During any other normal year, the days following the Super Bowl would be a time when many of us circle the water cooler to talk about the most creative, amusing ads that were aired during the big game. The challenge, as we all know, is that this is not like any normal year. As a result, neither were this year’s ads. I cannot recall a Super Bowl where there wasn’t an Ad that didn’t immediately stand out in my mind. This year, I can honestly say there wasn’t. And maybe, just maybe, that was the point. It wasn’t about making the most noise, it was about being relevant.
While there was a fair share of Super Bowl LV ads focused on making us laugh, many of us are likely judging them based on tone and message instead of celebrity endorsement or outlandish special effects. In other words, which brands got it right amid a new normal, new consumer brand expectations and new consumer behaviors.
To add some perspective around the immense pressure of “getting it right”, Super Bowl LV ads were in production long before anyone had even heard about COVID, with ad purchases selling out in 51 minutes for a total of $435 million. But this year, advertisers had a lot of down time to ponder how the prevailing stay-at-home climate would affect their approach to advertise during the game.
According to MediaPost some potential, well known Super Bowl advertisers were on the sidelines this year, in part due to uncertainty over what messaging should be aired amid heightened intensity around political, pandemic, and economic related crises. Not to mention the COVID related challenges that can handcuff and limit production teams.
Awareness Shifts Away from Products and Services to Experiences and Inspiration
The national TV audience for Super Bowl LV fell 15% from the Big Game in 2020 leaving a smaller than usual live audience to view this year’s advertising placements. As for the actual ad content on Super Bowl Sunday, unity, thoughtfulness and inspiration appeared to be the main tenets for guiding messages this year as several brands tried to avoid tipping the scales among COVID conscious consumers, or risk creating a social media misstep with a message that might be interrupted as tone deaf.
Only 7.5% of the spots aired actually referenced COVID-19, according to an analysis of ads by CreativeX. Brands like DoorDash, Fiverr, Mercari and Triller, who have been succeeding during the pandemic by offering services that adapt to the new at-home and e-commerce boom, all made their first appearance on the biggest advertising stage of the year. Taking a sensitive, empathic, approach to brand awareness was a major theme for many of these brands during this years’ big game as value-centric ads focused on unity created by brands, either explicitly or implicitly with their creative choices.
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ran away with a big win against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV, the real winners were the brands that made the right decision and chose inspiration. DoorDash tapped into the need to support small business and gig workers, whereas brands like Indeed and Fiverr created both inspirational and tongue-in-cheek approaches to building awareness for job portals to help support the country’s workforce.
It is a telling shift as a landscape once dominated by well-known product-based brands looking to sell “fun” have now pivoted towards brand narratives that focus on services that help consumers adjust and cope with new lifestyles and an increasing demand for personalized experiences.
Winning Back Consumers in 2021
One thing we can take away from this year’s Super Bowl ads is that it gave a view into how advertisers will be shifting their brand presence and priorities in 2021. Beyond balancing their marketing message towards emotion and inspiration, however, advertisers will need to find ways to translate those campaigns into actual sales in the midst of new lifestyles. To be successful, they will need to find and segment core audiences as well as successfully engage with those audiences. And more importantly, they will need to continue building loyalty in order to keep them coming back and avoid losing them to competitors. As we continue to navigate 2021, understanding and not dictating customer behavior will help serve brand narratives and create additional value for awareness campaigns.
Marketers are facing a period of evolution, not only in tactics but in message and sentiment. This is being driven by the overall mindset of consumers, which will continue to evolve and the fight for loyalty will only get harder. Elements like local, resonance and convenience are starting to become mandatory features of any advertising. We may look back on this year’s Super Bowl spots as perhaps the Super Beta Test to see what really moves the needle. Yes, the Super Bowl will always stand as a great vehicle for the big, breakthrough kinds of creatives for a company. But as brands continue to take notice of new consumer trends and behaviors, perhaps we’ll start to learn that the key to Super Bowl victory is getting through to your audience, not standing out from the crowd.