Game of Love…or love of the Game?

February. The month when the world goes crazy over Valentine’s Day. Is love truly in the air? It’s Pavlovian association to the core. Kudos to marketers for creating an annual ritual now worth billions! Can you guess how much money consumers spend on this one day to express their love? A whopping $18.2 billion! I guess actions speak louder than words and nothing speaks of true love than a box of chocolate (about $9 billion worth of candy is sold this day) and for the truly initiated that token of love is an expensive item of jewelry (about $4.3 billion worth to be exact)! Hollywood does it’s bidding too to keep this illusion alive, thanks to a consistent stream of movies laced with romance released around Valentine’s day every year. This time we can thank Mr. Grey for taking things up a notch darker! But in the US it’s also the time for the big game! February is Super Bowl season. This is the second year for me to be experiencing the passion for the game, this time a bit up close and personal because the final was played in Houston, not too far from where I reside. I have never been a “football” fan but I must say this one felt like a movie script. Do I see a movie adaptation coming soon? Maybe! But it seemed Al Pacino gave his “Any Given Sunday” speech during the half time break when the world was enthralled by Lady Gaga’s crazy air antics! The turnaround was the biggest in the history of the Super Bowl. The last best ever turnaround was by 10 points and that too at least three times before. This was a turnaround of 25 points! Epic is the word! It felt like the movie Gladiator! Only live! But to be honest that’s not why I watch the game!

I being the mad man that I am, truly watch the Super Bowl for the ads! This time I was watching the ads as a regular joe as I got quite engrossed in the game. I can say that there is a lot more to Super Bowl ads than just the hype around it. The pace of the game has a direct impact on recall and attention. This is something I personally experienced. In the second half as the tide turned for the Patriots the breaks became a distraction and there was a feeling of being tuned out to the ads! One obvious learning – anyone putting all their eggs in the Super Bowl basket and expecting to get a game changing bang for their buck is truly wasting their money. In a distracted 24/7 second or third screen world the $5 million spot only makes sense if it is complemented by an integrated storytelling approach across media. Anything less is money wasted. From that perspective I believe some brands did really well! For me the highlight of Super Bowl LI was Wix. They did a bunch of things just right.  For one they started talking way before the game. From their extensive buys on social media to the multiple spots during the Super Bowl their media strategy was spot on (no pun intended).  Add to that their extreme dramatization of our disrupted world by none other than Jason Statham and Gal Gadot and you have a blockbuster campaign. I’m personally not a big believer in the use of celebrity. If not used well the only one gaining from these kind of investments is the celebrity itself. But this was one of two campaigns during the Super Bowl that I personally liked because of their use of celebrity. (On a side note I look forward to a Jason and Gal on-screen collaboration! It should be really something!)

Besides the integration of the product offering into the story the campaign was unfolded pre-game through teasers on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube leading up to the game day and then continued with a post-game sweepstakes. I’m not sure what was the exact business impact but considering they decided to invest in the Super Bowl for a third time and their 2016 campaign garnered over 360 million views online must account for something! Here is the full director’s cut for your viewing pleasure in case you haven’t already seen it!

My second favorite ad this year was for Skittles! The power of this one came from the brand’s iconic copy strategy built around the idea of desirability for the product. The fact that it is the #1 non-chocolate candy brand helps. Leveraging the hype of the biggest sporting event in the country only amplifies its long standing equity further if done right. To that end adam&eveDDB have indeed delivered a simple idea that focuses on the product while bringing out the tone and style that is true to the Skittles brand. They key learning – if you have a powerful tone and style then the right talent can leverage it time and time again to create magic and use the 30 seconds to connect with everything that the brand has ever stood for in the past. Have a look and you will see that the dots truly connect!

My third favorite ad was for another dot com business – Squarespace. Like Wix they too used celebrity to drive their message. But this one worked mainly because of the choice of celebrity. The integration of the celebrity with the core message is what makes this campaign so impactful. The creative would only have worked with John Malkovich. It built on his personality and used it to establish what Squarespace was all about. And it did so through a series of ads that weaved the story together as a campaign. The end impact being high recall and high engagement pre-game right up to the big day. The only criticism however is the absence of a core brand purpose. While it worked nicely as a one-off campaign there isn’t an enduring brand promise behind it. This can be a challenge over time. Go Daddy is another brand that has historically been investing in Super Bowl ads but their approach also lacks an enduring brand purpose. They had a consistent copy strategy of ‘saucy’ ads for a number of years but you don’t build a brand on sauciness alone. This time they tried something different. The net result being that Go Daddy feels like a fuzzy brand that doesn’t really stand for something. This is a challenge for Go Daddy and will be so for both Wix and Squarespace going forward, till they can figure out something enduring to build on. Nevertheless here are the two ads from the Squarespace campaign! Enjoy!

Wix and Squarespace stood out for me because they were integrated ideas. They effectively used media to weave a story before, during and after the game and aptly used the right celebrity that really connected with their core message thus driving both recall and relevance. I chose Skittles because I loved the creative idea, for it stayed true to it’s tone and style and invoked desirability for the product at the same time. Again ensuring recall, relevance and appeal. Beyond the above three I made it a point to review all the ads critically and found some interesting work but for some reason they didn’t have the same impact on me during the game. Although the ad meter results would beg to differ, I personally either missed the other ads or somehow was not engaged by them at least during the game from a recall and impact perspective. For example, the Melissa McCarthy ad for KIA was a funny one but neither did I recall the message behind the ad nor did I recall the brand behind the ad when I first saw it.  Overall it is a good execution – humorous with a popular celebrity and an iconic soundtrack but did it really build the brand? I don’t think so. You can see the ad here:

The other series I quite enjoyed post the game when I saw it altogether was Tide. It didn’t have the same impact on me during the game itself. But later I learnt that it too was an integrated campaign that began well before the Super Bowl and peaked on game day. I don’t have data on the effectiveness of the campaign but as an ad man looking purely at the creative storytelling I quite enjoyed it. Here are some of the ads from the series!

Last but not least, being a telecom enthusiast my attention tends to be biased towards this category. I quite liked the shocker from Sprint. Did it create an impact on the viewer? Time will tell but at least from a tactical perspective the message was loud and clear.  Similarly the other telecom ad I quite enjoyed was for T-mobile. They promoted their unlimited plan using the idea of Unlimited Moves. It was executed well using a celebrity and gelled nicely to the big game. The entire campaign strategy was a bit formulaic but interesting nevertheless. How did these campaigns impact the business? I don’t have the data yet but you can see both the ads below:

The other noteworthy campaign was for Avocados from Mexico. Although it had been teased before the game I didn’t come across it pre-game. The ad itself was humorous and plugged the brand rather shamelessly. I can’t say much about it from a brand strategy perspective but the creative certainly had a strong breakthrough value. Here it is!

That about wraps up my favorite Super Bowl ads from this year. There were indeed some more interesting examples which are worth checking out simply from an entertainment perspective if nothing else. But the above I liked because they engaged me personally as a viewer and some of them like Wix, Squarespace and Skittles made strategic sense to me as an ad man.

Until next year!

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