Stuart Elliott: Super Bowl Ad Vets vs. Rookies -- Who Will Win?

The big story on Sunday in Super Bowl 50 is likely to be the faceoff between the veterans and the eager rookies. There also are different levels of experience among the football players. More than th...


The big story on Sunday in Super Bowl 50 is likely to be the faceoff between the veterans and the eager rookies. There also are different levels of experience among the football players.

More than three dozen brands are buying commercial time on CBS during the game, from Acura to Wix.com, with each 30-second spot said to be going for a record $5 million. There is a mix of marketers that are perennial Super Bowl sponsors -- Anheuser-Busch, several automakers, Coke, Doritos, movie studios, Pepsi, Snickers -- and those entering the Super Bowl sweepstakes for the first time.

The newcomers for 2016 include such familiar names as Amazon, Buick, Colgate, LG, PayPal, Pokemon and SunTrust, along with brands still wet behind the ears like Apartments.com; Persil ProClean detergent; Rocket Mortgage, the Quicken Loans online mortgage service; and Social Finance, known as SoFi, a marketplace lender.

Every advertiser is taking risks. If the commercial is deemed a flop, or gets lost in the cacophony of Super Bowl Sunday, all the time and money spent on it are wasted. But a rookie gets watched more closely, and many don't survive the additional scrutiny.

There is a lengthy list of Super Bowl virgins whose one time at the game was so traumatic that they never returned; examples include Groupon, Holiday Inn, HomeAway and Just for Feet. Still, hope springs eternal, as evidenced by the roster of novices suiting up for the 50th Ad Bowl within the Super Bowl.

"It's such a tremendous opportunity, but it's such a tremendous responsibility as well," said Susan Somersille Johnson, Chief Marketing Officer of SunTrust, which will run a commercial in the fourth quarter narrated by Gary Sinese.

"I'm excited and thrilled," she added, "but there's no question it's pressure."

"It's a formidable bunch" of advertisers in the lineup, Johnson said. "All the premier brands will be there and we'll see some excellent ads."

The SunTrust commercial, which the bank worked on with the StrawberryFrog agency, promotes a new initiative called the "onUp movement," short for "onward and upward." The message: Stressing out about money can result in missing out on life's important moments. 

"Launching this movement is a big deal for us," Johnson said. "We're trying to inspire America."

 

To that end, a decision was made that the commercial ought to have a "clearly optimistic" tone, she said, adding: "It's not a time to talk about a dismal future. It's a time to give them hope."

"When doing a Super Bowl ad, you need to keep the mood of the nation in mind," said Scott Goodson, founder of StrawberryFrog. Because "people are fearful, anxious, with all that is happening in the world," he added, they "want to feel good, and empowered" -- hence a reassuring approach "that anyone can achieve financial confidence."

"We looked at the numbers" involved with the Super Bowl, Johnson said, especially "the reach, who you reach before, during and after" the game, and there's "no question" the Super Bowl is the right venue for introducing the campaign.

The idea is that "anybody can take this journey and start enjoying their lives again," she added, by reaching a "level of financial confidence" through SunTrust's "financial fitness program."

SunTrust has released a 15-second teaser for its 30-second Super Bowl commercial, which can be watched on the onUp website as well as on YouTube. The teaser features a ticking clock and vignettes of everyday people. An announcer urges, "Hold your breath ... hold it ... hold it," adding, "Join the movement at onUp.com."

On the other end of the spectrum from SunTrust and StrawberryFrog are brands and agencies that have been to the Super Bowl many, many times. Take BBDO, for instance, which has a reputation as a Super Bowl specialist, having created, down through the decades, commercials for clients including FedEx, Mars and PepsiCo. For Super Bowl 50, BBDO is producing spots for two brands, Mtn Dew Kickstart and Snickers.

"You love doing it; it's liberating," said David Lubars, chief creative officer of BBDO Worldwide. But there also are dangers in producing a poorly-received commercial, so agencies must strive to develop "the big idea," he added, which "has to be more than just a one-off."

Lubars cited as an example a commercial that BBDO created last year for Super Bowl XLIX, part of the "You're not you when you're hungry" campaign for Snickers. "The spot still runs," he said, which means the costs associated with it have been "amortized over a year."

There are other benefits from having a popular and successful Super Bowl spot, he added, such as mentions and shares in social media, coverage in articles (like this one) and reruns of the commercial in TV shows.

"The ones that really pop have great value," Lubars said, and the ones that don't -- well, "it's almost like they never happened."

"It's either the biggest bargain ever for a client," he added, "or the biggest waste."

The hoopla associated with the game each year seems to be ramping up for Super Bowl 50, and the ad aspects are no exception. CBS, which usually broadcasts a special called "Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials" in the run-up to the game, has scheduled two of them this time: One was on Tuesday and the other will be on Saturday.

It's the "first time we have three Super Bowl prime-time specials," said George F. Schweitzer, President of the CBS Marketing Group; the third, on Friday, is titled "Super Bowl's Greatest Halftime Shows."

"Plus every night at 8 p.m. starting Monday," he added, "we will open the network from San Francisco with a spot" promoting the game.

The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage/MyersBizNet management or associated bloggers. 

Stuart Elliott now reports exclusively every week at MediaVillage.com.

Stuart has spent more than three decades covering advertising, marketing and media. He is perhaps best known as the advertising columnist of The New York Times, a post he held from May 1991 to December 2014, writing the weekday advertising report in print as well as other news articles and features. He also wrote a weekly email newsletter for The Times, called In Advertising, along with other online articles, posts for the Media Decoder blog, radio reports (for WQXR-FM) and podcasts.

Stuart has also covered advertising, marketing and media for USA Today, Advertising Age, the Detroit Free Press and the Times-Union in Rochester, N.Y. He has freelanced for publications including Campaign and Texas Monthly. He also moderates panels, speaks to ad agencies and college classes. Stuart has appeared on television shows such as "Biography," "Nightline" "20/20" and "The News With Brian Williams" along with programs on networks including History, Showtime, Turner Classic Movies (where he co-hosted a night of films about advertising with Robert Osborne) and VH1.

Stuart received his bachelor's and master's degrees from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He is married and lives in Manhattan and his interests include politics, popular culture, movies, American history and nostalgia, especially vintage ads. 

In partnership with MediaVillage.

TOPIC: MEDIA VILLAGE
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