“Playing It Safe” – AAF- Louisville Super Bowl Blog Post
Feb 4, 2019
Sunday’s Super Bowl broke records but not for pushing boundaries, rather for “playing it safe.”
Firstly, the 13-3 score was the lowest scoring Super Bowl in history. Secondly, the half-time show, performed by Maroon 5, Big Boi, and Travis Scott, left out the more theatric elements that are typical of past years (SpongeBob SquarePants did make a surprise appearance, however). Perhaps that’s what the NFL was looking for after a few controversial months leading up to the big game.
When it came to the commercials, advertisers followed suit, opting for the “tried and true” rather than taking risks. For the most part, top brands avoided pushing the envelope in ways they have in years past, particularly last year.
In 2018, there was a consistent theme of “taking a stand” for advertisers during the Super Bowl.
The tear-jerker Budweiser “I’ll stand by you” ad where beer cans were filled with water and several hurricane-impacted states were recognized, comes to mind.
As does the Stella Artois ad where Matt Damon told us all about the company’s commitment to providing clean water in developing countries.
And of course, the most talked about ad of the year was the two-part 84 Lumber ad, “The Journey,” that may have had the world divided but ultimately left us all moved.
This year, however, advertisers opted for generations-tested tactics that they know work – celebrity endorsements and pop culture references.
One of the clearest examples of utilizing celebrity to get a message across was Pepsi’s “More Than OK” ad featuring Steve Carrell, Lil’ John, and Cardi B – all boasting their own “okay” message to relay that Pepsi is more than just okay. Whether this ad left us thinking Pepsi rises above the competition or is, truly just okay, is up for debate – but it was memorable.
Another ad that employed celebrity (or perhaps character?) was this year’s Stella Artois ad that featured Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in Sex and the City) and The Dude (Jeff Bridge’s Character in Big Lebowski). Both characters are known for their signature cocktails, but are featured “Changing Up the Usual” with a Stella.
Other top brands evoked the element of pop culture to stay relatable.
Michelob Ultra’s ASMR -inspired ad “The Pure Experience” featuring Zoe Kravitz is an example. Autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR, is viral internet phenomenon that exploded on YouTube last year. This was perhaps the riskiest of the ads on Sunday and whether it worked out is up for debate (the ASMR community had thoughts).
Another ad employing viral pop culture elements was the Bud Light/Game of Thrones mash-up ad which was also met with mixed reviews.
Both ads ultimately left some consumers feeling they were contrived attempts at staying relevant, but, both made the major recap headlines.
That said, some companies stuck with the mission message, choosing to “take a stand” on something again in 2019.
Coca Cola’s “Together is Beautiful” ad is one example, evoking the message that even our differences can’t be big enough to divide us on the things that matter most – community and a cola.
And, of course, KIA, straight-up refused the idea of using celebrity endorsements, and coming out with the “The Great Unknowns” Telluride ad which promoted their new educational scholarship effort.
So, the question remains – what was the goal for advertisers this year? Was it to play it safe after a riskier 2018?
As millennials continue to make up the target audience for many brands, there still doesn’t seem to be much consensus on how to effectively market to them.
While some research suggests millennials seek out companies that “take a stand” for things they care about – perhaps millennials are just like the generations before them. Are they easily sold on products when their favorite celebrities are endorsing them? Or are they quick to notice when a brand is trying too hard to stay relevant by appealing to their interests?
In today’s age, there is certainly merit in “playing it safe” but time will tell how effective this strategy is at marketing to target audiences.
– Chris Nation, AAF- Louisville President