Spark44 make the most of the U.K. connection with an ad called “British Villains.” Featuring the actors Ben Kingsley, Tom Hiddleston (Loki from The Avengers) and Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes’ Lord Blackwood) as dapper, dastardly types, the spot promotes the new F-Type coupe as a stylish contender in the hotly competitive luxury auto market.
What is it with marketers and The Matrix? A year after General Electric resurrected the 1999 film’s villain, Agent Smith, for a spot about “brilliant machines,” Kia and agency David&Goliath bring back heroic mentor Morpheus. Laurence Fishburne reprises his role, this time forgoing the red pill and blue pill to offer a couple the choice of a red key or blue key. He then joins them on a mind-bending ride, one intended to challenge our perception of reality and make us see Kia as a luxury brand whose new flagship K900 sedan is well worth $50,000.
The Muppets hawk the Toyota Highlander in a spot that also features advertising icon Terry Crews (aka the screaming guy from Old Spice Body Wash spots). Titled “Joyride,” the minute-long commercial features an original Muppets song about “unborifying” your life. “Our game-day spot shows how Toyota Highlander puts the ‘fun’ in function,” said Jack Hollis, marketing vp for Toyota. “Toyota vehicles are built to last and can even endure the most boisterous Muppets, a former NFL player as well as a center console full of chickens.”