Super Bowl LIV: A Food & Beverage Ad Review

A few hours before kick-off, I stood in line at our neighborhood grocery holding a can of sliced olives. Because nachos.

I waited behind a guy checking out Hot Pockets and White Claws.

And that’s pretty representative of the food and beverage priorities around Super Bowl, an annual consumption fest where Americans put away somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.4 billion chicken wings … and god knows how many gallons of Pepto.

Despite the myriad changes ushered in by the global pandemic, most conventions of Super Bowl commercials held steady: the endless parade of celebrities, a jukebox worth of music licensing, and a general sense that “they just weren’t as good this year.” Certain things endure.

Anyway, here are my three favorite food and beverage spots, along with some thoughts about what stood out during this year’s broadcast.

  1. M&M’s proved the old Lombardi adage that fundamentals win championships. A simple spot, a simple premise, and a nice string of fresh, note-perfect human gags. Dan Levy felt like a bit of an afterthought but he’s certainly a welcome addition. Though BBDO has made this type of commercial comedy look effortless for years, it is decidedly not easy to do. Well played.
  2. Chipotle asked if a burrito can change the world. Despite the company’s own checkered past with supply chain issues, this spot offered an engaging, refreshingly approachable focus on how, not what, they make and their efforts to reduce negative environmental impact. This strategy provides an increasingly important avenue for modern manufacturers to stake out meaningful differentiation for their food brands.
  3. Oatly sang their own praises. Literally. An old joke asks “how can you tell if someone’s a vegan? You don’t have to, they will.” And in a compellingly offbeat :30, their CEO did just that, singing a song he wrote himself that featured the lyric “Wow … no cow.” Was it weird? Yep. Did it cut through the over produced clutter like a hot knife through butter? Yep. This counter-programming move might have been the smartest investment of the night. Interestingly, this spot first aired in Sweden in 2014, earning a lawsuit from the Swedish dairy lobby that resulted in a broadcast ban.

A few other things worth noting …

Budweiser won the PR game. Again. The brand earned a lot of press for their decision not to air an ad during the game for the first time since 1983. Technically, that was true but parent company AB InBev was all over the broadcast and Bud made a featured appearance in their well-toned “Let’s Grab a Beer” spot toward the close of the game. That messaging felt like a more realistic approach to the same ground Jeep strove to cover with their far more overreaching effort.

Techbros Door Dash and Uber Eats want you to know they are the good guys. In a stunning piece of synchronous strategizing, both home delivery players went to great expense to show just how committed they are to supporting the local restaurants that their services charge 30% premiums for delivering. Whether a charming, modern take on the Sesame Street classic “People in Your Neighborhood” or a surprisingly witty revisit to perennial basement rockers Wayne and Garth along with a very game Cardi B, both services focused on the way they are there to support neighborhood independents. If only…

Branding fruit seltzers with beer names makes a hot mess. So Don Cheadle, yours was a pretty clever spot but does that organic seltzer taste like lime or Michelob Ultra? And do all those lemons mean the Bud Light Seltzer tastes like some sort of summer shandy? Yes, I’m old school but I’m a big fan of beer flavored beers and seltzer flavored seltzers.

Brad Garrett is a gamer. In recent years, the more I learned about Jimmy Johns, the less I liked the brand. So when their debut ad featured “Tony Bolognavich” in a big sandwich war spot, I went online to see the rest of the story solely due to a sense of marketing writing duty. That said, I was pleasantly surprised. The longer piece is good. Really, really good. It’s lovingly art directed, genuinely funny and pretty smart as it uses the gags to stake out some meaningful product differentiation for the brand. And Brad Garrett was inspired casting.

Overall, few brands took real chances, but it was not a terrible showing. It’s rarely as bad as the Monday morning media quarterbacks will claim it was, and nowhere near as bad as things were for Patrick Mahomes. No one threw better incomplete passes. Bummer.

Superbowl Commercials, Viewer Disappointment, and the Widening Gulf Between Broadcast and Narrowcast

We stand smack in the thick of big-event live television viewing season; first the Golden Globes  and the NFL Championship games three weeks ago, then the Grammy’s last week, the Super Bowl yesterday and this Friday, the Winter Olympics start. The unique thing about all of these events is that people watch them live–they are widely considered DVR proof.Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

Huge, engaged viewing audiences? That is great news for advertisers. But judging by last night’s commercials, creating spots for big, broadcast audiences really trips up advertisers and agencies.

Make no mistake–as thrilling as it is to know your work will be seen by hundreds of millions of people, the downside is all those eyeballs and all that money create outsized pressure. And so you get tripe like the annual slapstick of the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl crowdsourcing… The universally acceptable ‘salute the troops’ platitudes… And puppies–lots and lots of puppies.

The hard reality is that communication has evolved since Apple’s “1984” ushered in the modern era of Super Bowl commercial spectacle. We tweet and post and text while we watch, breaking down a massive single audience into a collective of nearly infinite subgroups, each with their own values and language and points of view. Freed from the dominance of three networks and a primetime schedule, our daily media consumption happens in the narrowcasts we choose: the news with the political spin we favor, the blogs that speak to our personal interests, the entertainment feeds that match our senses of humor. Oh and whatever we deem worth collecting on our DVR’s.

Given this context, the challenge of sweeping up a massively diverse audience with a single, surprising idea is extremely daunting. And increasingly unlikely.

If you are too subtle, like Chevy’s incredibly quiet ‘World Cancer Day’ spot was, people don’t even notice.

If you come too late in a bad game, like Budweiser’s “Puppy Love” did in fourth quarter garbage time, you get ignored (of course, thanks to pre-release, it had already earned over 36 million views before kickoff).

And if you, like an embarrassing handful of advertisers, decide to promote a ‘banned’ version of your work online, you’re condemned to failure; in a platform as awash with readily available pornography as the internet, the idea of seeking out ‘racy’ ad content is more than a little dopey.

The state of modern communication demands re-thinking beyond “spend big and pray.” At the very least, it requires a remarkable idea (Radio Shack outing itself, T-Mobile with a truly groundbreaking offer, the post-game ad for esurance with its big giveaway and hashtag activation).

Either that or advertisers have to enlist the single creative resource that has consistently delivered wildly-popular, broad appeal creative…

Pixar. Those people are crazy good at broad populism.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Unruly Labs, The Science of Sharing and the Crucial Need for Crowd Pleasing Emotion

Advertising creatives love the new. We love irony, offbeat humor and unexpected tones in our entertainment choices. Unfortunately, that can be the exact opposite of what it takes to make the work we create shared across the internet.

A couple of weeks ago, the statistic eggheads at Unruly Labs released a white paper regarding shareability of online video. It can be tough sledding plowing through twenty pages peppered with all sorts of charts and statements like “The psychological response of hilarity can be incredibly effective when done well or combined with another trigger“, but their findings about the viral response to last year’s Super Bowl commercials are well worth reviewing and, well, sharing.

Five of their most interesting points?

  1. You have to commit. If your work doesn’t make viewers feel strongly or give them reasons to share, nothing will happen. Ads simply must trigger a powerful emotional response like Surprise, Warmth, Happiness or Pride if they aim to be shared. If you’re middle of the road you’ll get stuck in traffic.
  2. Viral sharing maxes quickly. The peak happens two to three days after a video launches, so creating critical mass quickly is key. To get trends started, you have to reach the right audience fast, which would encourage front-loading your media.
  3.  Hit them on Hump Day. Launching content on a Wednesday takes advantage of the maximum sharing days at the end of the work week when 48% of weekly shares happen. Sharing really drops on weekends.
  4. Choose your audience and speak directly to them. The trailer for  Fast and Furious 6 might not have resonated with everybody, but young guys loved it and passed it around. A lot.
  5. People need a reason to share. Unruly calls these social motivations and lists things like “Shared Passion”, “Social Utility” and “Reaction Seeking.” The same things that drive conversation in real life power community sharing on line.

Shareworthy content matters more than ever today. Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising Survey from last year shows consumer trust in traditional advertising has dropped 23% since 2009. It also showed that 95% of consumers trust recommendations from peers. So getting content into the hands of people who will share it, and thus advocate it, is critical.

By the way, the spot that won the shareability battle on the Superbowl? Budweiser’s “Brotherhood”–a slow moving, emotional Clydesdale-centered tale of separation and reunion. And nary a “psychological response of hilarity” in sight.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Something to Depress You, Then Something To Lift You Back Up

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonWe are heading into the weekend after all, so a downer note seems irresponsible. Yet there’s no good way to spin this news, aside from the ever entertainable possibility that GoDaddy is lying. Given their marketing stance these past few years, they can’t be considered above that.

The horrible news is, their shock value spot from the Super Bowl with the nauseating sound actually worked. According to their flacks, GoDaddy posted more new customers and new sales on post-Super Bowl Monday than they have in history.  Hosting sales jumped 45 percent, domains 40 percent, and new mobile customers rose by 35 percent.

Dammit, that’s depressing. If there were justice in the way Super Bowl ads performed, that little Clydesdale foal would send Bud sales surging alongside Ram Trucks and that new thirty thousand dollar Mercedes, while Bud’s new Black Crown would disappear faster than it inevitably will on its own. It’s horrible to see society reward stupidity, vapidity and worse. But it happens. Advertising works. Even badvertising does.

On a far, far happier note, click on this link. And be reminded of humanity’s ever-renewing reason for optimism. A baby laughing at her popcorn-eating dog with this much husky throated joy is transformative. I expect somebody to rip it off by next year’s broadcast.

Happy Baby, Happy Friday, Happy Weekend.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Without Commercials, The Super Bowl Isn’t

A group of us flew down here to New Zealand for a large commercial shoot.  The weather’s nice, the country’s beautiful and the production team is very buttoned up.  Which is why we had the afternoon of Super Bowl Monday free to catch the Big Game™ at a local pub (Four Nations, Auckland, NZ).  Watching the game on a sunny afternoon certainly changed the experience but not half as much as watching it on an ESPN Live feed where the network fills the commercial breaks exclusively with ESPN promos.

That’s right: no Budweiser ads.  No Dockers, no Snickers, no Coke–just promos for rugby and soccer matches.  When the commercials came on, the crowd just headed for the rest rooms or the bar for another pint of Kilkenny’s (lovely stuff, that).

Without commercials, the Super Bowl is decidedly less Super.  It’s not nearly as engaging.  When it ended, people talked about the game for a while before quickly moving on.  There were no debates about which spot was best, what was a dumb investment, and who got hosed by unfortunate placement.  I’ll probably catch up later by watching them online but it’s not nearly the same as hearing a crowded bar erupt at a good joke or loudly pan a weak execution.

DVR technology allows people to skip past commercials and data shows many do–but they frequently rewind if they see something interesting.  And the Super Bowl majors in commercials that at least attempt to be something interesting.  Just this past Friday, a page one poll on USA Today claimed that 51% of viewers enjoy the commercials most about watching the Super Bowl on TV.  I’d have to agree.

Chalk a big W in the score column for traditional media.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

PS:  Do yourself a favor and read Ross Buchanan’s comment to this post.  Frankly, I wish I’d written it.