When the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers step onto the field at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Sunday, they’re not just playing a game of football; they’re taking part in one of the world’s greatest sporting events.

The Chiefs are looking to repeat their success of last year. But standing in their way is the evergreen Tom Brady. At 43 years young, this will be his 10th Super Bowl appearance; the most for any NFL player. If he leads the Buccaneers to victory on Sunday, he’ll add a 7th Vince Lombardy trophy to his collection and will have won more times than any single franchise!

But the Super Bowl isn’t just about the football.

There are the Super Bowl parties; an annual gathering of families, friends, football fans and non-football fans alike, all huddled around the TV as the excitement unfolds on the screen – and what is a party without food and drink? Super Bowl Sunday is actually the second-largest day for food consumption in the U.S. Only on Thanksgiving Day do American’s eat more food.

Year in, year out, the Super Bowl is the most-watched American television broadcast of the year, with an average audience of over 110 million viewers. But viewers don’t just tune in to watch the game. They’re also there for the half time show, which has become as big a spectacle as the game itself. At one time, viewers could expect a display from marching bands, but Michael Jackson’s performance in 1993 changed the whole culture of Super Bowl half-time shows. Now, only legendary performers or groups grace the stage with performances from Madonna, The Rolling Stones, U2, Coldplay and Beyonce in recent years.

So, besides football and the half-time show, what more could you possibly need to make your Super Bowl Sunday complete? The answer’s simple. The ads!

Much more than a sporting event, Super Bowl is a cultural phenomenon. Watched by more than a third of all people living in the US, if you have a message to get across, there’s quite simply no bigger stage. For years, advertisers have been fighting to get their ads screened during the game, not just to capture the eyes of the audience, but to be a part of the Monday morning office talk that a great piece of creative advertising can generate; not to mention all of the YouTube views across the ensuing months!

Super Bowl commercial airtime doesn’t come cheap. With limited airtime available, broadcasters command premium rates. In 1967, for the first ever Super Bowl, a 30-second spot would set you back $40,000. Today, the rate for those same 30 seconds is around $5.5 million!

Having said that the ad breaks in this year’s Super Bowl are going to look a little different. A number of ever-present brands known for showcasing new commercials during the game won’t be there this time round. Many advertisers believe that with the pandemic, social and political unrest and record unemployment, it’s difficult to justify the investment. That said, there will still be plenty of advertisers filling those commercial breaks.

Fever Pitch

Having lived and worked in the States for 10 years, I’ve experienced Super Bowl culture first hand. It’s like a fever and it’s highly infectious. I never got to go to the game, but I’ve been to some great Super Bowl parties, watched some great football…and I’ve seen some great ads.

Working in an agency on a major piece of automotive business, I’ve experienced the excitement and anticipation that Super Bowl can have on both clients and agency. The Client is looking for that jaw-dropping piece of creative that’s going to win the hearts and minds of millions of consumers and will have his brand talked about for months to come. For the agency, it’s all about raising the bar higher than it’s ever been raised before and producing a truly memorable and award winning piece of creative that will make them the envy of all their peers.

For me, Super Bowl always began during the summer, when we would start to explore creative possibilities that could end up as a Super Bowl ad. My client at the time, FiatChrysler (now Stellantis following their merger with PSA), was a house of brands, some of them iconic, working with a collection of agencies. The Super Bowl offered ourselves and the other agencies the opportunity to ‘pitch’ ideas on any of the FCA brands. The prize? The chance to produce your winning idea and have it aired at during the big game. For any agency, this was the Holy Grail.

Always the bridesmaid. Never the bride.

They say it’s not the winning that counts; it’s the taking part – and during my time in Detroit, I certainly took part! Over the years, I pitched numerous Super Bowl concepts, but sadly didn’t get any of them over the line.

Creativity, memorability, impact and bravery were always key. One of my favorite concepts we pitched was for the 2016 Super Bowl and was an idea featuring Caitlyn Jenner. She’d recently come out as a trans woman in a 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer and was one of the most talked about women on the planet. It was certainly a brave concept, but sadly, whilst clients loved the idea, they felt that timing wasn’t right just yet so the idea never got produced.

The closest I ever got to producing a Super Bowl ad was in 2011. Our Jeep brand spot “Name” had been shortlisted by clients as a contender and I was in California putting the finishing touches to the spot. I remember sitting in the edit suite in Downtown LA at around 2.30 am and being shown an early edit of one of the other agency’s spots. As soon as I saw it I knew I was looking at this year’s Super Bowl spot for FCA. And to this day, it is still – in my opinion – the best Super Bowl spot of all time.

The best of the best?

Put 12 people in a room and ask them what they think the best ever Super Bowl spot is and they’ll all give you a different answer. But as far as I’m concerned, the answer’s simple. Maybe I’m a little biased, but I’m a car guy, and I lived in Detroit for a long time, so for me, “Born of Fire,” the launch spot for the Chrysler 200, is without doubt the best Super Bowl commercial of all time!

As a peace of production, it’s a great spot. But there’s so much more behind the story that makes it truly great viewing and puts everything into context.

At the time, Detroit and the auto industry were in crisis. The City was bankrupt and the U.S. government’s bailout of Chrysler had everyone writing obituaries, not just for Chrysler, but for the whole American automobile industry.

This weakness became one of the overriding strengths of the spot, and timing was everything. Detroit was showing true grit. It was fighting back. It was rebuilding. There was a determined spirit and a sense of belief that there were better times ahead for the city. And all of this contributed to an inspiring story that was gritty yet creative and one that pushed back against all of the negativity being aimed at Detroit at the time. The spot was as much about Detroit and its people as it was about the car – and as a resident of Detroit, I felt the commercial was talking directly to me.

Of course, it helped that the spot featured a truly memorable piece of music from one of Detroit’s own, Eminem. To this day, I still get goose bumps when I watch it and my hat comes off to the agency team that produced it, not to mention, of course, Olivier Francois, CMO of FCA, who had the vision to bring the spot to life.

The best of the rest?

Whether you’re watching for the football or the half-time show, most people agree that the commercials are arguably the best part of the broadcast. Whether they’re funny, inspirational or even controversial, none of us forget a good commercial during the big game.

There have been literally thousands of commercials produced for Super Bowls down the years. It’s impossible to show them all, but here’s a small selection for your viewing pleasure.

1995
Brand: Budweiser

An ever-present of Super Bowl advertisers, in 1995 Budweiser delivered this of this annoyingly catchy spot featuring a bunch of talking frogs. Take a look and I guarantee it’ll be in your head all day!

2010
Brand: Snickers

Featuring an 88 year-old Betty White, this is the spot that introduced the now familiar tagline, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”  Since this spot aired, many other artists have been featured including Sir Elton John and the late, great Robin Williams.

2011
Brand: VW

I don’t know many people who don’t have a soft spot for Star Wars, so this endearing spot from VW hit the spot for me. Anyone who has kids can relate to the young boy playing the part of Darth Vader.

2018
Brand: Amazon Alexa

Even the brand’s CEO played his part in this is a super funny, highly entertaining spot featuring a whole host of celebrities with distinctive voices. I kind of wish my Alexa sounded and talked like Gordon Ramsey!

AND FINALLY…

2020
Brand: Jeep

Another car commercial, this time from an iconic brand featuring a classic movie along with a number of its stars.

Whoever your team is, enjoy the big game! And enjoy the ads. I’m sure they’ll be somewhat subdued this year compared to previous years, but I hope that doesn’t stop you appreciating all the hard work and creativity that went into them.

So you may not be in the Super Bowl this year, but maybe it’s 4th down and 10 and you need a better creative marketing solution for your business. Contact us today at stuart.royle@438marketing.com.