Opinion

The lessons Australia should take from 2019’s Super Bowl ads

The 2019 Super Bowl ads ditched politics for messages of empowerment and unity. Here, DDB MD of strategy and innovation Leif Stromnes dissects the major trends that emerged from the ‘Oscars of advertising’.

The Super Bowl is undeniably an incredible media moment and one that Australia can learn a lot from. We’re yet to create the same advertising environment here where advertising is valued at the level of the entertainment itself.

Arguably advertising’s biggest moment, the Super Bowl acts as inspiration to agencies and brands globally and has the potential to set forward trends other advertisers leverage throughout the year.

While the hefty price tag of $7.3 million is enough to make some marketers recoil, I believe it’s worth every cent. What other environment would have such high engagement that Skittles could sell out a Broadway show talking about Super Bowl advertising?

With all the hype around the declining audiences of TV, it’s also a testament to the power of the medium. It proves that TV is still the most powerful medium and nothing comes close to the attention that it can generate.

Taking a look at the ads that emerged yesterday, these are the biggest trends that I believe will shape the year to come in advertising.

Unity over politics

The Super Bowl is not nearly as controversial as previous years and was notably absent of any big political message.

Advertising always reflects the mood of the moment and it has to capture the zeitgeist of the nation. Two years ago, the Super Bowl was very politically charged with anti-Trump commentary coming from brands like Budweiser, who reminded audiences of its own immigrant roots, and 84 Lumber, which depicted an immigrant family’s journey to a border wall.

This year, it seems brands have moved away from political messages that could be divisive for viewers, instead opting for messages of unity or injecting humour back into the Super Bowl.

It makes sense for brands to avoid a political message in the current climate, which is why Google, Kia and Microsoft all created ads with messages that would bring people together.

I suspect that Microsoft’s ad, which featured children with disabilities, will be one of the most popular to emerge from the Big Game.

I also commend Kia for breaking the mould with its anti-celebrity ad that touted its factory in the American South and the workers employed there. Likewise, Verizon used its slot to recognise the contribution of first responders.

Females at the forefront

Advertising and society have come a long way since Audi’s Super Bowl ad two years ago, which, along with other brands, addressed the gender pay gap and inequality.

This year there seemed to be a shift from making a statement to a more natural inclusion of women.

Their inclusion felt absolutely effortless and what is monumental is the way these ads are portraying women. An example of this is athlete and business woman Serena Williams fronting Bumble’s ad talking about women making the first move.

The conversation has moved on and now women are starring in ads in the most natural way and nobody is batting an eyelid.

Christina Applegate, Zoe Kravitz, Sarah Jessica Parker and Cardi B all played leading roles in the ads throughout the game without making a statement.

Olay advertised at the Super Bowl for the first time, with Sarah Michelle Gellar fronting the campaign in a spoof of the teen horror films.

Toyota put female football player Toni Harris, one of the first women to receive of football college scholarship offer, on centre stage to “shatter perspectives” of its new Rav4 Hybrid 4WD.

It feels organic and as if the conversation has progressed.

Tech paranoia

Pro-human messages were a big theme of the Super Bowl with Pringles, Turbo Tax, Michelob Ultra and Sprint among the brands that featured artificial intelligence in their ads.

These ads all showcase human superiority, which I believe stems from society’s fear of the rise of robots and AI. It seems brands have picked up on the unease that surrounds these emerging technologies.

Pringles highlighted how an Alexa-like device was unable to eat Pringles and Turbo Tax’s eerie robot was unable to express emotion.

Even Amazon Alexa had to highlight how its own product can fail to make people feel comfortable about having them in their home.

Humour always wins

Humour is always a consistent thread at the Super Bowl, and this year was no different. Take, for instance, Pepsi’s spot with Michael Bublé or “Game of Thrones” surprise tie-in with Bud Light. These ads tend to be fan-favourites and brands opt for humour because it always works.

Some might argue it’s a safe bet, but for a brand like M&M’s, it doesn’t make sense to move away from the irreverent tone that’s become synonymous with the brand.

Looking through the suite of work, I don’t believe it was a vintage year for Super Bowl creativity, but I’m still envious of the global stage that the Super Bowl provides for brands and the way it intersects popular culture.

Maybe, Australia, we can turn the AFL or NRL Grand Final into the same spectacle this year?

DDB managing director of strategy and innovation Leif Stromnes.

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