Voices of the Super Bowl

Guest opinion contributors share insights and advice around the Big Game

two football players smiling and dancing surrounded by microphones
We asked our Voice contributors to share the lessons they've learned and trends they've noted from past Super Bowls.
Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Source: Getty Images

The Super Bowl is marketing’s biggest unofficial holiday—and for good reason. While there is no exact formula for what makes a Super Bowl ad a hit or miss, there are definitely things most major brands try to incorporate: cultural references, big-name celebrities and bonus points for making viewers laugh. At $5.6 million for a 30-second spot, it’s a lofty investment, but it’s one many brands have seen pay off.

Some of our guest contributors, including creatives behind some memorable campaigns, are sharing their insights into marketing during the Super Bowl, lessons learned from the hits and flops and looking at some of the more interesting trends we’ve seen in the past few decades.

Typically people try to avoid politics and other potentially divisive topics during a fun sports celebration, but no matter what your political perspective is, you’re likely to see something that resonates this year. Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg and President Donald Trump are going to be airing ads during the game. Alex Rakestraw, a senior strategist at creative agency Deutsch New York, points to how this could be an opportunity for brands to work in some humor—like “if a beer brand branded both … spots as “National Fridge-Run Moments.”

At digital agency Levelwing, CEO and co-founder Steve Parker Jr. writes about his experience in strategizing behind 10 Super Bowl spots over the past 13 years. Teasing the ads, releasing multiple iterations with Easter eggs and carrying the conversation started at the Super Bowl well into the following months, he writes, makes game day “an opportunity to be game year, providing a much bigger and more far-reaching opportunity than ever before.”

When marketers hit on a tactic that works for making a successful Super Bowl spot, you can be sure we’ll see it repeated over the next few years. But just because it was successful for one brand doesn’t mean it will be for another. Scott Conway, creative director at full-service agency Mering, notes five trends we see over and over again in Super Bowl ads that marketers can avoid—or at the very least, use as a jumping-off point. “If you’re lucky enough to work on a Super Bowl spot, take it as an opportunity to be a creative contrarian,” he writes.

So many notable Super Bowl spots from over the years resonate without relying on tropes. Not every Super Bowl ad needs a big celebrity, catchy top song or cheesy humor, but sometimes, those elements combine to truly entertain. Max McKeon, creative director at creative agency Colenso BBDO, discusses four that had just the right balance.

Remember Y2K? Most people can at least say they’ve heard of it, even if they don’t completely understand what the big fuss was about. Around the same time, the Super Bowl saw a unique trend: dot-com brands flooding in to snag a coveted Big Game slot. Debika Sihi, assistant professor of business at Southwestern University, goes through some of the companies that took out ads during the Super Bowl in the early 2000s such as Pets.com, which folded shortly after its “now-infamous dog sock puppet” character, and Computer.com, which spent all of its investor capital on Super Bowl spots that never made the money back. It begs the question: What will we be looking back on in 20 years as cringeworthy or era-shaping?

Jean-Francois Sacco, CCO at French creative agency Rosapark, shares that while the Super Bowl might not be the focal point for European marketers, they’re very much invested in the ads. It’s all about the brand competition for marketers. No one wants to take a break during the commercials lest they miss something major. They recognize that the ads in the game are going to show insights into coming trends and themes to expect for the coming year—and longer.

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