Who Will Win the Super Bowl of Ads?

This Sunday, will Budweiser win the Super Bowl for the eleventh consecutive year? It’s probable. Why? Because Bud (and its agencies) try really, really hard to win. And they understand how it works. 

The Super Bowl is special because everyone watches it. You, your grandma, your youngest cousin. We all tune in. Last year, 97.5 million people watched the Giants beat the then-undefeated Patriots. 

Knowing your work will be seen by millions of eager eyeballs is intimidating for all concerned at the client and the agency. Intimidation can cause overanalysis and paralysis. And that can be fatal.

What those showcasing work this year have hopefully kept in mind is that they’re not trying to wow 97.5 million people. They’re trying to entertain (and sell) lots of little groups of friends and family members who have gathered to snack and drink and talk and watch football. And they want to like the ads. They’re all in a great mood and they’re paying attention. In other words, it’s optimal viewing conditions.

Obviously, there are no rules for creativity. But, I’ve picked up some tips over the years creating ads for “The Big Game.” Here are my guesses for what type of ads will hit and miss:

1. The Super Bowl is lowest common denominator of time. That’s not an opinion — it’s a statistical fact. So, broad comedy tends to be the most successful. The spots that make it big this year, as in other years, will have universal appeal.

2. Spots that hinge on a reveal or “rug pull” will be dangerous. They bank everything on one aspect. Plus, they essentially ask viewers to decide if what they saw was funny — and that’s inviting potential failure. (I’ll take this back if the spot involves a T-shirt wearing chimp dancing on a garbage can. See what I mean about no rules?)

3. Animals, as always, will work, per the E*Trade chimp example above. Animal spots are not my personal preference creatively, but spots featuring animals historically score higher on the annual USA Today Super Bowl commercial poll.

4. Ads that create a ripple effect will also be successful. In other words, agencies that use the unique viewing environment to their advantage have a good chance of standing out. People gather in crowds to watch the game and commercials, so why not go for the big crowd pleasers? Ideally, they’ll start out funny and get funnier, confidently “overwhelming” the audience until the entire room is laughing.

5. Simple will work, too. It’s fair to assume a large portion of the viewing audience will have consumed a few libations, so their ability to process information or follow plotlines may be impaired. Thus, ads that avoid having too many gear changes — commercials with a single concept — will be easier to process. My highest-scoring Super Bowl effort featured a talking dog, ranking No. 4 on USA Today‘s Super Bowl Ad Meter. A more “sophisticated” Budweiser Wassup! spot (and a personal favorite) ranked a dismal No. 26 in the same game. So, there you are.

6. Spots that go with the flow will capture viewers’ attention. Agencies that ignored the little voice telling them that “everyone else is being funny, let’s be different,” will be happy they did. People watch the Super Bowl to have a good time, not to be bummed out or forced to think too hard.

7. There’s a lot at stake and most advertising creatives are lucky if they get to create one Super Bowl spot in their career. Those who were able to set aside pressures to focus on making the most entertaining ad possible have a good chance of conveying that sense of fun across millions of TV screens. One of my more memorable Super Bowl ads was created in a fairly casual way (mostly because I didn’t think it would make it). The spot had a relaxed vibe, which separated it from the pack on game night. It didn’t try too hard and that made it attractive.

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