News & Views

Super Bowl 48 Ad Roundup

by Contagious I/O

This story originally appeared on Contagious I/O, our customisable research platform featuring the world’s most creative, ingenious and effective brand-funded ideas

From sexist engineers to local lawyer ads, we recap this year’s big game spots

Once a year, on a magical Sunday Night, Americans who go out of their way to avoid advertising every other day turn into its most concerned critics for four hours.

The football game, in which the Seahawks shellacked the Broncos, wasn’t much to look at. But what about the marketing? What made the grade? Here are a few important points that stood out.

Price Promotion

With a price tag pushing $4 million for a 30-second spot, cost is always a part of the big game ad conversation. This year, the cream of the crop got creative with their spend, stretching their marketing dollars and emphasising their against-the-grain credentials. Headlining the trend was No Bollocks beer Newcastle, which ran an online-only campaign under the headline ‘If We Made It’. Tongue-in-cheek storyboards created by Droga5 took the piss out of bombastic campaigns, lampooning the typical celebrity-, animal- and babe-filled spots that dominate the Super Bowl. What’s more, the brand engaged in some lighthearted one-upsmanship, creating amped-up versions of ads run by other brands (Wonderful Pistachios, the Transformers film, Chobani, Jaguar and GoDaddy) during the game – a clever way to capitalise on competitors releasing big game ads online prior to the actual big game.

Newcastle’s strategy, clever though it may be, exposes some of the power of buying an actual Super Bowl spot. The beer brand’s big ad, although clearly far cheaper than the $4m price tag, has only been viewed half a million times online. The Super Bowl, meanwhile, attracted nearly 100 million people. And releasing spots early has been shown to work: according to Google, 2013 ads released before the game got 3.4 times the number of views on YouTube as those debuted on Super Sunday. The majority of this year’s spots were up beforehand.

Another smart price play came from insurance provider Esurance, which tapped Leo Burnett, Chicago and The Office star John Krasinski for an ad after the game had finished. Having saved $1.5 million by selecting a later time slot, the brand offered that same amount of money to a lucky winner, to be selected on Wednesday night’s Jimmy Kimmel Live. To enter, people just have to use the hashtag #esurancesave30 on Twitter. In contrast to the lame duck hashtags glommed on to most big-game spots, Esurance’s tag has been Twitter’s top trend for nearly 24 hours following the game, with 200,000 tweets bearing the tag in the first minute following the ad’s airing alone.

A new insurance star may be born: Esurance is a wholly owned subsidiary of Allstate, so Leo Burnett’s Mayhem character warmed the bench for the kinder, gentler face of corporate philanthropy, Krasinski.

Nostalgia Trip

As usual, USA Today’s Ad Meter, the Nielsen rating of Super Bowl ads put the spots to their focus group. (As Advertising Age wrote in 2012, ‘the Super Bowl got hijacked by D-list celebrities, talking animals and cheap gags – anything for a chuckle – and that trend can be traced to one thing: USA Today’s Ad Meter.’)

Budweiser’s puppies-and-horses-and-heroic-soldiers fare (via Anomaly) and Doritos’ crowdsourced gags (‘Time Machine’ had a $200 budget) topped the list, along with Radio Shack’s ‘80s revival (GSD&M, Austin) and a Hyundai feature-pusher (Innocean, US). By and large, the days of the grand unveil in the heat of the moment are over. Advertisers seemed too timid to do anything bold during the game, and faded into the background with fey sentimentality. A so-so game, nondescript halftime show and lack of any major disruptions exacerbated the snooze factor.


Real-time Runaround

Marketing award manna from heaven in the form of another Oreo moment didn’t arrive this year, and attention was mostly on JCPenney, whose Twitter account many considered hacked (or operated by a tipsy partygoer) after a series of slightly incoherent tweets.



The ensuing brand-on-brand Twitter riffing was truly painful to behold, but illustrated a major question: if a real-time marketing team is assembled ready to deploy legal and brand assets against any unforeseen opportunity and nothing happens, is it a failure, or just business as usual? Meanwhile, JCP’s supposed incompetence was planned–the brand was ‘#TweetingWithMittens’ to support its Team USA Olympic handwear.

According to Twitter, volume of tweets this year was 24.9 million versus 24.1 million last year, even though the platform has added over 30 million monthly active users since then. Lacking Beyoncé and a blackout, the chatter suffered.


Blink, and you may have missed Shazam’s familiar logo appearing at all during Super Bowl Sunday; aside from one Bud Light commercial and a Jaguar ad that aired late in the game, the music-tagging app hardly made an appearance. While that may indicate decreasing interest from brands (or at the very least decreasing belief that consumers are whipping out their phones to tap into more content about commercials) it may also reflect the evolution of Shazam as a service.



For the first time this year, the app offered viewers the ability to toggle into ‘Auto’ mode in order to automatically Shazam everything going on during the commercials. People who fired up the app during the game were greeted with bonus content like exclusive Bruno Mars concert footage, minute-by-minute game action recaps and a halftime show playlist. A new timeline feature on the app also allowed people to re-watch their favorite ads, in the order that they aired. No word on what Shazam served up when it overheard your Broncos fan friend sobbing in the corner.


Apart from a disappointing display by the auto industry (see below) this year saw a number of brands depart from the ethos that sexism sells and adopt a more mature, more gender-equal approach to their advertising. Perhaps the most conspicuous example of this change in tack was men’s personal-care brand Axe, which abandoned its usual focus on scantily-clad women for a message about world peace in a spot by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, UK. David Kolbusz talked to Contagious about this strategic shift last month, explaining: ‘Young men today don’t really have the same values as a generation ago and there’s a lot more equilibrium between the sexes.’

It appears that Axe isn’t the only brand waking up to the realization that it’s not the 1950s anymore. This year saw GoDaddy drop its PimpDaddy as-close-to-porn-as-we-can-make-it strategy and run an ad featuring a real women quitting her job to start her own puppet-making business. The company also took a literal approach to the idea of ‘strong women’ in their other Super Bowl spot, which starred Danica Patrick as one of a troupe of bodybuilders bombarding a GoDaddy-assisted spray tan business.

Another highlight of the FemBowl was the spot by 15-person start-up GoldieBlox, winner of Intuit’s Small Business, Big Game challenge. Contagious is a long-time supporter of GoldieBlox, a toy company designed to get girls interested in engineering and make a dent in the statistic that 89% of engineers are men. We featured the company in Issue 36 and founder Debbie Sterling spoke at Most Contagious 2013 in New York, where she picked up the ‘Small But Perfectly Formed’ award for the Most Contagious start-up.



Of course, the Super Bowl wasn’t all girl power and world peace and there were still a number of offensive efforts on display. However, when it comes to sexism and the Super Bowl there is now an app for that: the ‘Not Buying It’ app, created by The Representation Group, lets users upload images of the offending apps and tweet directly at the brands responsible. ‘It just shows that if the mainstream media isn’t representing us, we can create our own media to fight back,’ Imran Siddiquee, a founding member of The Representation Project told Forbes.

Big Boos

While we heard lots of groans at the parties we attended, some honorable mentions deserve notice. Chrysler’s strange jingoistic Bob Dylan (‘Let Asia assemble your phone’) crossed the line set by Clint Eastwood and Eminem in glorifying Detroit to a strange nativist territory. Meanwhile, Coke, which managed to perturb racist uncles from sea to shining sea with people singing America the Beautiful in different languages, stood out as another disappointment. Aside from the controversy, it’s not much different a sentiment to its classic ‘I’d Like To Teach the World to Sing’ and seems a prime example of the lack of boldness this year.

Meanwhile, in general, automakers seem loathe to let a lady behind the wheel. Women spend $300bn on vehicles annually, and outnumber men in terms of having driver’s licenses: 105.7 million women have driver’s licenses – 1.4 million more than men. With stats like that you might have expected to see a few more women on-screen. After all, this is the Super Bowl, not Saudi Arabia. However, ten auto ads aired during the Super Bowl. These featured nine male drivers, one female driver, one dog driver and one (male) Muppet driver. And the only reason a woman was driving a car in the Hyundai commercial was because she was being hit on by another, male, driver.

Not only were women absent behind wheel  according to Volkswagen, not many of them are present behind the scenes when it comes to making the cars either. In Wings the brand depicted a factory full of male engineers earning their ‘wings’ every time a VW driver reached 100,000 miles. No women earned any wings and the only time the ad shows a female engineer is when she slaps a dude because his wings slapped her in the butt. Umm, can someone over at GoldieBlox go have a chat with VW please?

Amid all the polished hype, two who went for the gusto deserve special mention: Jamie Casino, a southern lawyer who ran a two-minute vendetta announcement / manifesto around his murdered brother’s case, and Floyd Mayweather, who is refuting rumors he laid $10.4 million on the Broncos.




This story originally appeared on Contagious I/O. Contagious I/O is our bespoke trends, inspiration, insight and analysis service, providing daily innovative marketing intelligence across a comprehensive range of sectors to brands and agencies across the world. For more information about Contagious I/O contact