The night they reinvented movie marketing: Super Bowl LII

By Dan Heale, executive vice president and chief strategy officer

Way To Blue


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February 6, 2018 | 6 min read

Of all the places in the world to be, on the night that Netflix reinvented movie marketing, I’m glad that I’m in Hollywood. It’s my third Super Bowl as an Englishman in LA and #SBLII did not disappoint.

Chris O'Dowd in a scene from the movie The Cloverfied Paradox.

Chris O'Dowd in a scene from The Cloverfield Paradox.

Super Bowl LII provides the biggest stage in the world for advertisers, Justin Timberlake and guys who are good at (American) football. It is a massive televisual event, where 30-second ads cost $5.2M – that’s three times as much as they do during the Oscars – and this year’s TV host NBC is expected to bank over $500M from commercials that ran during its coverage of the big game between Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots.

Last year I wrote about Super Bowl ads drawing cues from the very present political issues around immigration, gender inequality and intolerance. This year overall, the ads seemed more humorous in tone. In a Super Bowl where major brands opt for epic and earnest, it was good to see some really entertaining, original and memorable creative work during the ad breaks.

The ads that really stood out for me this year were the ones that really leaned into Millennial trends – from lip-syncing, to supporting important social causes, to turning things on their head and delivering the unexpected, to the use of sepia tones borrowed from Instagram and plentiful themes of nostalgia. My favourites included:

  • Pringles for mixing it up with their first ever Super Bowl ad, encouraging stacking with different flavours.
  • A clever move by Pepsi-Co brands Doritos and Mountain Dew, coming together in one ad featuring a lip-synch battle between Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman (channelling Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliot respectively).
  • Tide (or Daz in my native UK) for hilariously parodying all the traditional conventions of Super Bowl ads.
  • Beer brands Budweiser and Stella Artois for highlighting and supporting the need for clean drinking water in the developing world and places suffering environmental crises.
  • Kia for making Steven Tyler young again. So convincing!
  • And Netflix dropping the ultimate Super Bowl surprise and a very strategic, anti-marketing move with their Cloverfield Paradox premiere. But more on that in a moment.

In previous years the Entertainment category has been dominated by the major film Studios, but now includes a lot more content debuts from streaming services and TV providers.

HBO premiered a stylish but unrevealing trailer for Season 2 of Westworld; NBC premiered an exciting new musical drama called Rise, which feels like a more up-to-date Glee, via The Greatest Showman and Hamilton; Hulu teased Stephen King and JJ Abrams produced Castle Rock and Amazon bought their first ever Super Bowl spot to promote thew new TV series of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.

Drop the mic

But the biggest surprise of the night and the game changing moment I alluded to earlier came from Netflix – dropping a promo for The Cloverfield Paradox, confirming for the first time that the movie has indeed moved from Paramount to Netflix and in an industry re-defining moment, announcing that the film would be available for streaming immediately after the game. Mic. Dropped.

The reason this is such a huge big deal is that in the world before today, the post-Super Bowl slot on traditional TV (this year given to the excellent This Is Us) is normally one of the highest rated, because of the audience it inherits from the Super Bowl. Well this year many people – including myself – went straight to Netflix and streamed The Cloverfield Paradox instead. Then of course there is the unprecedented move of a major franchise releasing a new feature film, straight to Netflix without any prior formal marketing support. This is a bold, exciting, unprecedented move and is undoubtedly a sign of things to come.

20th Century Fox took a genius on-brand approach for Deadpool 2 and instead of buying a $5.2M TV spot, @DeadpoolMovie broadcast a live running commentary on Twitter. The more traditional approach of film trailer debuts this year included Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Skyscraper from Universal; Mission: Impossible – Fallout and A Quiet Place from Paramount; Red Sparrow from 20th Century Fox; Black Panther and Avengers Infinity War from Disney / Marvel and the big fan-pleasing surprise of 30 seconds from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Tonight, on televisions, tablets, games consoles and smartphones across America it was Netflix who took the ultimate advantage of the power of immediacy and ripped up the movie marketing rule book. We will be publishing some further data and analysis specifically on the Film, TV and Entertainment spots featured in #SBLII, but for now it’s good night from LA and the 52nd Super Bowl.

PS. Score was 41-33 to the Philadelphia Eagles if you’re interested in more than trailers, ads and Justin Timberlake.

superbowl 52 infographic

Dan Heale is executive vice-president and chief strategy officer at Way To Blue


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Way To Blue

We are Way To Blue, an award-winning global integrated communications agency working with consumer, lifestyle and entertainment brands.

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