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What's so great about the Super Bowl for brands? A Q&A with Matt Ian, executive creative director of TBWA\Chiat\Day NY

It's nearly time for this year's Super Bowl - but why is it such a big deal to brands with the cost of buying advertising space alone during the game costing more than a millionaire's luxury holiday home, reaching a record $4.5m each, according to Fox - Matt Ian, executive creative director of TBWA\Chiat\Day NY answers some questions of his views as to why the event continues to be such a major draw to marketers.

What is it about the Super Bowl that so entices brands – is it solely the audience figures?

113 million viewers, give or take, is, of course, exciting. How can it not be? But the Super Bowl is also the only time of year where people are actively searching for advertising as entertainment. And because of all the pre-releasing, teasers and interactive components that started happening a few years ago, the Super Bowl is bigger than just game day now. As soon as the playoffs are over, we shift into active-participant mode and begin seeking out all this extra content. That doesn't really happen at any other time of year. The whole "festival" has gotten so big now that you don't even need an ad to run on the Super Bowl to have a successful Super Bowl ad.

Why do brands find so much creative freedom when it comes to advertising around the event?

The creative freedom is absolutely born of necessity. Every brand is trying to stand out on the biggest stage in advertising, and you can only do that with creativity. But as important as creativity is at the event, we also see a lot of conventions, don't we? It's not even just an industry joke anymore that puppies, babies, gratuitous use of celebrities and slapstick, groin-shot humor are really all you need to break through at loud Super Bowl parties where beer is flowing. But every year, something like Dodge's "God Made a Farmer" comes along and challenges that convention. I think that's the real creativity: the courage to try something that doesn't look like a "Super Bowl spot." That's the stuff that actually ends up breaking through.

The adverts themselves have become as big a draw as the game in many ways. Why do you think that is?

It'd be very hard to argue that the Super Bowl's enormity is due exclusively to the game itself. Yes, it is the biggest game of the biggest sport in America. But it's the commercials that have catapulted the Super Bowl into the phenomenon it is. How many times have we heard people say, "I just watch it for the ads"? I've been at parties where most people would rather socialize than watch the game but then turn around and frantically shush the crowd as soon as the program to commercial. These are the same people who got DVRs in order to skip the commercials on TV. The NFL owes as much to advertising as advertising owes to the NFL.

A recent study from research firm Communicus suggested that 80 per cent of Super Bowl ads do not compel purchases, compared to 60 per cent for the average commercial. When it comes to the Super Bowl, do you think there is an element of some brands simply wanting to make a statement by featuring in it?

I could be wrong, but I don't think any brand goes into the Super Bowl wondering how to get someone to jump off the couch and make a purchase. The Super Bowl is a venue for brands to make their marks. What baffles me is when brands forget themselves in order to make that mark. What's the point of forgoing your brand in order to stand out? So you get Carmen Electra and the Blue Angels? What does that do for you if you're just going to turn around and air running footage spots on Monday? You've spent all this money and you've left people with nothing but a fleeting water cooler anecdote. If you're not going to drive a purchase with your Super Bowl ad and you're not going to make any lasting brand impression, than you can only be in it for vanity. And that's a ridiculously expensive vanity play. But some brands have the dough to spare, I guess.

Where do you think the value lies in Super Bowl advertising?

I think the Super Bowl is a powerful place to make huge brand statements: to put a stake in the ground about who you are and what you stand for that you can then sustain and build on for the rest of the year. The problem is, few brands actually treat the Super Bowl as such an opportunity. Clients and their agency partners have to have had the discipline to previously establish their brands' missions and goals internally in order to see the whole ecosystem and how their Super Bowl effort fits within that brand ecosystem vs panicking in December about what's funnier: a talking cat or John Stamos getting hit in the nuts with a honeydew melon.

Coming from a CD perspective, how different is it to shooting a regular commercial. Is there any added pressure?

We should always strive for the best, most entertaining and engaging advertising we can possibly put out there every day of the year. But perhaps it's a bit idealistic to say the Super bowl should be no different than any other day. The reality is, whenever this much money is in play, we're going to treat the effort differently. There'll be more eyes on a project. CEOs will get actively involved in frame-shaving with editors. There are just certain, unique expectations and unprecedented pressures that go with the Super Bowl. And I think that's why we don't see more compelling work than we do. Those expectations and that pressure gets to anyone involved. Which is everyone. And whenever you have that many panicked, exhausted people involved in the creative process, you're going to see widespread second-guessing and creative constipation. The trick is to breathe and not forget what we know about our business: size doesn't matter, ideas do. The best ads are often not the biggest. Google did an ad with type in a search bar that I still remember in a year populated with forgettable theatrics that I'm sure were infinitely agonized over. My partner, Michael Kadin, used to tell our creatives on Volkswagen, "Don't do a Super Bowl spot. Do a spot good enough to run on The Super Bowl." I think that's the best Super Bowl advice I've ever heard.

Check out the rest of The Drum's Super Bowl coverage, including opinions, stats and this year's ads in the dedicated section.