What with all the bad news involving leading brands—from Volkswagen's diesel-emissions scandal and Chipotle's food-safety issues to FanDuel and DraftKings' insider-trading blowup—it's little wonder Americans have grown more cynical about marketing. Meanwhile, audiences continue to splinter, clients are asking their agencies to do more with less, and the price of a 30-second spot has hit the stratosphere (again). It all means that the stakes for Super Bowl-bound brands have never been higher.
BBDO global CCO David Lubars, veteran of many Big Game campaigns, described a worst case scenario: "Either you're not noticed, or you're noticed for the wrong things. Going under the radar is a waste of $5 million." Here, top creatives predict themes we're likely to see when football's biggest event celebrates its golden anniversary.
1. Humor and empowerment
"We're going to see a shift from somber, doom-and-gloom themes to focus on more uplifting and humorous messages," predicted David&Goliath founder David Angelo, whose agency has produced its seventh straight Super Bowl ad for Kia. StrawberryFrog founder and CEO Scott Goodson, whose shop created SunTrust Bank's commercial for this year's game, agreed: "TV is filled with politicians talking about how the country is falling apart. The work that will last will make people feel better about themselves and where the country is going."
Humor will continue to be key, said Angelo: "Look for witty [ads] rather than broad humor that treats everyone like they're drunk or stupid." Already, it is clear Snickers, Bud Light and Avocados From Mexico will go for laughs.
2. Products over concepts
Brands want to get noticed, but they also have to be practical. "It's almost too expensive now to just entertain people," said Noel Cottrell, chief creative of Fitzgerald & Co, who worked on E*Trade's famous talking baby campaigns. This year, "we will see less entertainment for entertainment's sake and more 'what we do and how it works,'" he said. First-time advertiser LG Electronics enlisted Liam Neeson to promote its OLED TV technology, while Persil will introduce its ProClean detergent to a national audience.
3. Second screen comes first
This being "the year of mobile" has become a running joke in the agency world. And yet, Super Bowl 50 will, in fact, test marketers' command of all platforms like never before. "Last year, everyone was working feverishly to try and crack the preroll," said Martin Agency ecd James Robinson, who worked on a Godfather-themed spot for Audi in 2008. "This year, it's about using the second screen." TBWA\Chiat\Day New York ceo Rob Schwartz added: "The TV set has now become the second screen. This is the year the full ecosystem comes to life." Droga5 group creative director Matt Ian, who has worked on past Big Game campaigns for Volkswagen, recalled Newcastle's strategy last year "to own the game without being in the game" as being "just the beginning of the way this event evolves from an advertising perspective."
As Angelo put it, "The work should be less about the spot than the total Super Bowl experience. Each touch point needs to be as rewarding as the ad itself."
4. Déjà vu all over again
"All advertising mines the past for touchstones and inspiration," said Robinson. "But this year, everyone's doing it." Viewers should expect at least one brand to travel to a galaxy far, far away. Any Star Wars-themed campaign will likely invite comparisons to Deutsch's 2011 spot for Volkswagen, "The Force." But as Robinson pointed out, "Oversaturation has never stopped us before."
5. Skip the sermonizing
The consensus is that the tone this year will be lighter. "We're not going to have a stern lecture from Clint Eastwood at halftime," predicted Schwartz. He believes the most memorable spots will convey "a sense of movement and optimism." Robinson of The Martin Agency added: "I would love to see the end of the massively over-sincere and grim ad."
This story first appeared in the Feb. 1 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.