Super Bowl Stardom Requires an Endless Well of Creativity and an Understanding of What You’re Getting Yourself Into

Creating a Big Game hit is the first ambitious goal on every brand's checklist each year

Much goes into creating a successful Super Bowl ad, but the payoff is well worth it. Getty Images
Headshot of Nicole Ortiz

The Super Bowl is one of advertising’s favorite holidays. And with all the teaser videos and images floating around and every other brand saying they will or won’t be participating in this year’s Big Game, it’s easy to see why. Everyone who decides to create a spot for the Super Bowl dreams of being one of the standouts people talk about for years to come, like Tourism Australia’s “Dundee” or Snickers’ “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” or Tide’s “It’s a Tide Ad.” But doing so requires a combination of dedicated creativity, insight into consumer trends, a mix of the right technology and quite a bit of luck.

We asked our Adweek Advisory Board—comprised of 24 leaders across marketing, media and technology—to weigh in with their thoughts on what it takes to create the next viral Super Bowl sensation and whether it’s worth getting involved in the Big Game for $5 million per 30-second spot.

Analyzing the cost

First things first: You need to analyze whether the cost is worth it for your brand. Not everyone wants to commit to the expense, even brands that have been participating in the Super Bowl for years. And due to this high cost, it leads one to wonder if creativity is being wasted in such a high-stakes competition or if the Super Bowl is deemed not a worthwhile avenue of creative expression.

“The Super Bowl is still a showcase in its broadcast ‘live’ form, but what’s now liberating is the journey there, during and after, so the storytelling has so many possibilities to be liberated,” Paul Woolmington, CEO of Canvas Worldwide, said. “It’s still a unique venue for custom/original content.”

Havas Media Group North America’s president, Shane Ankeney, agreed, saying, “If a marketer pays the high price, they almost have no other choice but to use interesting creative forms to get the most out of the experience.”

Both Terrance Williams, CMO and president of emerging businesses at Nationwide, and Ben Lamm, co-founder and CEO of Hypergiant, pointed to Hyundai’s 2017 spot as an example of prioritizing creativity in Super Bowl ads. “The Super Bowl isn’t an ad platform—it’s a theater,” Lamm said. “An unwillingness to take risks means that people will use your spot as an intermission.”

Dan Lovinger, evp, advertising and sports at NBCUniversal, added, “The Super Bowl is a one-of-a-kind moment with a massive, engaged audience and enormous value. … The cost is not the issue that holds people back—it’s nailing the content that matters the most.”

Ramping up interest

Once you’ve committed to releasing a Super Bowl spot, you’ll have to figure out the best way to share teasers with your audience to ultimately capitalize on one of the oldest marketing tactics: word-of-mouth buzz. And perhaps part of that strategy is signing on for more than just a 15- or 30-second spot.

“Buying several spots can certainly make a campaign memorable, partly because viewers know how much money the brand is spending to get their message out there and will make a mental note of it,” said Michelle Lee, editor in chief at Allure. “The power of YouTube, great PR and social media virality on one great ad can make a much bigger impact than spending millions on a string of mediocre spots.”

Lamm said advertisers are aiming to “[build] the excitement” by “leveraging the channels you already have, such as social media, and reaching out to new ones, such as publications … that have their own audience that you can use to hint at what’s to come.”

And, of course, various types of technology can help a spot resonate with consumers, even in the teaser phase when you’re more likely to get them amped up and excited for the full release.

“Brands continue to experiment,” Baiju Shah, chief strategy officer at Accenture Interactive, said, “combining creativity and technology to enhance their ads and make them more interactive around the biggest viewing moment of the year.”

Williams pointed to how “it’s now a 360-degree experience due to the access of content and conversation through mobile and social, and goes way beyond the in-game view. … Almost all brands release the ad ahead of time to generate buzz, conversation [and] reach.”

Lamm pointed out how “technologies have also inspired new kinds of engagements in Super Bowl marketing and advertising. AR/VR introduced a new paradigm of ‘brand immersion,’ and voice has likewise introduced an entirely new tool by which the customer can act.”

It isn’t just the emerging technology where we see marketers innovating. Andrew Keller, global creative director at Facebook Creative Shop, noted how mobile is also a new way for marketers to advertise their Super Bowl spots. “We regularly speak with our partners about capitalizing on the opportunity to shoot mobile-first during the downtime of a shoot. … It’s important that marketers are prepared to capture the content they need in the format needed at any given moment,” Keller said.

And Woolmington cautioned that technology is often “used for technology’s sake.”

“You must always remember that technology always needs to be in service of the storytelling and idea,” he said.

Favorite prior Super Bowl spots

Of course, we’re also just curious to know which Super Bowl ads have resonated most with our Advisory Board. Almost every response pointed to Apple’s “1984,” directed by Ridley Scott, in some way. After all, it really did change the scope of advertising and instilled something of a foundation.

Arkeney said that because of that spot and “what it did for Super Bowl advertising,” marketers “can help change the trajectory of a company, and ‘1984’ continues to be one of the best examples of that tremendous value.”

Shah pointed to Volkswagen’s 2011 spot, “The Force,” created by Deutsch, because “using The Force is a relatable ambition for me—and for most,” a sentiment Lee agreed with. “I rewatched it recently, and it hits all of the right emotions, managing to be sweet (but not corny), clever, and it makes me tear up ever-so-slightly when Little Darth Vader finally nails The Force on the car’s lights,” she said. “Plus, it features the car in a central role that actually makes sense, which is not always the case in more random, absurdist humor spots.”

Another classic, but not quite as old as the others, was Keller’s favorite spot: “It’s a Tide Ad,” of course. Because in the end, everything is a Tide ad.

@neco_ornot Nicole Ortiz is a senior editor at Adweek, overseeing magazine departments such as Trending, Talent Pool, Data Points, Voice and Perspective.