5 Types of Super Bowl Ads You'll See This Year

The Low-Brow Ad

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Don’t get too excited about the ads that will be running during the Super Bowl this year. You’ve already seen most of them.

We don’t mean that all the advertisers will be running old commercials this year – the vast majority will indeed be new to the small screen. But they won’t exactly be original, either. Just think how many commercials you’ve seen featuring a man getting hit in the crotch or a dog doing something clever. And how many times have you seen Budweiser run an ad with horses, or Pepsi run one full of celebrities? Ad creators might be good at making us laugh (and buy), but they don’t exactly have a deep bag of tricks.

With that in mind, we reached out to some advertising experts to get their take on the clichés and commercial archetypes we can expect to see from advertisers this year at the big game. As you watch the game this Sunday, you might be surprised at how many of them fall into one of these categories.

The Low-Brow Ad

“There is a genre of advertising based on the insight that guys love gross-out humor,” says Mark DiMassimo, an advertising industry veteran who runs the marketing and branding agency DIGO. “They typically involve a sharp shot to the scrotum.”

Yes, the crotch shot is alive and well in the world of advertising, especially in ads for products that target young men – think snacks, soft drinks and light beer. For example, take this commercial from last year’s Super Bowl for Pepsi Max, a diet drink marketed to young men.

It should come as no surprise that such ads show up in abundance during the Super Bowl – while the big game obviously has a much broader audience than the typical football game, many of the companies that advertise during a sporting event are going to have young men in mind.

That’s also the motivation for a sub-category of the low-brow genre: the sexy ad, which usually involves a scantily clad woman or a strip-tease that’s just tame enough to get past network censors. Web domain registry GoDaddy is notorious for running such commercials every year, usually showing the beginning of the strip-tease and then encouraging viewers to visit the website to watch the rest of the allegedly x-rated video. If you’re gullible enough to fall for this one every year, there’s not much we can do to help you.


The Meta Ad

In a quirky bit of self-referential marketing, often advertisers will call attention to the notoriously high cost of Super Bowl ad buys by producing a meta-fictional ad that pokes fun at the idea of wasting all your money on a 30-second ad, all in the hopes of standing out from the crowd.

“Sometime you’ll see dot-coms and startups spend all, or the bulk of their advertising budget on a Super Bowl spot, praying for a big bang of awareness,” says DiMassimo, a phenomenon he calls the “Hail Mary.”

Don’t know what we’re talking about? Consider this famous ad for E-Trade that ran in 2000.

See what they did there? Of course, the cheaply produced (but costly to run) commercial was anything but a waste of money, as it became one of the more talked-about ads of the year.

Another meta Super Bowl commercial was this 2005 offering from FedEx, which used Burt Reynolds, a talking bear and cheerleaders to poke fun at Super Bowl advertising clichés.

Companies don’t go meta every year, and the joke would probably get strained if they did. But it’s usually amusing when they do.

The Emotional Connection

If there’s one thing you don’t see too often during the Super Bowl’s commercial breaks, it’s a straightforward advertisement that lists a product’s features and selling points. While selling a product is ostensibly the goal of any advertisement, any advertiser that went with a straight sales pitch for the Super Bowl spot would be slammed as uncreative and disappointing.

“In order to have a traditional commercial work, you need penetration and frequency,” says Bryan Del Monte, president of the Minnesota-based Del Monte Agency. “[In the Super Bowl] you don’t have frequency, so you’re looking to make an impression.”

That means we always see two things: Commercials that go over the top to make you laugh or otherwise impress you, and commercials that try to build a subtle, emotional association with their brand.

Take Volkswagen’s “The Force” commercial from last year’s Super Bowl, which was recently named the most effective ad of the year.

Objectively speaking, the ad doesn’t do anything to directly sell the car’s features – indeed, before you watched it again just now, you might have even forgotten which model of Volkswagen was being advertised (it was a Passat). But in addition to catching everyone’s attention by being very funny, Del Monte also says that it succeeded in subtly forging a connection between the Volkswagen brand and a certain emotion.

“It ties in the feelings and emotions of family,” he observed. “It’s mostly a ploy to connect an emotion to a brand moniker.”

This isn’t so much a discrete genre as it is a mindset that can be seen in every successful Super Bowl commercial. We also saw it last year with Chrysler, which sought to impart feelings of tradition and quality with its “imported from Detroit” ad. You might not come away knowing anything new about the product, but if the advertiser did its job, you’ll certainly come away feeling something.

The Failure

Not every commercial is a hit with the audience. While E-Trade joked about wasting $2 million, some companies really do throw their money away by putting out a total flop of an ad, and every year there are at least a couple of commercials that do absolutely nothing for the vast majority of the audience.

John Neal, a former advertising executive who now teaches marketing and advertising at Fairfield University’s Dolan School of Business, gave some insight on the hallmarks of a failed Super Bowl ad.

First and foremost, he says that commercials that are too focused on being informative instead of forging an emotional connection can be seen as a huge waste of money.

“Anything that’s very rational doesn’t work,” he says. “You want to fit the message to the media, and [the Super Bowl] is a party atmosphere. A commercial that tries to explain the difference between an Acura and a Honda is going to be lost.”

Secondly, a commercial has to catch the audience’s attention quickly if it wants to compete with the distractions of a Super Bowl party.

“If the commercial doesn’t capture the audience’s attention for the first five seconds, they’re going to turn around and get another chip,” he says. “There needs to be some sense of suddenness or mystery.”

Finally, it shouldn’t rely too much on sound. Many people are watching the Super Bowl in a crowded bar or a noisy party, and if a commercial is meaningless without the soundtrack, it’s going to be lost on a large portion of the viewing audience. Neal says that he illustrates this point by showing commercials to his students with the sound off and seeing if they understand it.

“If [the audience] doesn’t get it with the sound off, you’re going to waste at least 50 million of the 100 million people watching,” he says.

The One You’ve Already Seen

DiMassimo refers to them as “perennials” – those companies that are consistently present at every Super Bowl and always produce some variation on a theme. Pepsi, for instance, always seems to have a star-studded ad; Budweiser usually has its Clydesdales; and the E-Trade baby has become a recurring character. Every year some portion of the audience looks forward to seeing what the company will do with its established themes and characters, and the company will try to live up to prior years’ performances.

This year, though, things have gone a step further: Not only do we know which characters we can expect to see, many of us have already seen the entire ad beforehand.

“This year, for the first time, a lot of the companies are releasing their commercials early, so they can get more bang for their buck,” says Neal.

In some cases, we’ve only seen teasers or previews of ads circulating on YouTube – Volkswagen, for instance, has teased the return of the Darth Vader scene by releasing a video of an orchestra of dogs barking “The Imperial March” from the Star Wars score.

But others have gone all the way and released their entire ad to the viewing public well before the game. Most notable is the “Ferris Bueller” ad that’s been the subject of rumors during the past couple of weeks; after an initial teaser prompted rumors that we were going to see a commercial for a sequel to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it was revealed last week to be a commercial for the Honda CR-V. The company has released an extended version of the ad on YouTube, where it’s already racked up more than 4 million views.

Neal says that this makes good business sense – it builds advance buzz, spreads  the message among the young people who trade viral videos and allows the company to get the most out of the millions it spent to create and place the ad. And while some might argue that this new trend spoils the surprise of seeing the new ads on game night, he thinks it only adds to the fun.

“The people who have seen it are in the minority, so it creates an ‘in-on-the-joke’ thing,” he says. “It’s kind of like taking someone to a movie who hasn’t seen it yet.”

Matt Brownell is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by email at matthew.brownell@thestreet.com, or follow him on Twitter @Brownellorama.

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