Business

Super Bowl Commercials: Advertisers' Biggest Stage

Posted February 4, 2018 10:44 p.m. EST

In an era of cord-cutting and ad-skipping, the Super Bowl is a sweet salve for the nation’s marketers. There is no bigger stage for advertisers — last year’s game drew more than 111 million viewers — and that is why they are willing to shell out millions of dollars to be on it for 30 seconds.

Last year, commercials with social and political messages stole the show, but in the first half, this year’s crop of advertisers aimed more for laughs.

Last year, brands like Airbnb and 84 Lumber ran spots that were viewed as responses to President Donald Trump’s remarks on immigration and Audi broadcast a commercial advocating equal pay for women.

Susan Credle, the global chief creative officer at the agency FCB, said before the game that this year’s advertisers may be “concerned about looking opportunistic versus supportive.” And humor, she noted, was particularly appealing given the social and political climate.

“Sometimes when the world is troubled or America is feeling a little — well, I wouldn’t say it was an up 2017 for everybody — I think there is a tendency to want to balance out the energy,” Credle said. “Lightheartedness and a little fun and joy is probably a good antidote to the reality that we’re sitting in.”

Of course, they’re paying the same high-ticket prices: The average cost of a 30-second ad in the Super Bowl is more than $5 million this year, according to ad buyers, roughly in line with last year. And that does not count all the expenses tied to making and promoting an ad, like the star power. Cindy Crawford, Peter Dinklage and Danny DeVito were among the famous faces who made commercial appearances this year.

Wendy Clark, the chief executive of DDB North America and a former marketing executive at Coca-Cola, said she was underwhelmed by the ads in the game’s opening quarter. “At the end of the day, a Super Bowl ad is about epic, over-the-top production value,” and the first quarter “was a little quiet in the end.”

Still, Clark was a fan of the Tide ad and the Doritos-Mountain Dew featuring Dinklage and Morgan Freeman lip-syncing to the hip-hop artists Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes.

“The complete flip to Morgan Freeman, it’s just so good,” she said. “There’s a surprise aspect there and it’s really enjoyable watching those two characters rap — the complete 180 is fantastic.”

She added, “Functionally, you’re also thinking, ‘Oh my God, I would eat those together.'”

The PepsiCo brands cast Dinklage to represent fire, for a new spicy Doritos flavor, while Morgan plays ice for a new kind of Mountain Dew.

Greg Lyons, the chief marketing officer of PepsiCo’s North American beverage unit, said the casting was not a reference to Dinklage’s “Game of Thrones” character, who advises a queen who owns dragons. The actor, he said, is “fiery on his own.”

Lyons said, “He was in ‘Elf’ — he was pretty fiery in that as well.”

Tide drew the laughs heading into the second quarter with a meta commercial starring David Harbour (“Stranger Things”) that showed a slew of setups for other ads, before interrupting itself with, “No, it’s a Tide ad.”

“I want to see how they bring it to life and on social,” Clark said. “I assume they’re going to comment on every single ad now from their handle.”

Use of Martin Luther King Jr. speech is criticized

The online blowback was swift for Dodge Ram when the carmaker used a speech given by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the voice-over for one of its ads.

The general sentiment: Did the car brand really just use King’s words to sell trucks?

“MLK wanted equal rights and for me to buy a Dodge Ram,” one Twitter user wrote. Another wrote: “Black people cant kneel and play football but MLK should be used to sell trucks during the super bowl. Unbelievable.”

That’s not a movie. It’s an ad.

The Super Bowl regularly draws elaborate schemes from advertisers, and this year is no exception. Tourism Australia — the Australian government agency responsible for attracting international visitors to the country — decided last April that it would buy a Super Bowl spot as part of a broader campaign geared toward drawing more visitors from North America.

The form it took: a big movie campaign for “Dundee,” a sequel to the movie “Crocodile Dundee,” starring the actors Danny McBride and Chris Hemsworth.

The catch: “Dundee” isn’t actually being made, despite the entertaining trailers that have been released for the film, its movie website and IMDB page, and a cast introduction video that includes appearances from a host of famous Australians, including Hugh Jackman, Margot Robbie, Isla Fisher and Russell Crowe.

“We did a scan around things like the Grammys and the Academy Awards and other sporting events like the NBA Finals and the World Series, but the event that really stops this country is the Super Bowl,” said John O’Sullivan, the managing director of Tourism Australia. “It’s such a spectacle, right? If you look at it from a foreigner’s point of view, it’s this massive event which I think surpasses things like the Grand Slams in tennis and the Champions League final.” Half a billion dollars in commercial time

While it has never been easier for advertisers to reach vast numbers of people around the world, thanks to the internet, the lure of the Super Bowl is the one huge audience it provides. Advertisers spent a combined $534 million on ads before, during and after the game last year, according to the research firm Kantar. The company said that the roughly $5 million a 30-second commercial cost last year compared to $2.5 million for 30 seconds in the NFC championship game and $1.9 million for the same time in the Academy Awards.

“It’s a finite amount of inventory,” Gibbs Haljun, managing director of media investment at GroupM, the media buying arm of WPP. “There’s only one game, it’s only on once a year, the ratings are relatively stable and it is what it is.”

Still, it appeared that NBC was selling at least some spots down to the wire, as illustrated by a last-minute buy from Wix.com that the company announced on Friday. In January, Wix.com was promoting its decision to sit out of this year’s game and arranging press interviews with its chief marketing officer about alternative plans for the money.

NBC said in an email late Friday that it had sold all of its ads for the game.

The network, which is owned by Comcast, has had the dual challenge this year of selling ads for both the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics, which will begin Friday.

“I can’t remember the last time that occurred,” Haljun said, “so this is kind of an odd challenge for them and continues to make the negotiations a little more interesting and robust.”