Super Bowl is US advertising’s biggest event, but it shouldn’t become the only event. BBH LA’s Agathe Guerrier looks back at this year’s crop of ads and wonders whether keeping creative excellence, big ideas and big budgets, for just one moment in the year has led to advertising not practising those qualities more often. Here’s why every brief should be a World Cup final.
Don't worry, I’m not going to go into a sports metaphor. Or at least, not one based on American football. The only exercise I practice is yoga, and I’d rather not equate it to performance. But the word ‘practice’is important here. Say, right now, I can do the splits. Or a handstand. If I didn’t practice strength or flexibility training for months, and then tried one of these poses again in a year’s time, how do you think that would go?
A bit like this year’s Super Bowl.
As far as I can tell, the game itself didn’t happen until the last 10 minutes, and ended on the expected outcome: Tom Brady holding the Trophy. The same can be said about the ads.
Of course, we had some solid stuff in there, which I wished I’d made, and enjoyed watching. Solid metaphors: Hyundai. Solid product demos: Colgate's close talker. Solid puns: Bubly / Bublé. Solid use of celeb: Harrison Ford for Alexa, The Dude and SJP for Stella Artois, Cardi B and Steve Carell for Pepsi, Serena Williams for Bumble, and of course the NFL’s anniversary spot. Solid competitive ad, and remarkable use of IP: Bud Light x Game of Thrones (I would love to know who paid for what in the latter). Smart Super Bowl hijack: Heinz Ketchup. Brilliant writing: Washington Post.
Then, there was the now-compulsory litany of other stuff:
- Technology brands saying something along the lines of: “Hey we’re cool! We’re also a bit creepy, but don’t worry, robots are dumb so it’s not like we’re taking over the world or anything, ha ha.” They do it quite cleverly, so we almost forgive their hypocrisy.
- Trailers for films I’ll probably watch on planes.
- Lots of stuff about brands saving the world, but in a humble kinda way like “don’t mind us, just saving the world over here”, with an adequately diverse cast.
- A bunch of other brands who weren’t sure what to do, so just threw a ton of money at the problem, which in absence of an idea, is usually a good way to avoid embarrassment while also being instantly forgotten.
But aside from the solid stuff and the expected stuff, was there anything that will go down in the advertising history books, anything extraordinary? Maybe (Bud Light x GOT?). Maybe not.
Now feels like a good time for me to come clean. I say all this from the place of an agency that almost had ads in the Super Bowl, but didn’t. So, feel free to take all I say as coming from my embittered, loser soul.
But as someone who almost had work in the Super Bowl*, I know how much blood, sweat and tears that represents - never mind money. With all this effort and resource as input, how come much of the output is leaving me so ‘meh’? And what can we collectively do to get better?
Over the last few years, moments of creative excellence have become the exception, not the norm.
I have a theory. Let’s come back to the idea of practice: that creativity, original thought, isn’t a God-given miracle, instead it’s a craft that needs to be trained, developed and maintained. Like a muscle, that gets strengthened and lengthened over time. What’s happened to our industry is that, over the last few years, moments of creative excellence have become the exception, not the norm. And as a result we’re suffering from creative muscle atrophy.
Where Super Bowl was a creativity ‘best of’, it’s now become a festival of ‘one offs’. Where we used to see the Super Bowl as the time when you had to put your best and biggest ideas forward, now we see the Super Bowl as the only time in the year when we’re allowed to spend cash and go a bit crazy with celebs. And we just don’t know how to play it cool any more.
In short: where we used to be a crew of highly-performing, super athletes that trained every day towards the championship finals, we’ve become soccer dads that only go out onto the field once a year and pull their hamstrings on the first kick. It just doesn’t work. You can’t “save yourself” for the big, creative-worthy brief: you have to practice cracking the Super Bowl brief day in, day out, or there’s no point in even showing up.
I don’t know Tom Brady, but I bet you he’s not waiting around for the big game. He lives in a world where every game is the big game. That’s going to be my resolution for the year. To make every day, World Cup Final day. To treat every brief as the year’s best creative opportunity. To make every idea, Super Bowl worthy. It’s the only way we’ll be ready once the Super Bowl actually comes around. This is the year of getting back into shape. Because if creativity is a muscle, we need to be working it more than once a year.
* Silver lining: at least the clients didn’t buy the Adam Levine spot.