News & Views

Super Bowl XLIX: Contagious' Winners and Losers

by Contagious Team

Give us an S! Give us a U! Give us a P! 

OK, you know where that's going. Here's what we loved (and didn't love) about Super Bowl XLIX. 

Small-market ad buys. As the price of a single 30-second spot climbed to the budget busting cost of $4m, crafty advertisers found ways to capitalise on the hype without spending as much capital: local ad buys. It’s not a new tactic — Old Milwaukee did it best with its amazing Will Ferrell spot that ran in North Platte, Nebraska back in 2012 — but it has risen to new prominence, with brands big (Newcastle, in Palm Springs, Florida) and small (The Verge, in Helena, Montana) taking advantage of the low-cost loophole. With so much buzz around the Super Bowl taking place online, and specifically on YouTube, we wonder if this tactic might become more en vogue as advertisers embrace digital and question the value of paying for a big splash during the game. Much like Doritos’ long-running Crash The Super Bowl, Newcastle’s Band of Brands campaign, from Droga5, managed to generate plenty of interest in the brand’s ad before the game even started -- and a few ‘Coming Soon’ boxes on the campaign site indicate that there may still be more to come. Jury’s still out on whether the Brands in the Band paid for inclusion or were just included if they were willing to be part of the fun. Surely somewhere an accountant at D5 minority investor William Morris Endeavor is rubbing his hands together in anticipation.

Unbelievable play calling. Can you believe the Seahawks passed the ball on second and goal? We’re still in shock. Other plays that caught us by surprise, from the advertising side of things:

  • Mobile games like Clash of Clans and Game of War have pockets deep enough to afford both big name stars (Liam Neeson and Kate Upton, respectively) and Super Bowl spots. Of the two, Clash of Clans won the battle, with an ad from Barton F. Graf 9000 that was pretty damn big. Apparently Game of War has an equally-epic $40m advertising budget. Who knew?
  • Chevy Colorado and BBDO’s fake TV outage almost got us for a second, before we considered what the ad was suggesting: if, for some reason, your TV (and the rest of your power/internet) goes out during the game, you can sit in your truck and stream it on 4G LTE. Great setup for a slightly weird product feature proposition. If this was such a great idea, why didn’t the brand buy a real spot instead of a pre-game hedge? We’ll tell you why: there’s a fine line between clever interruptive ad and nasty trick, and as we’ll see later adwatchers were looking for witches to burn.
  • Katy Perry’s Sharks! Hands down our favorite element of the entire affair, jubilant yet confused, just like America.
  • Why is Bryan Cranston doing ads as Walter White? The Esurance spot from Leo Burnett touted its identity theft protection, but seems too soon to pimp out a career-defining character to us.
  • On the flip side, does anyone still think of Pierce Brosnan as 007? The premise of Kia’s ad, by David & Goliath, centred on that idea, which we’re not sure we buy.
  • Not one, but TWO ads featuring double amputees, from Toyota and Saatchi & Saatchi, LA and Microsoft.
  • Another smart media play was Squarespace debuting its spot at the end of the second quarter, when myriad stoppages and end-of-half short timeouts allowed people enough time to visit the site and see what the dude was abiding now. 

Pre-releases losing favor. When Volkswagen’s ‘The Force’ ad leaked its way out a week before Super Bowl XLV and went on to be the most viewed ad of all time, it looked like the game had changed forever. Now? Maybe not so much. This year, fewer brands opted to pre-release their ad online, with many instead posting teasers and trailers, hoping to drum up even more support for their big game spots. The result was a refreshing return to good old fashioned ad anticipation — a nice contrast to the past few years, which felt more like reruns of boring snippets we’d already seen and picked apart online.

Extending the ad. Done right, a Super Bowl spot can have outsized impact, particularly when brands use the expensive opportunity to launch longer-running campaigns or social promotions. This year, brands like Coca-Cola and T-Mobile have been hitting social media hard well after Tom Brady took a knee. The former worked with Wieden + Kennedy to use its Spread Happiness messaging to combat cyber bullies, allowing Twitter users to hashtag negative tweets #makithappy and get cute ASCII art in return, while the latter, with Publicis, Seattle rewarded fans who connected their Twitter accounts to a campaign website and engaged with the brand with ‘exclusive’ selfies from ‘Kim Kardashian’s private selfie stash’. The photos are in a rotation, so they’re far less exclusive than you’re led to believe, but we can see the personalised Tweets garnering plenty of engagement. On top of that, the leaked celeb nude as campaign territory is fairly bold, even if it’s a celebrity that became so as the result of a sex tape. On the non-social side, McDonald’s used its campaign to launch a Pay With Lovin’ campaign with Leo Burnett that will see in-store executions over the next couple of weeks. We try to stay away from associating Lovin’ with Pay, but it’s a nice sentiment from the golden arches.

Real men drink real beer. U-S-A! U-S-A! We’re sort of split on this swaggering Budweiser spot from Anomaly. On the one hand, the idea of owning the ‘Macro Brew’ is interesting territory — Bud isn’t pretending to be something it’s not. At the same time, the subtext of the ad is ‘This beer is for people who don’t care what their beer tastes like’ and ‘craft beer drinkers are a bunch of precious wimps’. Not to mention that the irony is strong with this one: ABInbev, just last week, purchased a craft brewery that makes the Pumpkin Peach Ale this ad maligns. In the long run, this ad is likely to fall flat among ad nerds and be a hit in the Bud Heavy heartland, which might help it generate the positive movement Budweiser is desperate for.

Bummer, Nationwide. By far the least successful ad of the night came from insurer Nationwide, which deflated spirits at Super Bowl parties around the country. The spot, by Ogilvy & Mather, begins with a young boy talking about things he’ll never be able to do (ride a bike, fly) and ends with a shocking drowning and a depressing message. Nationwide says the ad was meant to start a conversation about household safety, but the only conversation we heard was about how much it missed the mark. The brand’s other SB spot starring Mindy Kaling similarly left us wishing Nationwide had stayed on the sidelines.

Oral Interference. Turns out, Super Bowl spots might compete with snacking for viewer attention; recent studies show that people who are eating aren’t as receptive to ad messages. One brand that might have cut through the noise of noshing on nachos? Weight Watchers, with it’s abrasive ad, by W+K, comparing American eating to drug addiction.

Winners: This Loctite spot, created by Fallon and directed by Tim & Eric, won our hearts instantaneously. Great job. A similarly ridiculous ad from Snickers and BBDO, featuring axe-wielding Danny Trejo as Marcia Brady, was a winner (and seems to be dominating the YouTube ad buy game today). And the trailer for Now That’s What I Call Fast & Furious 47.5: The Sequel was potentially the most ridiculous thing we saw all night. Other highlights included T-Mobile’s aforementioned Kim K spot, Squarespace's Jeff Bridges ommmmming with Wieden + Kennedy (winning the brand our Most Improved Player award), GoDaddy’s remarkably sincere substitute spot (shot mere hours before the game), and Always’ cut down of its longer #LikeAGirl ad from last year.

Losers: Aside from the aforementioned Nationwide, we were left high and dry by ads from Nissan (‘Dad wasn’t around for his kid. But now he’s sort of around? Drive a Nissan.’), Jublia (‘Watch a fungal toe play football.’), Weathertech (‘We make American car mats. In America.’) and Mercedes Benz’s Tortoise and Hare (‘You know this story. But we have Don Draper narrating at the end.’). Cliched, muddled, and just gross — by and large we expect a little more creativity in our Super Bowl spots.

All in all, a pretty down year for Super Bowl advertising, and certainly plenty for agencies and brands to mull over as they prepare for the year ahead. We tend to agree with The Escape Pod’s Vinnie Warren—it’s about fun.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to go watch looping video of dancing sharks while listening to that Loctite song to get thoughts of child death, double amputations, spilling Cokes into our computers and passing on second down out of our heads...