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Super Bowl LII did not disappoint in terms of providing us with celebrity-filled, big spend productions ranging from the weird and wacky to the hilarious. However, it did disappoint in more cases than it should. In this expensive media venue, brands should be pulling these aspects together in a way that both engages and sells a brand, or at least connects us to the brand more deeply.

Here are our four lessons from the Super Bowl LII ads:

The best ads did not forget the fundamentals of great creative work: A clear simple benefit, a great idea, engaging drama and excellence in craft were all loud and proud in our favorite ads this year.

Tide is a master-class case in this regard. The strategy was simple: anything clean was washed in Tide. The “Every Ad is a Tide Ad” is an idea that reminds you how important creatives are to brand marketing. The drama of the Tide ads is engaging and distinctive as it pokes fun at the norms of the Super Bowl classic ad categories like beer and cars, using iconic scenes from great ads like Old Spice and Mr. Clean. Finally, the excellence in craft shows up in the masterful build up of the four ads, the outstanding casting and ‘just right’ humor. Truly great work P&G and Saatchi & Saatchi New York.

The Doritos/Mountain Dew ad delivered similar mastery of fundamentals and stood out for the excellence of craft. The casting, perfect lip syncing, and fun touches throughout made the work so engaging, you want to watch it over and over. The idea was fantastic; the strategy was simple and clear; the production value was huge, with the added bonus of it being a “buy one, get one” media approach.

Alexa nailed many of the fundamentals, too, although we do wonder what the strategy was beyond reminding us of the brand.

The NFL outdid themselves to launch its new ruling on player celebrations – this one may well bring the spark back into the on-again off-again love affair with the NFL.

Sprint’s “Evelyn’ did a very nice job too with a clear and consistent strategy; an idea that plays off all our zeitgeist-y fears of AI; drama which made you laugh and creeped you out all at the same time. Nicely done, Sprint.

Purpose-driven advertising only works when it is tied to the brand in a meaningful way: This year we had a few that did this well, but oh so many that did not.

Toyota‘s purpose is to keep people moving; Jeep’s purpose is to keep us off-road exploring; Bud Light exists to be the friend you can count on; Groupon exists to support local business; and Ram is there to help us serve. All of these purpose statements work because the product supports the higher purpose in a tangible, meaningful way. Verizon also showed promise of a move from a 100% product claim to something more purposeful with its ‘answering the call’ ad. However, others really fell flat in their purpose journeys.

It seems T-Mobile has moved from its brash, rebel positioning couched in bright magenta to a soothing, cool gray, baby-filled message on diversity. Our heads were swiveling too fast to even try to fit the brand benefit into that. This new diversity purpose does not fit the brand.

Coke has also moved from its upbeat, happiness-inducing celebration of unity into a mellow reminder that we are all special and unique. This work certainly did not feel like the Coke we all love that inspires optimism.

Pepsi – the choice of the new generation is celebrating the ads of the old generation. This concept created a brain freeze for us to figure out. We assume that the tone-deaf Kendall Jenner ad has put the idea of appealing to a new generation on hold.

Kraft exists to bring smiles to people’s faces. The idea to celebrate all the unique ways we ‘family’ was a decent one, but it was also generic. Any brand that targets families could have had its logo mark at the end of the spot.

Purpose is not a new concept. It is almost a requirement for great brand building. This year’s ads were largely a disappointing collection of brands unable to connect their message to a higher purpose.

Context is as important as content: If you are going to pay so much to air your work on the biggest stage – the Super Bowl – then you really do need to think about the context as you create your content. Far too many brands forgot the setting they would be shown in. These ads would have otherwise been good – or even great – work in another environment. By airing during the Super Bowl, this work was downgraded to mediocre at best.

Wendy’s “Frozen” was enjoyed for the shade it threw at McDonald’s, but would have been a far bigger hit of the night had they left it on social media. No one wants snarky energy during the Super Bowl; we want upbeat, big scale entertainment to accompany the modern day gladiators on the gridiron.

E-trade, Persil, Wix, Sketchers, Turbo Tax –the demos and self-promotion just didn’t fit this atmosphere.

Adding celebrities or extra wacky and weird cannot save an ad without an idea:The Super Bowl ads are infamous for the level of weird and wacky humor and the prevalence of celebrities. The brands that excel with this have these elements on top of the fundamentals of a clear strategy and an outstanding idea.

This year Doritos/Mountain Dew, Alexa, NFL all succeeded in this. Squarespace, Michelob, Universal, M&M’s, Ram Vikings, and Diet Coke on the other hand all floundered here. We need more than a celebrity and/or weirdness to make a memorable, engaging, behavior changing, world-class ad.

 

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