Creative Marketing at Super Bowl 2019, On and Off the TV Screen
February 7, 2019
As the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots battled it out in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl game ever, there was a different kind of competition going on during the commercial breaks. Each year, brands pull out all the stops to make an impression during the most watched television event of the year, and at this point, it’s a given that most of us are watching for the commercials.
While the past may have inspired water cooler talk about miraculous plays and standout MVPs, this year seems to have left audiences rather underwhelmed with the lack of action overall. The cultural conversation, as a whole, indicates the game was pretty boring, so was the halftime show. One tweet summed it up perfectly: “Imagine paying $7,000 for a Maroon 5 concert and a punting competition.” And, generally, the commercials didn’t fare much better in the public eye.
But here at XenoPsi, while we might not be repeating new catchphrases, we found the 2019 commercials interesting from a creative, marketing, and business strategy point of view.
Here’s our take on this year’s offerings.
Classic Brands Won on Social Media
While Nielsen can measure overall viewership and general household numbers, looking to social media can provide better insight into the cultural impact of the ads. This year, it seems that Big Game standbys like Budweiser and Pepsi still dominated the conversation. Bud Light’s four-part continuation of the “Dilly Dilly” campaign morphed into a callout about using corn syrup (spoiler alert: Coors does, Bud Light does not), and an eventual Game of Thrones tie-in. The series scored big on social, with about 22,500 mention, and an eventual 183 million impressions according to iSpot.tv.
Pepsi’s #PepsiMoreThanOK hashtag saw 17,800 mentions with 65.2 million impressions, with Doritos coming in third with about 10,000 social impressions. (Thanks to AdWeek for the numbers.)
Digital and Social Campaigns Hit Big Outside Broadcast TV
Of course, brands who weren’t quite budgeted to spend the 5.25 million dollars for thirty-seconds with CBS also seized on the opportunity, generating content to connect with the Big Game.
Skittles took an off-screen approach, creating an original musical starring Six Feet Under and Dexter actor Michael C. Hall. The theatrical production sold out its exclusive 1,500 seats, and generated plenty of game day conversation and mentions in post-Sunday wrap-ups. According the BrandWatch data, the production had a 92% positive sentiment and a long tail of engagement, with everyone wondering this week what happened during the show.
Volvo and Barstool Sports also pulled a few classic stunts that were worth a look. The car company encouraged us to not watch the game (or its commercials) at all. They built a custom game that requires users to keep their eyes on their S60 car; no looking away means no football, no commercials, and no snack breaks. A new car and care package was awarded to the three longest drives. This is an excellent use of budget, and became a big part of the cultural conversation.
A hat tip also goes to Barstool Sports, who created real time viral footage of their founder, Dave Portnoy, getting carried out of the game in handcuffs during halftime, having been banned from the game last week for counterfeiting press passes. The hashtags #FreePortnoy and #stoolpresidente began trending soon after. We do not recommend attempting this at future major sporting events.
Some of our own brands joined in on the fun Check out how XenoPsi placed several of the beverages we work with as essential components of the game day experience: Blackheart Rum brought the humor (and honesty!), Evan Williams Black Label played into the logo design with some custom art, Larceny Bourbon tied the night’s events into our campaign language, and Elijah Craig kept it cool and simple.
What About That Cost?
Everyone loves to discuss this year’s number, because, well, it’s always fascinating, and, of course, it’s also a lot of money. The 2019 reports suggest the rate was 5.25 million for a :30 spot, with a total of ninety-three ads during the runtime. Thrillist reminds us that the airtime is only a fraction of the total, with millions more going to production costs, and as much as 25% more on marketing for the ad itself. Put simply, that’s nearly an additional 1.3 million spent on generating buzz about generating buzz.
We were fascinated by Digiday’s breakdown of what the 5.25 million would look like if it were spent on digital media in 2019. They highlight what that amount could have bought on alternative mediums:
- 1.7 billion impressions on either Instagram or Facebook, or 2.5 billion impressions on Snapchat
- 1.7 billion impressions on Pinterest
- 6.3 million paid clicks on sponsored Amazon ads
- 500 million impression on connected TV (this is five times the number of people who watched the Super Bowl)
Check out that piece for more incredible examples and details. If you’re a small eCommerce startup, take heart: you can reach your audience for much, much less.
Observations and Trends
On the whole, brands stayed away from controversary and overly political messages, seeking to speak to all audiences during fraught partisan times in the US. Commercials that succeeded played into big emotional experiences to deliver messages, namely: sentimentality and humor.
Over the four quarters, here’s what we saw:
Big Tech Pulls at Heart Strings. The digital tech companies sought to remind us of their contributions to the human experience… and did so rather successfully, in XenoPsi’s view. We have no problem admittingly we got choked up during a few of these. Google Translate showed us how their widget has helped people connect around the world, with the most translated phrase being “how are you,” “thank you,” and “I love you.” Microsoft highlighted their accessibility efforts in providing gaming controllers for persons with special needs, and even Amazon-owned The Washington Post recruited Tom Hanks to voice over its power-of-journalism message that “knowing keeps us free.”
Nostalgia, Nostalgia, Nostalgia. Several brands sought to spotlight pop cultural moments for those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s: Walmart brought out the Ghostbusters mobile and the DeLorean from Back to the Future, while many brands featured cameo from 90s-era celebrities, such as Jeff Bridges’ “The Dude” drinking Stella Artois with Carrie Bradshaw instead of their signature cocktails. Sarah Michelle Gellar reprised her role as late 90s scream queen for Olay, and musical acts such as Ludacris and the Backstreet Boys showed up to reference their earlier hits. In an interesting tactic, Andy Warhol showed up in a Burger King spot, via footage from the early 80s, simply eating a Whopper against a blank background.
The Classic Self-Own The aforementioned Pepsi ad took the opportunity to acknowledge their underdog status as America’s second favorite cola (the word “Coke” is mentioned in the first line), generating support from its fans via its #PepsiMoreThanOK hashtag. And Amazon, in one of our favorite spots of the night, humorously acknowledged their reputation as being willing to create digital solutions before considering the consequences…resulting in Harrison Ford’s dog being very, very well-fed.
From a strategic point-of-view, those of us at XenoPsi appreciated the thoughtful spots from Google Translate and Microsoft, who reminded us that all this innovation does good for more than just their marketshare. We applaud Verizon’s “The Coach Who Wouldn’t Be Here” for its authentic approach, and liked the multi-part storyline of Bud Light that managed to end in dragons and ask us to consider the ingredients that go into light beer. And we all can’t help but root for Harrison Ford’s dog to truly master Alexa.