Ostrow: Remember the spot…? Super Bowl advertising then and now

February 01, 2015

Denver Post

Feel like you’ve already survived the barrage of 2015 Super Bowl advertising?

That’s because it started last week, moving from mostly online “previews” of commercials in years past to featured TV unveilings within news and talk shows.

With advertisers forking over $4.5 million per 30-second spot, the hope is these aren’t so much “spots” as deathless conversation pieces.

Even with sneak peeks in full swing, expect a few surprises when the Super Bowl XLIX telecast finally arrives. (A few brands, like Avocados of Mexico, billing itself as the first fresh produce to be advertised within a Super Bowl, will hold back spots until the game, seemingly a risky move in this age.)

Sponsors will always seek new ways to get as much exposure as possible. Previously advertisers posted their creative work on YouTube and then pushed spots through social media. This year, many signed on with NBC, which will broadcast the game, to introduce commercials as content within “Today” and “The Tonight Show.” If Jimmy Fallon finds a commercial entertaining, and shares it with his viewers as an artifact of pop culture, that not only extends the reach of the message but seals the loop between art and commerce.

On Sunday, NBC’s pregame hype starts at 11 a.m. and runs through the start, locally at 4 p.m. on KUSA. Somewhere in all that over-stimulation, there just may be a clever spot that sticks with you for years to come.

Best of?

Without thinking too hard, what’s the first image that pops into your head when you think Super Bowl ads?


Apple’s brilliant “1984” spot introducing the Macintosh?

VW’s endearing “The Force”?

Perhaps you reach back to Coke’s “I’d like to teach the world to sing…”? which debuted outside of the Super Bowl in the 1970s and was updated for the 1990 Super Bowl as a reunion piece?

Or the minimalist approach of Budweiser’s frogs?

In the opinion of those who study the industry and those in the business itself, what makes a spot memorable?

“Surprise + relevance + simplicity = memorable advertising,” said Greg Wagner at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business.

“I preach this to my ad classes at DU.”

Wagner said he learned this winning formula the hard way through 30-plus years as a creative director at the D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles and Leo Burnett agencies. “For the big game, in particular, advertisers must entertain before they sell. The audience expects funny, impactful, emotional spots.”

For Kathy Hagan Brown, co-president of Denver’s Karsh Hagan, it’s all about connecting on an emotional level:

“If an ad takes your breath away, gives you goose bumps, surprises you, causes you to laugh out loud or maybe even tear up, it will probably be memorable. Primarily because it connected with you emotionally and the message was insightful enough to create a reaction.”

Ambush ads

And then there’s the post-postmodern, anti-sponsorship approach.

GoDaddy’s mean, mistreated-puppy ad, supposedly “pulled” after public outcry, is the worst example. Company denials notwithstanding, I’d bet the “goof,” the uproar and the “apology” were all part of a calculated campaign.

Norm Shearer, partner and COO of Denver’s Cactus ad agency (the folks behind the Colorado Department of Public Health’s retail marijuana education campaign), cites Newcastle Brown Ale’s ongoing stealth approach as a clever turnabout. The brand effectively used ambush advertising before last year’s game and is doing so again, effectively subverting the sponsorship.

“They made fun of the Dorritos ad contest, and now they are doing the #BandofBrands, which is hysterical,” Shearer said. “This is some of the freshest and boldest advertising I have seen in years around the game, and they aren’t even advertising in it!”

Newcastle may not reach the hundreds of millions of viewers the $4.5 million media dollars get the other advertisers, “but they are sure making quite an impact and getting tons of PR and earned media from great thinking.”

While recalling some of the highlights of past years, Shearer notes one shortfall of several of this year’s Super Bowl campaigns:

“I am baffled at how many brands still don’t tap into technology, social, etc. to extend their extremely expensive “Big Game” spot. Yes, you’ve got to do a great TV spot that gets the hundreds of millions of viewers to love you, but you might as well go the extra investment of giving the work the ability to live on in other platforms, or to be participatory with the audience.”

Advertisers should know even simple things count, Shearer said, like making sure their spot on YouTube links to other branded content and not just the next random cat video.