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Over the past few Super Bowl games, there have been some brand stunts that have cut through the other 50 Big Game ads and have made the industry insanely jealous (damn you, floating QR code). However, traditional storytelling continues to make a powerful impact as well.
So, as this year’s Super Bowl creative starts to debut, agencies and brands will have to sit back and wait to see what wins the night; a brand stunt or storytelling? We’ll find out in less than two weeks.
But first, let’s go back six months, to a time when Super Bowl briefs were coming in hot. Here are some of the things our shop, Highdive, thought about when deciding between stunt or storytelling.
Let’s talk stunts
There are plenty of compelling reasons to consider stunts, but here are three key reasons why: shock value, direct response and awareness.
In 2021, Reddit’s five-second spot, designed to mimic a broadcast hijacking, created a bit of Reddit-style chaos, shocked viewers at home and, most importantly, delighted the loyal, hive-minded Reddit followers who reveled in the shock coursing through their viewing party.
In 2022, Coinbase’s floating QR code was not only captivating but also immediately profitable. Scanning the code redirected users to Coinbase’s promotional website, offering $15 worth of Bitcoin. Within seconds of airing the spot, they had new users.
In 2023, Tubi gave the impression that someone had accidentally switched the channel to Tubi late in the 4th quarter. Whether viewers were amused or bemused, mission accomplished. Some of us hadn’t previously heard of Tubi, but after that stunt, the internet wouldn’t shut up about the brand.
All three brands had valid reasons to use a stunt and if your brand has similar KPIs, a stunt is worth exploring, especially if you’re a challenger brand or find yourself in an emerging market like cryptocurrency.
Stunts are one-and-done
Stunts rely on the element of surprise, which means you can’t leverage the six-week media hype leading up to the game or the aftermath. However, considering the minimal production costs associated with the spots mentioned above—who cares?
Don’t consider a stunt if you don’t have the stomach for it or rely heavily on consumer testing. Some people will love them, and some won’t.
After three consecutive years of stunts, will Americans be more wary in this upcoming game? Most likely not. The public doesn’t obsess over ads the way we do.
Let’s talk storytelling
The traditional, OG method to create a great Super Bowl spot remains a powerful approach to brand building and has notable benefits when it comes to launching a new product, setting up bold brand positioning and creating longevity.
Eminem launching the Chrysler 200 is a great example of a product launch that felt worthy of the big stage. A compelling story/manifesto on this stage can still work. Really well.
It can also garner the same attention as a stunt. Our Jeep “Groundhog Day” campaign with Bill Murray wasn’t only the #1 spot on the USA Today Ad Meter but also the #1 trending spot on YouTube.
Bold brand positioning
Google’s “Loretta” spot from 2020 didn’t introduce something new. Instead, it forged an emotional connection and reminded us that Google can help us on a personal level.
Lay’s “Golden Memories,” featuring Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd, took advantage of the six-week window before the game and the brand reused the spot throughout the year. If you’re investing big bucks on celebrities, it certainly helps if you can use the spot for an extended period.
Although the Super Bowl hosts the most captivated audience of the year, your brand might get overlooked if you prioritize big celebrities or budgets over big ideas. Don’t lose sight of the basics.
Are we on the cusp of a hybrid?
Call it “storied-stunting” or “stunty-telling” but there is a newer approach that appears to be emerging. It challenges all conventions and aims to be the best of both.
Last year, FanDuel’s “Kick of Destiny” did this especially well. So well, they’ve brought it back this year.
Both years it was launched well before the game, inviting consumers to bet on a live commercial where Gronk would attempt a field goal. A live commercial that you can bet on. It was inherently a direct response betting promo, but each spot was entertaining and built the brand simultaneously.
Stunt? Check. Storytelling? Check. In the end, the brand increased app sign-ups and boosted its brand image.
In previous years, other brands had success with more traditional stunt storytelling, like the Bud Light and Game of Thrones collaboration or our Rocket Mortgage spot with Jason Momoa who ripped his muscles off to feel more comfortable at home. That campaign is still making appearances in pop culture by way of memes and even made it into the latest edition of Trivial Pursuit.
When thinking about this Super Bowl or any Super Bowl, start with the fundamentals. What is the message? And what’s the best way to bring that to life?
Don’t commit one way or the other before figuring out the basics. So, when you take advantage of the one time a year people don’t fast-forward commercials, you can approach your strategy with a fresh perspective and a new arsenal of tools.
For the latest Super Bowl 58 advertising news—who’s in, who’s out, teasers, full ads and more—check out Adweek’s Super Bowl 2024 Ad Tracker and the rest of our stories here. And join us on the evening of Feb. 11 for the best in-game coverage of the commercials.