The Ad Game: 2019 Super Bowl Round-Up

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Our Thoughts
  • by Jordyn Kerr

The Super Bowl continues to ground itself in the heart of American tradition. Some enjoy the game itself, others show up for the food and friends - but us, we’re here for the ads. Our work in the qualitative research space constantly intertwines us with the world of advertising. We work for brands, with brands and explore how humans perceive brands. Needless to say, we’ve got brands on the brain.

Brands have the unique opportunity to capture unparalleled attention in the Super Bowl - with nearly 100 million people tuning in each year - but the exposure comes at a hefty cost. This year’s price tag for a 30-second spot in the cost more than $5 million, making a sizeable dent in even the biggest brand’s ad budget.

The past few years have been hit-or-miss for Super Bowl ads. Some brands have opted to use humor and celebrities, while others have shifted their tactics to ads backed by politics and purpose. But when it comes down to it, they’re all driven towards the same goal: connect with consumers. Here’s our team’s take on the 2019 ads:

What Made Us Laugh

As always, many brands used humor to connect with audiences this year. Colgate took the notion of ‘fresh breath’ to a new level with their Close-Talker ad featuring Luke Wilson. Pepsi used celebrities Steve Carell, Lil Jon and Cardi B to gain the attention of crowds with their ‘More than OK’ ad. Smaller brands like DEVOUR have to work harder to stand out by playing at the far edge of popular humor, in this case using an addiction to frozen food porn to fuel more than 15,000,000 Youtube views thus far. Another brand that stepped up to the plate with humor was Olay - introducing a relatively new approach for the brand with their #KillerSkin ad. Olay’s debut in the Super Bowl had crowds talking, especially since no beauty care brand has been featured since the "It's a 10" ad in 2017. ad. SEEK team members add,

“Their approach used drama to capture your attention, but what was perhaps more powerful than the TV ad itself was the entire 360 degree program the brand executed over the past month - using public relations, a massive social media strategy, leveraging bloggers and eventually Sarah Michelle Gellar. This paired with in-store support from retailers had a great impact, which we believe has the power to continue to drive the business up. Olay also tapped into an important consumer truth: 45% of the Super Bowl viewers are women, but a far less a portion of the advertising is directed toward women.  Olay wanted to help change that. A very resonant and "empathic" plan.”

What Inspired Us

Some ads played on consumer emotions to drive interest. Bumble released their full Super Bowl ad featuring Serena Williams, giving a nod to women’s empowerment and the role they play in empowering women in dating, friendships and business. Verizon pulled at our heartstrings with a series of ads thanking first responders, linking viewers to read more about survivors on their website.

Tech brands tied the power of innovation back to the power it gives consumers. Microsoft showed how it’s technology is changing the lives of kids with their adaptive controllers. And if you weren’t inspired enough already, Google ignited all the feels with their 100 Billion Words spot. This ad managed to spark hope and inspiration amid capturing many of the present-day global issues that we’re all too familiar with. Well done, Google.

Winners and Losers

The Super Bowl is a daunting endeavor for any brand: all eyes are on your brand, and you have to bring your best while taking enough risks to stand out. This year, there were a few front-runners while others missed the mark. Stella Artois was a favorite among many, using the phrase ‘change up the usual’ to nudge consumers to do the same. By using characters Carrie Bradshaw and The Dude to disrupt their usual beverage of choice (cosmos and white russians), the brand sent a clear message to their audience. They also subtly promoted their philanthropic efforts with partner, prompting viewers to #PourItForward.

Turkish Airlines has a history of confusing ads, and this year they missed the mark yet again. As a foreign airline with less awareness in the U.S., it’s important that they link their product and the clear benefits to consumers. This year’s ad gives little mention of the airline itself and asks consumers to watch a 6 minute film called The Journey to learn more (a strategy that thus far has elicited less than 200,000 Youtube views). Upon watching the film, we’re still uncertain what the purpose of the ad is. Needless to say, Turkish Airlines could have done more to connect with consumers with their 85th anniversary ad.

Beyond the TV screen

The past few years of Super Bowls have introduced unique tactics to the ad scene with intriguing approaches. This year, Skittles released a pre-game ad that spoke of their game time Broadway show - a unique approach for a candy brand to say the least. The show was held in a private theater in which audiences had to pre-purchase tickets to attend. While there was no live streaming of the show, the curiosity sparked by the approach is sure to erupt into a series of free promos post-game. We’ll have to stay tuned to see how effective this strategy was.

While not technically a Super Bowl ad, Shutterstock’s very recent release of their Fyre Festival mock commercial still has crowds talking. The online stock brand used only their stock photography to produce a spoof ad, closely resembling Fyre Festival’s, while still advertising the variety and quality of their photo collection. Tapping into current trends was an effective key to sparking widespread consumer interest in 2018, and 2019 is proving to be no different.

Volvo continues to drive consumers away from the TV and onto their phones. This year they introduced a smartphone game that rewards consumers for their full attention with a chance to win a brand-new s60 Sedan. In years past, they launched one of the most effective Super Bowl ads to date (yes, we’re still talking about ‘The Greatest Interception of All Time’). What is notoriously an expensive ad opportunity for brands transformed into a nearly free campaign for Volvo, as they used the attention drawn by other car brands’ expensive commercials to drive consumer engagement for their own. With each car commercial that aired during the 2014 Super Bowl came thousands of social engagements. This strategy proved that money spent on ads doesn’t necessarily translate into effectiveness and that social media - when used right - can be a powerful tool for brands.  

While not every brand can necessarily pull off a Super Bowl-level ad, every brand can find meaningful ways to connect with their consumers. Here at SEEK, we’re on a mission to uncover deep human insights. By using empathy to fuel innovation, we transform brand-to-consumer relationships into human-to-human ones. Want to learn more? Reach out to