Super Bowl LI Ads: The winners and losers

February 7, 2017 Francis Dignan

The Super Bowl is one of the biggest events on American TV every single year, with 112million tuning in this year to watch. It’s something that tends to tie the nation together with admiration for the athletes, before dividing them through alliances to either team. This was a historic Super Bowl. The first to go to overtime. The first time one team has come back to win after being down by over 20 points. Of course there was more, but this isn't a review of the game, as there's something else that never fails to grab the headlines. One thing that the public talk about every single Super Bowl - the adverts.

There’s really no other event like this for ads. When else would you get almost every advertising website analysing the successes and failures, giving live updates on the ads as they appear, and summarising how well they’re doing? Advertisers can expect to pay around $5m for a 30 second spot during the Super Bowl too, so you can be sure they want to make the most of it.

This year was always bound to be a little different too, with the turbulent times both in the US and around the world. Would advertisers address it, or focus more on the bright side of life?

We’ve compiled a list of some of the best, and a couple of the worst ads from this year’s Super Bowl. What do you think?

The Good

Airbnb

This ad had a super clear message, in total opposition to the recent executive order from the president of the US, which aims to limit immigration from selected countries. Their campaign is based around the hashtag #WeAccept, and it’s a powerful message. The ad generated nearly 80,000 mentions on social media, and was simple, elegant, and relevant.

It will be interesting to see whether it will have any sort of negative impact on the brand, with those that support the order likely to be critical of the message, but it’s great that Airbnb are confident enough to stand by this conviction, and try to give the US a positive, inclusive message at this turbulent time.

 

Budweiser (and Lumber 84)

It was purely incidental that the Budweiser Super Bowl commercial made a political statement. A sweeping epic of an ad, it tells the (partly fictionalised) tale of company co-founder Adolphus Busch’s journey from Hamburg, Germany to St. Louis. On its own, the ad serves as a beautiful reworking of how Budweiser is a product of the American Dream. Normally a winning combination, the ad has instead proved divisive. With some commentators accusing the advert (partly because of the brief portrayal of discrimination) of being a direct dig at President Trump’s immigration policy. However, the advert’s message (whatever your political point-of-view) is strong and it really does captures the heritage of the brand and the American frontier spirit.     

Another story of immigration – more direct in terms of message – was the ad for 84 Lumber, a Boston based timber firm. Similar to the Budweiser ad it was beautifully shot but instead focused on the present, rather than the past: a Mexican mother and daughter desperate to cross the US border. The full-version of the ad was deemed too controversial to be broadcast by both the NFL and Fox, who instead insisted on an edited version. When the unedited ad was released by Lumber 84, the surge in traffic caused the lumber company's site to crash. One last thing, the final line of the ad: “the will to succeed will always be welcome here”. Wasn’t totally dissimilar to Budweiser’s: “When nothing stops your dream”. Which was broadcast unedited.

 

Snickers

Maybe the ad itself wasn’t the most mind-blowing, but it was incredibly innovative, as it was performed live at the moment of broadcast! How do we know? The star of the ad, Adam Driver, gives us the half time score during the commercial.

It’s light hearted, intentionally disastrous, but memorable and engaging. Reaction on social media was mixed, but mainly positive, and the ad definitely got people talking. They worked in their current campaign message in a clever, fun way too. It's also a great example of getting a huge, current star to help draw in the audience, as Adam Driver is one of the stars of the new Star Wars trilogy (playing the role of a moody teen), as well as featuring heavily in HBO's hit series, Girls.

 

Wendy’s

Outside of the states, you’ve probably not heard of Wendy’s. A burger chain that rivals Burger King and McDonald’s in the US. However, it’s responsible for one of the Super Bowl’s most iconic ads. It’s “Where’s the Beef” ad from 1984 helped define the brand for decades as well as become a catch phrase in its own right. This year Wendy’s was at it again, this time undermining its competitors and drawing attention to their “frozen” burgers. Set in an industrial freezer, the ad, entitled Cold Storage, once again highlighted a major differentiator between Wendy’s and other burger chains: the freshness of the patties.  Funny, and on brand, the Super Bowl is a key launch pad for Wendy’s campaigns.

 

Stranger Things 2

Another masterclass in marketing from Netflix, the trailer for season 2 of Stranger Things was a massive success, generating over 300,000 mentions on social in less than 5 hours. There was nothing particularly special about the trailer itself, but the timing, coupled with the runaway success of the original series, meant that the general public were pretty pumped at the prospect of more 80s styled strangeness.

The only issue? It's not arriving until Halloween 2017. 

 

Audi

A curious aspect of this year’s Super Bowl was the representation of women. Previous Super Bowls have been notorious for their tired portrayals (Teleflora, we’re looking are you) but things have been slowly changing for the better. Kat Gordon, founder of The 3% Conference, which champions creative female talent and leadership, noted (prior to this year’s event): “there isn't as much overt sexism in ads [but] women are still noticeably absent from most Super Bowl spots”. And truth be told women watch the game in almost equal numbers as men so advertisers stuck in their ways are missing out big time.

For 2017 Audi challenged this dynamic with their advert “Daughter”. Far from a conventional car ad, it contains a message of gender equality and claims to be the first Super Bowl ad directed by a woman. The ad itself features a girl competing in a cart race, while her proud father watches, on contemplating equal pay between genders. Very on point, given the recent Woman’s marches across the states but then the New York Post cynically contemplates Audi may “have may have planned for a Hillary Clinton presidency”. Since its airing the ad has proved controversial, with more people disliking it than liking it on YouTube. However, the fact is the ad has got people talking about a topic many other brands would shy away from.

 

The Bad

Michelob Ultra

This isn’t a fundamentally bad ad, but it’s just...confusing. The theme tune of Cheers twinkling in the background, whilst we see groups of people doing extremely intense workouts. Is it for workout clothes? Gym memberships? Encouraging the nation to drop the reputation for fast foods and get some exercise?

No, no, and no. The ad is for beer. That famous pre workout beverage, that would in no way hinder attempts to be a part of your very own Rocky montage.

The message is just plain confusing. Do they want you to drink it before a work out? During? Or is it being positioned as the ideal post-workout recovery drink, designed to really take the edge off all your aches and pains? Answers on a postcard. Please. We need to know if it's now not only accepted, but recommended to drink a nice cold beer after a tough workout.

 

Yellow Tail Wines

There hasn’t been a wine commercial during the Super Bowl for 40 years…and Yellow Tail Wines has probably killed them for another 40. The advert, which launched the Australian wine brand’s three-year US marketing campaign was pretty much dead on arrival. Drawing on more clichéd Oz stereotypes than an instalment of Crocodile Dundee it featured a Kangaroo, a mandatory BBQ (sadly no prawns) and a woman in bikini.

To top this cake of failure, some fairly weak double entendre: “wanna pet my roo?”. Back in Australia the advert was met with derision and cries of national “humiliation”. Turns out the advert was made by a US agency and directed by Dutch-Norwegian Harald Zwart – of 2010’s Karate Kid reboot and 2009’s Pink Panther 2. With this creative at the helm, what could have possibly gone wrong?

 

Conclusion

Nailing a Super Bowl ad can completely change a company's fortune. After all, you've got the attention of over 100m viewers, as well as all the coverage that follows from various articles. If a brand gets it wrong, it can be a different story entirely. While it's unlikely to ruin a business, it can damage the reputation, as well as putting a huge dent in profit margins, given the fact that it costs so much to advertise during the game.

This year saw some fantastic ads, and the ones that were most successful tended to have a lighter, more positive message, moving away from the 'sadvertising' of recent years. Could this be a sign of a world coming out of a slump, attempting to be kinder and more inclusive? Or could it just be an attempt to cling on to hope in more uncertain times? Time, as they say, will tell. While we wait, let's enjoy the fantastic levels of creativity on show, and embrace the fact that advertisers are pushing forward with the positive. 

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