The Super Bowl is arguably the biggest event in the world of advertising. One of the world’s biggest nations comes to a standstill to watch ads and, further to that, the rest of the world crowd around YouTube in huge numbers to catch a glimpse of them too.
While the NFL has a defined audience and the US market has many idiosyncrasies, it is still an enormously important watch for UK marketers, providing them with an opportunity to review what the world’s biggest brands are doing with big budgets while the world watches on.
Here are the top five trends I believe the industry should look out for during the big game.
1 Niche references running the length of the field
Traditionally, Super Bowl advertisers would use celebrities or pop-culture content with a global impact. However, many are increasingly gathering inspiration, talent or humour from more niche areas of culture.
Celebrities are still the go-to when it comes to Super Bowl advertising, and they are often the focal point in the run-up to the event, but as more niche influencers and their content go mainstream this year, many brands will be watching closely how well it fares and taking notes for next year.
From TikTok stars, Lil Nas X and Real Housewives to cartoons such as Rick and Morty, 2020 could be a year when many brands choose to invest in references that resonate with some viewers over others.
What to watch for: Which brands have decided their target audience deserves specific service and have chosen that over making popular jokes? Has trading scale for cultural relevance hit the mark on the US’s biggest stage?
2 Using the Super Bowl to win the Super Bowl
Consumers' anticipation and expectations around Super Bowl ads aren’t just a bar advertisers have to meet, but a tool they can use to surprise and engage viewers. Brands are increasingly taking a self-aware tone in the way they approach the big game, acknowledging consumer expectation, challenging convention and using other advertisers as a foil.
2019’s Tide ads and 2017’s Newcastle Brown Ale campaign both used the Super Bowl as a foil to hijack greater attention. Tide claimed all ads featuring clean clothes were also an ad for the detergent, while Newcastle’s "Band of brands" crowdsourced 37 brands into one ad as an answer to the high cost of advertising during the game.
What to watch out for: How can brands make an impact outside their own ad space, anticipating consumer expectations or other advertisers’ actions, in order to build a bigger platform?
3 Identifying breakout players among the competition
From automobile manufacturers to snack brands, many Super Bowl advertisers will be attempting to balance out a product story with the humour and entertainment of the big game. On a stage where people want to be entertained, advertisers will be pitting the internal anticipation, pressure and nerves surrounding their product launch against the need to be self-aware and create a connection with the audience.
The Super Bowl is an unparalleled opportunity to humanise your brand and remind or refresh consumer engagement.
Yet, while the audience may make a new product launch attractive, the noise around the game poses a risk for all but the most memorable of products.
What to watch out for: Which brands will have their launch remembered the day after the Super Bowl party? What existing products will reignite consumer excitement?
4 Politics and culture clashing on the field
Some Super Bowl ads annually tap into US societal issues in their advertising, from those celebrating troops, sustainability and first responders to highlighting charitable causes or the impact of tragedy. This year looks to be no different, with ads airing from politicians and brands tackling cultural discussion.
With Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg airing Super Bowl ads this year, according to press reports, Fox has reportedly decided to air them in a break with its own content, instead of going up against other advertisers.
What to watch out for: How does political and societal advertising fit with the humour of other advertisers? Can one of the presidential candidates or a purpose-driven message crash the party and make a lasting impact?
5 The game beyond the game
Brands aren’t just telling a story during the Super Bowl, but before, during, after and around it. As the digitally engaged and TV viewing audiences become more indistinguishable, brands are trying different routes to success.
The run-up to a Super Bowl spot has seen brands take a variety of approaches. Brands such as Planters have garnered more than three billion impressions before the game by starting its campaign a week in advance.
While teaser content has allowed advertisers to start telling a story that resolves during the game, others have released their entire ad early, banking on social discussion, PR and consumer anticipation to help own a moment.
Diverting and creating conversation in social channels, second screens and smart devices, such as Volvo’s 2016 "Interception" campaign, have proven to be a rich opportunity for advertisers during the game.
What to watch out for: Who doesn’t just win the game but the conversation around it? Who keeps consumers talking afterwards?
DuBose Cole is head of strategy at VaynerMedia London