The Real Winners (and Losers) of Super Bowl LIII

What can $5 million buy you? Well, a lot of things. But, each February, it can buy you a 30-second platform in front of the world’s most captivated television audience – the 100+ million people who tune in to watch the Super Bowl.

Over the years, the Big Game has evolved into as much a cultural celebration as it is a competition to determine the NFL’s top team. Companies are well-aware of the benefits of investing millions to stake out their piece of the moment and continue to identify unique ways to promote their messages and products before, during and after Super Bowl Sunday. So, what goes into securing one of these coveted spots, and how can companies ensure their investment is worthwhile?

The average production cost of a Super Bowl ad is over $1 million, and many marketing pros recommend setting aside an additional 25% of the cost of the commercial slot to promote the ad in the weeks before the game. With such a large expense, brands want to make sure they’re getting the most bang for their buck, which extends far beyond the game itself. Social media, word of mouth and earned media coverage around the ads play critical roles in driving sales.

This year, a variety of brands faced off for top honors in viewers’ hearts (and wallets). From Bubly to Budweiser, the competition was fierce and, as always, filled with several surprises. We sat down with a few of our experts for their takeaways on the best (and worst) of Super Bowl LIII’s ads. Here’s a rundown on what each of them brings to the table:

Bailey Fuqua, senior manager, uses her background in social media to explore how brands used social media to amplify their messages.

Jessica Black, director, leverages her background in sports marketing and public relations to examine the earned media components of this year’s ads, along with offering a look into how brands paid homage to the Big Game.

Paul Carstensen, design director, utilizes his award-winning design experience to reflect on the creative elements of the spots.

 

Best for Buzz

Bailey: Avocados from Mexico  |  “Top Dog”

The “human canine show” stole social attention ahead of the game with this creative spot featuring Kristin Chenoweth. With over 340 million social impressions before the game even started, Kristin’s bubbly spirit, a quirky plotline and a few furry friends helped make this ad one of the most-used social media hashtags.

Jessica: Bud Light x Game of Thrones  |  “Joust”

This is the biggest (and perhaps the only) two-brand collaboration in recent memory, and it left my husband shouting at the tv and my Twitter and Facebook feeds filled with reactions. The reveal was perfectly executed, with the queue of the Game of Thrones music and the shadow of the dragon, taking full advantage of our collective anticipation for the upcoming return and final season of HBO’s hit series.

Paul: Bud Light x Game of Thrones  |  “Joust”

This is a no-brainer. Bud Light’s Game of Thrones mashup seems obviously conceived to generate buzz (which it did immediately if you were following Twitter during the game). This commercial almost has an unfair advantage, given Game of Thrones enormous popularity. In 2017, the show generated more social buzz than any other TV show.

 

Most Creative

Bailey: Pepsi  |  “Cola Truce”

Pepsi was smart to leverage Coke’s decision to sit-out from advertising to host a takeover of the city of Atlanta. From hiring Atlanta-born rapper Lil Jon for their spot, to putting up snarky billboards around the city, it seemed like just another brand rivalry campaign. That is, until Pepsi used the opportunity to start the #ColaTruce hashtag. Together with Coke, they sponsored 130,000 meals for United Way. The campaign allowed Pepsi to garner over 282,000 mentions on social (vs 181,000 Coke mentions) – and flip the script on a familiar setup.

Jessica: Hyundai  |  “The Elevator”

With Jason Bateman’s signature deadpan delivery of snark and humor, Hyundai’s spot tapped into a common American feeling of, “I’d rather have a root canal than go car shopping.” Bateman, in the role of an elevator operator, guides the commercial’s car-buying couple through multiple levels of scenarios, each seemingly worse than the dreaded experience of buying a new car. However, once it’s made clear that the couple will be utilizing Hyundai’s car buying program, they’re taken to the top. The commercial is funny, clever and – most importantly – it effectively pulls through the brand in a memorable way, which is something that often gets lost on this stage.

Paul: Burger King  |  “Eat Like Andy”

Sometimes simple is best. Burger King’s spot featuring Andy Warhol unwrapping a Whopper had me asking, “is that a CGI Andy Warhol, or the real Andy Warhol?” Turns out it’s real. It’s footage taken from a 1981 art-film documentary, where Warhol really does unwrap a Whopper and pour ketchup on it. The starkness and “out-of-time-ness” of the spot stood out among all the super expensive, massively produced spots that came before and after it. There’s something clever and unique about using someone with such a high-level of commercial appeal to posthumously sell burgers.

 

Best Overall

Bailey: Amazon  |  “Not Everything Makes the Cut”

Nearly everyone has had the experience of an Alexa fail at some point in their life. By combining some clever self-deprecation with the star power of celebrities like Harrison Ford and Forest Whitaker, Amazon made viewers laugh and feel right at home with their own technology glitches. The spot was teased in advanced, and nicely built anticipation without giving away the entire ad.

Jessica: NFL  |  “100 Year Game”

Casting was the linchpin of this ad, which brought together nearly 50 NFL greats. Perhaps what made it so effective was that those faces not only represented multiple generations, but it also managed to thread those generations together, evoking very real memories and emotions from games of the past. In what would have been an easy ad to make all-male, I also appreciated the inclusion of female figures, specifically the NFL’s first female official. The league has really upped its game in terms of self-promotion (remember last year’s Dirty Dancing parody with Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr.?), which is especially important given its current state and reputation, but the NFL outdid themselves this year with a piece that is fun and engaging, reflecting on the stories of its last 100 years and teasing the promise of the league’s future.

Paul: Hyundai  |  “The Elevator”

Jason Bateman as the “Dante’s Inferno”-like elevator operator seems to be landing equally on both the best and worst ads lists. Personally, I laughed out loud at the comparison between buying a car and things like a “root canal,” “jury duty,” “the talk,” or a “vegan dinner party.” (I understand Hyundai has taken some flak from vegans over that one. Haven’t heard a peep out of dentists though).

 

Biggest Flop

Bailey: DEVOUR  |  “Food Porn”

Kraft Heinz’s DEVOUR Foods drummed up some publicity prior to the game for reportedly submitting a NSFW version of the ad. The concept took a taboo subject and put it on display in a sensitive era, and probably did little to sell any additional microwave meals.

Jessica: Turbo Tax  |  “Robo Child”

Turbo Tax really went all-in on Robo Child, with a teaser ad leading up to the full reveal, but it just didn’t work. What I’m sure was a smart, clever concept on paper ended up translating as a creepy, invasive, modern-day Pinocchio on screen.

Paul: Turbo Tax  |  “Robo Child”

Plenty of Super Bowl commercials fall into the category of “not good enough to be great,” or “not bad enough to be awful.” They don’t make much of an impression during the game, and are quickly forgotten. And then there are spots like Turbo Tax’s “Robochild,” which make you ask, “What were they thinking?” Maybe they were hoping for an updated Disney-esque Pinocchio/Geppetto thing, but attaching a sad baby’s face to a robot body was just plain disturbing and creepy. But hey, at least it was memorable.

 

Was the $5 million price tag worth it for brands to participate in this all-American tradition? Well, that will depend on who you ask, but one thing is certain — Bud Light is not made with corn syrup, and corn farmers are not happy about it.

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