Super Bowl Ads: Everyone Gets to Be a Critic
365 days each year (or 366 in a leap year like this), we hate having our shows interrupted by ads. We do anything to make commercials go away: leave the room; mute the TV; skip forward; use ad blockers; even pay for a premium service if that’s available on our viewing source.
What makes Super Bowl Sunday different? Do sports fans want to have their attention diverted from the action on the field? Doubtful. Is there something about consuming mass quantities of wings, nachos and beer that plays a trick on our minds? Actually, who knows what that does to our brain cells…but that’s a topic for a different writer. Are Super Bowl ads that much better than the commercials we see every other day of the year? Some, perhaps, but definitely not all.
So why would advertisers spend $5.6 million (up $400K from last year) for a chance at capturing :30 of viewer time? The real answer: Super Bowl ads are the one example where commercials don’t interrupt the program. Instead, they are part of it.
Despite the changes from mass media consumption to individualized ingestion – from watching programs on a few channels en masse to streaming on demand from unlimited sources – the Big Game remains the last bastion of “TV togetherness.” The Super Bowl extends far beyond football enthusiasts; it has transcended into the highly coveted position of a leading social experience. People prepare elaborate menus for parties with friends; they go to bars to be together; and even if they are watching the game alone at home, they second-screen connect about each play via social media.
People also connect in real-time about the Super Bowl ads. And I’m not just talking about people in the advertising and marketing biz. These commercials have become an anticipated opportunity for everyone to become a critic – to weigh in on whether or not these elaborately produced spots are “good,” “clever,” “original,” “effective,” even “the best.” It’s what we know people will be talking about on Monday at work, whether or not the game itself was good. And that’s some rarified air right there.
Power to the People
How did this happen? For many years, Super Bowl ads have been the only ads that the media plans to talk about. While we are all used to it, that’s a pretty weird concept to unpack: the idea that other TV stations and media formats highlight the ads that ran on a competitor’s outlet. It’s part of the breakdown of the rigid lines that consumers colored within when mass media was the driving force and the mass market was more of a thing.
Years ago, there were only a few stations, everyone watched what these networks told us to, and the commercials on those networks pushed us toward mass market purchases. Brands with big budgets hired high-priced ad agencies to come up with the ads that would drive these mass market purchases – and those ads were played, well, ad nauseum. After that, it was the exclusive job of award competitions – judged by the grand rulers of the ad agency industry – to declare which ads were good.
Technology has fueled more than a media consumption revolution: it has given the power to the people. The people, not the network executives, decide what programs will succeed. The people decide which media outlets will survive. And now, the people decide which Super Bowl ads are good. And we talk about it all.
The Advent of Accessibility
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. This advent of accessibility has inspired the media to serve as a connection point for all of the chatter. Brands know that the media megaphone will be amplifying whatever Super Bowl ads people are talking about. And as we know, many of these ads no longer wait until the Big Game to make their debut – or to release some sort of advance prelude to their big reveal.
To unlock the potential impact of these ads, brands are constantly trying to come up with a new way to keep the experience going. Getting people to connect online to see or experience more. Creating a catch phrase they hope will become part of this year’s vernacular. Pushing boundaries in every direction, hoping for a bigger share of the conversation. It’s been fascinating to watch the evolution – and I believe it’s also been a positive change for agencies to switch their focus from impressing their cronies to connecting with their brands’ target audiences.
Get in on the Fun!
I’ll be joining the 100 million-ish others watching the Big Game this Sunday. But I won’t be cheering for either side. My focus will be on interacting with the Twitterverse – participating in conversations around hashtags like #SuperBowlAds #SuperBowl2020 and #SuperBowlCommercials.