The Biggest Advertising Trends of the Super Bowl: Women, Sad Robots, Co-Branded Spots and More

From nostalgia to new formats

Sad robots, putting women front and center and text-based ads were popular.
Michelob, T Mobile, TurboTax

Super Bowl LIII has come and gone with the Patriots beating the Rams, scoring New England’s sixth championship. So, too, have the Big Game ads with Anheuser-Busch taking up the most time of the night (five minutes and 45 seconds of air time) and brands spending an estimated $382 million on in-game advertising, per Kantar Media.

With nearly 50 minutes of ad time during the Super Bowl, there was a number of standout trends throughout the night, including (but not limited to) women-focused ads, nostalgia and sad robots.

Women taking center stage

If you paid close attention to the spots that aired during the first ad break—Bon & Viv, Bumble, M&M’s—you likely noticed that each spot starred women (save for the M&M’s characters). Serena Williams, Christina Applegate and two fictitious mermaids all took center stage when the Big Game cut to commercial. Those spots were part of one of the most apparent ad trends this year: a number of major brands used the Super Bowl to reach women.

Sad robots

Even to the casual Super Bowl viewer, the number of sad robots or devices prevalent in Super Bowl spots was memorable (my father even took note). Michelob Ultra, Sprint, TurboTax, Pringles and more all jumped on the bandwagon. Whether marketers are trying to make consumers more comfortable with the significant uptick in growingly obtrusive and ever-present technology in our lives now or were just commenting on that trend, that’s for you to decide.

The Tide effect

Last year, Tide’s meta-Super Bowl extravaganza was a hit with audiences not only for its humorous take on advertising, but also because the brand bought multiple spots. It purchased one in each quarter as well as six-second bumpers, making the ads difficult to forget. This year, brands like T-Mobile and Bud Light took up that torch, each buying a spot in every quarter. Whether marketers have extra cash to burn or recognize they need to have much more than a 30-second spot to be impactful during the Super Bowl—a number of brands bought 45-second or 60-second ads this year, rather than the typical :30—it’s clear that Tide’s 2018 win got some marketers talking.

Brand partnerships

The surprising win—Anheuser-Busch and HBO’s partnership for the Bud Light/Game of Thrones spot—wasn’t the only of the night to feature two brands. T-Mobile also worked with Lyft and Taco Bell on integrated ads.

Co-branded ads make sense: If you’re a marketer who can actually work with another brand, why not partner for one of the most expensive nights of the year? You save your budget and still get to be part of the Big Game.

Nostalgia—and many, many celebrities

The Backstreet Boys, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jeff Bridges, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Andy Warhol were among the many, many celebrity stars of the Big Game. It wasn’t just a celeb-heavy night (Cardi B, Lil’ Jon and Steve Carell were a perfect match in Pepsi’s spot), but a night of brands using celebs to induce nostalgia. Parker and Bridges revived their famous characters, Carrie Bradshaw and The Dude, respectively; the Backstreet Boys sang “I Want It That Way,” and Sarah Michelle Gellar was once again a horror star.

New formats: ASMR, text-based ads and more

Michelob Ultra isn’t the first brand to use an ad to trigger ASMR (audio sensory meridian response) for viewers, but it might be the first one to create an ASMR spot for TV. The ad, which starred Zoe Kravitz and pitched the brand’s organic brew to viewers, was one of several spots to use a new format to stand out during the Big Game. T-Mobile used text-based ads (although Wendy’s did something similar last year). CBS, meanwhile, animated its eyeball icon to represent its most famous shows throughout the years.

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