Super Bowl 2018: did you catch the game-within-the-game?

7 February 2018

Super Bowl 2018: did you catch the game-within-the-game?

Image credit: Cable News Network (CNN International)

Super Bowl 2018 has just finished and for many of us it is time to pore over the results and strategies, and think about who the winners and losers were and why. If you thought that this article would evaluate the big game between the Eagles and the Patriots, you were wrong. The game-within-the-game is the advertising extravaganza that often gets nearly as much attention as the event itself.

Advertisers line up to spend $5 million for a 30-second slot. Many advertisers produce up to 90 seconds of ad time and, when you then factor in the big budgets spent to produce the ads themselves, there are billions of dollars being spent on reaching a massive American and global audience. Some advertisers, such as Chrysler in 2011, spend over $12 million making a Super Bowl ad.

The ads are uploaded to YouTube and shared on social media networks. This is one of the only times that we do not want to skip the ad but instead go looking for it. Therein lies the appeal to advertisers who sometimes spend most of their yearly budgets on Super Bowl ads, betting on making a big enough impact to sustain them for the year ahead.

Although there were some great ads made by Amazon, Doritos, Toyota, E-Trade, Rocket Mortgage, Tide detergent and even our own Tourism Australia, advertisers are divided when it comes to the best way to make an impact on Super Bowl night. On a night when consumers are inundated with sales pitches, how does a brand stand out and rise above the pack?

One way is through humour. The best ad out of the 64 that were shown on Super Bowl night was by Amazon for its digital assistant Alexa. Amazon asked viewers to imagine a world where Alexa loses her voice and when we muse out loud to our all-knowing home device a different voice would respond.

Amazon’s stand-ins include Gordon Ramsay abusing a guy who asked how to make a grilled cheese sandwich; hip hop superstar Cardi B refusing to play country music when requested and instead singing her hit song “Bodak Yellow”; Rebel Wilson comically setting a dirty mood when dinner guests just want some ambience; and Anthony Hopkins resurrecting his creepy Hannibal Lecter character and taunting a woman who asks him to call “Brandon”. It was left to Alexa to return and save the day. This was creativity at its best and has been voted on USA Today’s “Ad Meter” as the most popular ad.

The NFL branded itself beautifully with a humorous touchdown celebration featuring Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr re-enacting the iconic “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” scene from Dirty Dancing.

An honourable mention goes to Tide detergent’s ad, which parodied a number of iconic car ads, the infamous Old Spice ad and the Budweiser “horse” ad by inserting their detergent and rewriting history. This technique of intertextuality relies on us viewers remembering the old commercials and laughing at Tide’s gratuitous sales pitch inserted in the ads.

Many advertisers used the strategy of branding themselves as generous, socially-responsible corporate citizens that give back to the community. This is an interesting strategy as it does not use the usual call-to-action approach but instead encourages consumers to consider buying from an ethical company. In an age of consumer scepticism this is a dangerous ploy, but when it works it pays big dividends.

US telco Verizon showed us how it helped the brave 911 emergency responders with a great phone network. Budweiser showed us that it selflessly gives back to the community when disasters hit by providing free canned water rather than the beers for which it is known.

Toyota provided a beautiful ad showing eight-time Paralympic gold medalist Lauren Woolstencroft rising above impossible odds to show us that anything is possible if you have courage. It is risky for Toyota to do an ad without even one product shot, but in this case it was smart because Toyota aligned itself with inspiration and determination — Toyota hopes we will remember its noble values when we make our next car purchase.

E-Trade sent a powerful message in its ad about elderly people who can’t retire — the 85 year old DJ Nana raised more than a few smiles. Rocket Mortgage blended humour with music, featuring actor Keegan Michael Key deciphering jargon and cameo from Hip Hop artist Big Sean.

The wonderfully charming actress Tiffany Haddish was a one-woman show, telling us why we need Groupon in 30 seconds. Could Groupon have spent bigger on production values? Absolutely — but Haddish managed to do well for Groupon. Again, it was smart to use her as a brand ambassador after she waxed lyrical about the brand to Jimmy Kimmel, telling him about how she took Will Smith and Jada Pinkett on a Groupon swamp tour.

Doritos Blaze and Mountain Dew Ice very cleverly referenced pop culture icons by using Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman. Dinklage rapped some Busta Rhymes while he chewed on Doritos and Freeman, looking as cool as ever, slammed down a Mountain Dew in response and started miming to Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On”. The brands fall under the umbrella of Pepsi Co, so it was smart to combine logical brand partners — Doritos chips for your snack and Mountain Dew to wash it down.

Finally, a special mention goes to Tourism Australia. It spent big on the mock trailer for Crocodile Dundee, playing on the American fascination with down under, wrestling crocs, and throwing another shrimp on the barbie.

Danny McBride is enlisted as Crocodile Dundee’s long-lost son. His buffoonery is amusing to fellow star Chris Hemsworth. Hemsworth doesn’t tell him that this is really an ad for Tourism Australia. The ad pokes fun at McBride’s embarrassing attempts to copy Paul Hogan, who himself makes a brief cameo. The ad unfortunately falls short in terms of showcasing the wonderful country of Australia, however.

Will it make Americans and others jump on a Qantas plane and head down under? I’m not sure. Tourism Australia has bet big though, spending $15 million on a two year campaign. Lets hope next Super Bowl there is more profiling of the country itself — that should be enough to get people on a plane. As I always say, good advertising is a call to action.

My top three goes to Amazon, Toyota and Rocket Mortgage. The worst ad was undeniably Diet Coke’s “Groove”. It will blow your mind to see how $5 million can be wasted. It was voted the worst ad on Ad Meter.

Be sure to catch all the Super Bowl ads on YouTube.