Why Some of the Most Memorable Super Bowl Ads Aren’t During the Game

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Like most Americans and NFL fans around the world, I love the Super Bowl. And like most marketers, I love the attention we as an industry give to Super Bowl ads.

someone holding a football to a microphone with the text Voices of the Super Bowl

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The Super Bowl is a long moment wherein competitive agencies cheer for each other and wherein it seems that America and the world set aside their avoidance of interruptive advertising.

This got me thinking about two things. Do most Super Bowl Ads work? And did my favorite Super Bowl ads work on me?

On the first question, the numbers do not look great. In 2017, Communicus found that only 33% of consumers actually remembered seeing a Super Bowl commercial and only 10% remembered both the commercial and the brand it advertised.

Beyond the industry camaraderie, is my love for Super Bowl ads unfounded? Is our industry’s shining moment actually just us shining a light on each other?

My own experience when watching Super Bowls with friends who don’t work in advertising supports my concern. When the commercials come on, my friends talk to each other, grab another beer (and not necessarily the beer whose Super Bowl ad they’re not watching), grab food, grab their phone or hit the bathroom.

And there I am—sometimes shushing, always straining to watch and hear the ads.

This is what led me to my second question. Again, the answer does not look great. Because after 40 or so Super Bowls in memory, most of the Super Bowl ads I recall most were not, in fact, Super Bowl ads.

Here are some favorites that stand out, including a few actual spots:

Skittles on Broadway

Michael C. Hall as an advertising executive having a crisis of conscience because “advertising ruins everything.” One night only on Broadway, forever in my heart, completely stole my attention away from the pre-Super Bowl ad hoopla. It worked and then some. I bought Skittles on principle, and this past Halloween, we handed them out exclusively.

Beavis and Butthead’s alternate halftime show

In 1994 and 1995, I spent halftime with MTV, complete with a countdown clock. I’m still chuckling.

Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl and Hallmark’s Kitten Bowl

During this decade of adorability, I’ve watched many of the games with my kids. If I wanted my kids to stay in the room during halftime, then we were watching the puppies and kittens.

SNL‘s Weekend Update with Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey

Billed as the first-ever SNL broadcast live on in all time zones. I was in at the first promo.

E-Trade’s “Monkey” by Goodby Silverstein & Partners

Yes, an actual Super Bowl ad, albeit one that brilliantly made fun of Super Bowl ads while making its point about minding one’s money.

Chrysler’s “Halftime In America” and “Imported from Detroit”

From two separate Big Games, but even more powerful as a shared, multi-Super Bowl memory. Both perfectly reflected the mood of a nation. I did not buy a Chrysler, but I’m forever grateful to the brand for its timely statements.

I believe the opportunity sits squarely in creating your own idea, and why I believe Super Bowl 55, following 2020’s election year ad bump, will be a watershed year for brands to counter-program the Super Bowl.

Next year can and should be the year the USA Today Ad Meter includes the brands that successfully draw us away from Super Bowl ads. With all due respect to this year’s incredible Pepsi halftime talent in Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, what if next year Coke streams Beyoncé and Billie Eilish on LiveXLive? What if Pepsi itself ditches the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show and gives us a 20-minute sequel to Uncle Drew on Hulu? What’s Quibi got planned to send our phones during halftime?

How many years before the Effies, Cannes Lions, Emmys or—in Skittles’ case—the Tonys hands the biggest award to the brand whose Super Bowl entertainment drew so many viewers away from the Super Bowl that the price and/or value of the following year’s Super Bowl ads goes down?

I do love a good bet. Let’s go with the Niners by 10 this Sunday and that the price of a Super Bowl ad goes down—or Super Bowl ads disappear completely—in less than 10 years.

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