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Super Bowl LIII: making history for different reasons

Super Bowl LIII was the lowest scoring NFL final ever, but it made history tonight for more important reasons. 

For the first time in the NFL’s 100 years, two male cheerleaders from Los Angeles performed for the LA Rams at tonight’s Big Game in Atlanta. In the commercial breaks, women were at last better represented than in previous years both on screen and behind the camera. Dating app Bumble and beer brand Michelob Ultra Gold aired outstanding creative work made entirely by women. Both stood out as some of the very best ads featured in tonight’s game. Welcome to 2019, NFL’s Super Bowl.

The Entertainment sector took centre stage at last year’s Super Bowl when Netflix dropped ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ surprise. This year there were fewer spots from film and TV advertisers (excluding all the ads to promote host broadcaster CBS’s content). Only four movie trailers featured in the Big Game this year. From Disney, ‘Avengers: Endgame’ and ‘Captain Marvel’, Universal’s Fast & Furious spin-off ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ and Lionsgate’s Guillermo del Toro horror ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’.

Just a few years ago there were upwards of 20 spots revealing exclusive footage and debuting trailers in the Super Bowl. It was the place to promote forthcoming movie releases. But consumer habits are changing and entertainment budgets are rightly shifting away from event TV moments like the Super Bowl in favour of digital activations and more targeted marketing platforms. 

But before anyone starts ringing the death knell for Super Bowl and TV advertising, CBS reportedly sold all of their inventory this year and the event attracted over 100 million US TV viewers. There were several first time Super Bowl advertisers from the tech sector including dating app Bumble, utility app Expensify, and home security brands ADT and Simplisafe proving the Super Bowl is still a big draw for product launches and delivering blanket reach - if your marketing objectives are not so focused on targeting and efficiency of spend. 

The TV streaming services were present this year with a chillingly relatable trailer for Hulu’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ parodying Ronald Reagan’s 1984 election ad 'Morning in America' and an excellent and genuinely disruptive ad to launch CBS’s reboot of ‘The Twilight Zone’ with Jordan Peel. The big surprise content debut this year was AMAZON PRIME’s ‘Hanna’ which ran a 60 second ad during the game. The first episode of the anticipated new series is available to Amazon Prime members straight away. But be quick - it’s only there for 24 hours before it’s properly scheduled release in March.

Beer brand Bud Light was a heavy spender with four spots across the game, including a stand-out 60-second installment which killed off the ‘Bud Knight’ character in a surprise twist to promote the forthcoming final season of HBO’s 'Game of Thrones'. But the Anheuser-Busch brand may have peaked too early, with subsequent spots proving to be a lot less exciting than the GoT cross-over. The messaging focused on the ingredients of their beer versus competitors and sparked a live ‘beer war’ with Miller Lite on social media. 

T-Mobile brought some humour and simplicity with short impactful ads (perfectly designed for mobile, by the way) extending the brands lifestyle benefits and announcing new partnerships for its customers with Taco Bell and Lyft.

But some of the funniest brand moments of Super Bowl LIII of course came on social platforms rather than the TV. Snickers, Netflix and Mercedes were clearly getting bored with the lack of action on the football field (Mercedes later deleted this tweet!)

Mercedes Superbowl tweet
 
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Back to the action on TV and a few other highlights from tonight - 

  • Artificial Intelligence gone wrong in Amazon Alexa’s big budget ad featuring Forest Whitaker and Harrison Ford.
  • Avocados from Mexico promoting dog adoptions.
  • Ridley Scott’s espionage themed short film for Turkish Airlines - his first commercial in 20 years.
  • Real footage of Andy Warhol eating a Burger King hamburger, from JØrgen Leth’s 1982 film '66 Scenes from America'.
  • Stella Artois joining forces with Water.org to help bring clean drinking water to all parts of the world. They enlisted the help of Sarah Jessica Parker & Jeff Bridges and their 90’s characters Carrie Bradshaw and Jeffrey 'The Dude' Lebowski, swapping their more famous tipples for a Stella Artois. 
  • The Washington Post ran its first ever Super Bowl advert, celebrating journalism from World War II through to the present day and the sacrifices that some journalists have made with their lives to bring us the truth.
  • Google revealed that ‘How are you’, ‘Thank you’ and ‘I love you’ are the most translated words in the world.

The overall verdict seems to be that advertisers were playing it safe with their content tonight - avoiding politics and missteps in favour of more celebratory ads.

The Super Bowl has traditionally been a high point in the advertising calendar, with advertisers paying upwards of $5.2m for a 30 second spot to launch new products, new campaigns and creative work. Over the past few years many advertisers have used their Super Bowl spots to deliver powerful and sometimes misjudged messages around immigration, gender and racial inequality. The controversy surrounding the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick is unresolved and has led to a number of advertisers, celebrities and musicians boycotting the Super Bowl this year.

But let’s focus on progress. In 2019 we have male cheerleaders, stronger and better representation of women on screen (at least during the ad breaks) and more philanthropic campaigns promoting compassion and the welfare of others. There is still a very long way to go, but marketers are indeed taking positive steps.

ps. The New England Patriots beat the LA Rams 13-3.

Dan Heale is chief strategy officer at Way To Blue  

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