“Let’s blame Lee Clow and Steve Jobs because they changed the Super Bowl forever.”
That’s quite a statement by Rich Silverstein, co-founder and co-chairman of Goodby Silverstein & Partners, but there is a kernel of truth.
“I’m not really blaming them,” clarified Silverstein. “Because they did the greatest ad of all time, and they changed the Super Bowl forever. It became not a football game, but an advertising game and [Apple’s] 1984 changed everything.”
That moment in 1984 was the first piece of the Super Bowl advertising foundation. The next was when rating the ads during the game became a sport—and big business with the likes of USA Today’s Ad Meter.
“You certainly don’t want to be 12th or 32nd on that,” said Silverstein.
“There are so many ratings out there, for any client, you can find one in which they are in the top 10,” added Jeff Goodby, GS&P co-founder and co-chairman.
Public opinion aside, Super Bowl ads are huge business, and Goodby and Silverstein have seen how the ad game has changed. It’s almost charming to think that they called out the absurdity of spending $2 million on one ad in one of the agency’s most well-loved Super Bowl spots, E*Trade’s monkey in 2000.
Now, Super Bowl ads are north of $5 million for 30-seconds (Mike Bloomberg and Donald Trump are spending $10 million each), and there is such an insatiable desire to be on the game featuring the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers, that Fox added another pod of ads.
But the most significant change, aside from the eye-watering amount of money being spent on air time, is the expectation of getting more than just one big hit. The practice started in 2011 when Volkswagen and its agency Deutsch launched “The Force,” one of the most popular ads in Super Bowl history, before the game. For many advertisers, releasing the ads in advance builds anticipation despite taking the element of surprise away.
“The money is bigger, the moments are bigger, the expectations are bigger,” said GS&P managing partner Brian McPherson, whose first Super Bowl ad experience was the second year of the E*Trade monkey. “Back then, nobody wanted to have [the ad] leaked. There were all these NDAs, and it was the silence of the most silence. Nobody could talk about it. Now obviously that’s really changed. It’s the opposite. Now the lead up is how do we get the most eyeballs?”
For GS&P, Super Bowl ads have almost become old hat. According to Margaret Johnson, CCO of GS&P, the agency is lucky to work with brands that understand the unique nature of this kind of work.
“PepsiCo has a long history of doing epic, amazing Super Bowl ads,” she said. “So they’re used to everything that comes along with that.”
This year, the agency has four PepsiCo ads (Pepsi, Doritos, Cheetos and SodaStream) in the game, and the agency is putting it all into humor. Johnson notes that brands and agencies can be successful when they don’t try to play it right down the middle.
“I think the things that generally play well are either really funny or they strike a chord by being sentimental and heartfelt,” she said. “As an agency, we put all of our chips on one side or the other. Humor always plays really well. We had a ton of success with Doritos for a decade doing Crash the Super Bowl. So we know that humor is something that really resonates with people.”
Indeed, the series of ads this year lean into humor and have big-time star power. Sam Elliott and Lil Nas X have a dance-off at the “coolest ranch” (to promote Doritos’ Cool Ranch), Missy Elliott and H.E.R. have immense energy for Pepsi, MC Hammer makes a hilarious appearance for Cheetos and Bill Nye makes a cameo for SodaStream.
According to Silverstein, though it’s the world’s biggest ad stage, he and Goodby try not to make too big a deal of the moment.
“In some sense, it’s just another thing to work on,” said Silverstein. “I don’t think that we make teams feel freaked out that we’re working on a Super Bowl spot. We’re just judging it differently. When we hear the ideas, we might say that it’s not good enough, or we think about what concepts can be sold to clients.”
“[The creative teams] know what the pressure is, so you don’t need to tell them,” added Goodby. “But, we do have to be a little more brutal, and the teams need to have thick skin.”
For acd Eamonn Dixon, this is the first year that he’s been involved with a Super Bowl ad, and he noted that there is a sense of simply getting on with it.
“I think there was some shock, to be honest,” he said, referring to the fact that PepsiCo decided to pursue an ad for Cheetos. “I think everyone stared at each other blankly for about five minutes. And then we went out for a beer and started working.”
The concept came together quickly after searching the internet. They noticed that people held up their hands after eating Cheetos, to proudly show off the cheese dust that Dixon and his team call “Cheetle.”