LESSON ONE: FAMILIAR FACES DRIVE INTRIGUE
A host of celebrities again featured in this year's Superbowl ads. Cardi B, Bruce Springsteen, Will Ferrel, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Shaggy and Dolly Parton all featured in various spots. The choice of celebrity has significant impact on brand tone and cultural relevance - the casting (for some likely costing a large chunk of the pricetag of the ad spot itself) has the ability to drive intrigue and talkability before and after the ads even air.
“...by leveraging existing cultural artifacts, referencing and remixing symbolic structures, appending your products, you leverage stored attention. Nike borrowed interest from Colin Kapernick while [VW’s] ‘The Force’ relied on Star Wars. You can ladder up your product benefit to a higher order value proposition but all your competitors can too. But with almost every brand using them, it’s what they do with celebrities that will make them stand out.” Faris Yakob, Warc
LESSON TWO: FIVE SMART SECONDS OF FAME WORKS
Reddit (one of the most talked about brands so far this year thanks to Gamestop) connected with a five second ad that they created in a week. It looked a bit like a glitchy car ad, and became one of the most shared ads of the week. Two SUVs race through a desert landscape and then glitch, revealing the Reddit logo followed by a paragraph of written text that viewers have to photograph or screenshot to be able to read. “Wow this actually worked” was the headline text, followed by “Big game spots are expensive... but we were inspired to spend our entire marketing budget on 5 seconds of airtime... Powerful things happen when people rally around something they really care about. And there’s a place for that…” There’s lots of impact to be had in 5 seconds that can really pay off when you play to your strengths and draw on sound knowledge of your audience.
Reddit isn't the first brand to make a play off buying just a few seconds of airtime during the superbowl - the band Eels’s created a 1 second clip back in 2008 for the occasion. It ended up not airing but it certainly caused quite the stir.
LESSON THREE: BACK UP YOUR CREATIVE STORYTELLING WITH SUBSTANCE & HONESTY
General Motors’ slot promoting electric cars with Will Ferrell was one of many that drew on humour and uplifting tones this year. While many rightly applauded the company’s efforts to drive this environmental message in a fun and refreshing way, climate journalists were quick to point out that GM’s ad was a major pivot (contrast) from previous efforts around the climate (for example, undermining climate science). To understate - not a great way to build trust with EV consumers. While this may be something only those highly engaged in the subject might research, these are the ‘early adopters’ who may be looking to invest in an EV in the short-term.
This highlights the importance of backing up your progressive 30 second ad with substantial evidence of change, honesty or longer-term commitments. Under Armour, for example, are running a campaign around Black History Month, celebrating young Black athletes with a collaboration with Baltimore artists Devin Allen. Photography will support youth voices and the project raises money for Baltimore youth programmes.
LESSON FOUR: RETHINK YOUR IMPACT
In a world facing multiple crises, it’s a worthy exercise to quantify the social impact an ad that doesn’t get made can have and build a new story from there. Budweiser, a brand synonymous with big Superbowl advertising was hailed one of this year’s ‘winners’ by choosing to not air an ad - for the first time in 37 years. Instead, they shifted the budget to drive awareness of the COVID-19 vaccine.
LESSON FIVE: A GOOD SURPRISE IS PRICELESS
One of the other marketing highlights of the week was the explosion of Weetabix’s Heinz Tweet. Love it or hate it, statistically, people are more likely to share more surprising or unexpected information on Twitter - and the photo Weetabix shared of their hero product covered in beans certainly fits in that category. Indeed such was 'the surprise' of the unlikely combination that people, brands and organisations got in on the action. Entertaining and potentially a fit for the brands that have earned their space as witty commentators, but not so much for the brands on Twitter whose general commentary is far from the world of cereals and were obviously only trying to steal some of the attention share their way. It’s important to know when you’ve reason to engage and when you don’t...
Going against the grain in a totally different way, Pukka’s Night Time tea ad (September 2020) has been deemed a winner on YouTube as the ‘ad noone wants to skip’ because of its surprisingly soothing nature. Embracing the Zen in loud spaces is one way to stand out, particularly when it works to reenforce your brand distinctiveness.
Managing the art and science of attention is the ongoing battle for brands seeking fame in a world where everyone is both content producer, publisher, commentator and sharer. There is no one sure-fire answer, but if anything, a commitment to constant exploration of new ways to disrupt the conversation sphere gives you a headstart.