Vox Pop: What next for Super Bowl advertising?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

As the biggest advertising event turned 50 this year, there have been murmurings about a shift in focus for advertisers. For the last 50 years, advertisers have focused on making fabulous, loud creative moments that will be remembered, now it is suggested that brands will be more concerned with justifying the cost of these creative moments. What can we expect from Super Bowl advertising in the next 50 years? The Drum Network members discuss what they believe is the future focus.

Jonathan Seal, strategy director, Mando Group

OK USA, we’ll forgive you for misappropriating the word 'football' on the basis that we still owe you a debt of gratitude for ‘Knight Rider’. However, don’t mess with our heads by suddenly changing everything we know about you and becoming ‘land of the frugal’.

If the last 50 years of Super Bowl advertising have taught us anything, it’s that bigger is better, and biggest is even better-er.

Of course the price of advertising has skyrocketed out of control… that’s what happens when you have one of the few remaining live media events people bother engaging with on a mass scale. The cost-conscious need not apply. Brands enter these bloodied waters with eyes open – either because they are goliaths fighting to defend or assert supremacy, or a nimble outsider seeking a shot at glory. It’s not a cost-benefit analysis, it’s a gratuitous display of wealth that speaks as much to competitors as it does to consumers.

If Super Bowl advertising were run by Brits then of course it may be a different story. We would expect the eye-watering expense of pushing into the narrow beam of starlight that surrounds the Super Bowl to prompt commercial rigour like nothing ever seen before. But we’re British. We’d probably produce dull Excel charts and give a detailed breakdown of why the ROI metrics stack up.

But you? You’re the people of ‘Super Bowl’ and ‘Super-Size’, not ‘commercial constraints’ and ‘advertising cost responsibility’. Since when did the land of unicorn investment start behaving rationally?

In fact, since when has any of this been about being rational? Campaigns at that rarefied level are go-for-broke attempts to catch something truly magical and ride the wave, and no amount of number-crunching and tipping-point analysis can remove the mystery from it. You get this because you have Hollywood and New York, while we don’t because we have Hollyoaks and Newcastle.

Will the cost of advertising during Super Bowl create a backlash, forcing brands to be more fiscally responsible and disciplined in how they use pre- and post- activity across channels to prove value? Possibly, although I suspect with so many creative agencies and brands itching to grab the attention and kudos a great campaign attracts – regardless of the subsequent return – then the human emotive drivers will outweigh any spreadsheet a CFO could rustle up.

Oh, and by the way USA, I’m waiting for the conclusion of the spoof presidential campaign you’ve been running. When’s that going to happen?

Warren Dell, planner, Gravity Thinking

The Super Bowl will still be an outlet where advertisers can guarantee reach, but questions will still be raised on the value of $5million ad buys when brands are showing they can make an impact in other ways. I’d expect to see more online only content like Newcastle Brown Ale ‘Ad Almost Made’ and Volvo ‘Interception’ have had success with in the past and Ritz did this year. While interestingly T-Mobile and Budweiser made separate content from their TV buys this year.

Those spending on TV are posting their ad much earlier online in the lead up and are losing the impact by the time the ad airs on TV. It’s time to make the TV buy work harder and play a part in a longer campaign given the lengthy build up and post Super Bowl conversation. If you have the budget then it’s still an attractive ad buy, but it shouldn’t be the only one. The playing field is much larger now and with more channels in the mix, I’d expect to see more content played out on digital and social, where the spends are easier to quantify and consumer reaction takes place.

Rick Lamb, head of digital operations, Latitude

Arguably the greatest threat to the strength of the Super Bowl, and NFL in general, as an advertising vehicle is the players themselves. Over the five years to the start of the season that ended on Sunday, no fewer than 260 players were arrested at a rate of one every week. Offences range from an array of drink and driving related incidents all the way to actual murder. The Minnesota Vikings lead the way, followed by newly-crowned champs the Denver Broncos. With the stars at the heart of the action making Premier League footballers look like Sunday School kids, there is a point at which advertisers might start to think twice. Still, at least they aren’t FIFA.

Craig Brown, account manager, NMP

I feel this shift only covers the next 5 years at most. It’s a good aim to integrate your TV and online but there will be further steps over the next 50 years. As programmatic buying on TV grows, it will become more sophisticated, we can see the likes of Google and Amazon transforming their current tech, to detect the devices in a room and serve TV ads based on the browsing and buying habits on that device. This could even go one step further, as storytelling advertising becomes even more prevalent with it detecting which part of the story they have seen or watched and showing the next step in the series. What the future beyond that holds is anybody’s guess! In 50 years will there be the tech to know what you’re thinking about at that particular time and then show you an ad based on it? Who knows, it could be a scary 50 years for us all.

Ross Taylor, account manager, Cult Ldn

Super Bowl ads... are they still a thing? Surely an ad created months in advance cannot compete with the instantaneous meme-generator that is the Super Bowl. Some of the biggest stories in recent years have been Oreo's masterstroke of reactive content or Katy Perry's infamous Left Shark. Second screening audiences want to see true creativity at play - the brands they follow engaging with the game they love.

We have seen brands increasingly optimise their ads for the digital landscape, with teaser campaigns, gif-able content and an eye on hashtags - #puppymonkeybaby was obviously this year's winner. Indeed, as the NFL looks to to secure franchises overseas (are you ready Wembley?), a marketing model built on the US TV cable audience is sure to be as insignificant as Coldplay was in this year's halftime show. And with fees for ad spots reaching $5m this year, brands may one day decide to invest in disruptive, reactive digital content that drives shares in users' newsfeeds. Indeed, one day we'll all be so engrossed in the Superbowl on our virtual reality headsets there'll be no need for TV ads at all.

In the meantime, the Super Bowl ad will grow and develop to seamlessly sync with digital. If not, it may risk ridicule as the Left Shark of the event.

Richard Dunmall, CRO, Media iQ

The Superbowl remains a major marketing 'event' opportunity for brands, not just in the US but globally too. Clearly the major evolution has been one of singular but impactful TV spots which tell great stories, to a much more immersive, complex and socially supported engagement platform that peaks around The Game itself.

As a result of the depth of insight and analytics agencies can now provide we see much more sophisticated targeting. This utlilizes both significant micro data (what consumers are searching for, where they've been etc.) and macro filters (social sentiment about the teams, offline activity, venue, location, weather etc.) which in turn improves brand engagement. For example, brands can now target consumers with ads on mobile devices during opportune game moments, or send out ads dependent on a consumer’s location. As a result, you now have a powerful combination of signature storytelling and specific targeting to the consumer.

Simon Long, creative director, Intermarketing

Now that the dust has settled, alongside the ticker tape, on Super Bowl 50 the talk is not only about what happened on the field but also during the breaks in play. The Super Bowl commercials were as eagerly awaited for some as the football itself with some slots for this year’s game having been sold at $4.5 million for a 30 second slot. An impactful ad might have been very effective in that moment, generating talk value, but it’s no longer enough to cut through the noise.

The game is won and lost on tactics. This applies to brands as well. With the growing influence of social media and real-time interactions, the ability to share content online, brands that amplify their advertising beyond the big event have the power to reach a huge audience that goes way beyond the game itself. Take Oreo’s successful ‘dunk in the dark’ moment back in 2013, still living on due to its fast-paced reaction to the Super Bowl blackout. Being topical is key to making an impact, especially during an event like the Super Bowl where everyone is jumping on the news hook.

The brands that won this year’s social media Super Bowl were the ones who made the perfect buddies to watch the big game with. They provided clever, real-time banter on the action and shared some of the laughs when the unexpected happened. Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, for example, were the model for responsive posting by trolling Budweiser with a pic of Seth Rogen cracking open a PBR during his edgier, non-corporate days, then burning Coldplay’s half-time show with the perfect snarky commentary for an old man/hipster/ironic beer brand.

The road to the Super Bowl 51 will start again soon. The brands who start thinking smarter now will be heading for victory. The key is outwitting the competition, not outspending them. It will allow brands Super Bowl like exposure without paying Super Bowl prices in 2016 and beyond.

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