A few months on from the Super Bowl, the biggest advertising moment in the US marketing calendar, it’s worth considering how much of the work, richly produced and expensively promoted, remains in the memory - opening up bigger questions about how people actually watch the advertising around big events, writes Faris Yakob. 

A couple years ago I wrote an article about the the principles of creative effectiveness 

(I realize that it is paradigmatically meta of me to reference my own writing [as was that… and this parenthesis.] All my writing exists in the same cinematic universe, if that helps.)

… in which I suggested that due to the overwhelming assault of similarly high quality (expensive looking) funny films featuring a superfluity of celebrities, it was hard to remember any of the ads from the Super Bowl. 

Standing out is a function of context, which is why I still remember the Coinbase ad. Speaking of, they ended up standing out again this year. Liquid Death auctioned off ad space on 500,000 cases as a way to play in the Super Bowl without playing IN the Super Bowl. Coinbase won the auction with a bid of about $500,000, which is probably a decent CPM for an insider baseball PR stunt. We’ll have to see if it gathers any discourse outside the industry when it’s actually in the market.

This year I watched it with someone special (a Chief’s fan, no, not that one) at a small viewing party. Between social conversations, drinking - and the innumerable toilet breaks it triggers - I feel like I missed many of the ads and I was actually trying to watch them, semi-professionally. Did you hear about the Kanye one from his phone? I didn’t see it, or notice it if I did, but I heard it stood out. Even when I was in the room I couldn’t really hear the ads most of the time. 

I willingly accept this might be a function of age. I’m only just over a decade younger than the Super Bowl itself. However, even with the aforementioned fan’s excellent sound system, I feel like things are harder to hear now, something to do with compression and sound mixing, apparently. In my defense, I hear that even millennials watch Netflix with subtitles now… but then most of them are over forty so… do young people watch Youtube on SmartTVs (apparently now the biggest streaming service on such screens) with subtitles? Let me know. Oddly, the FCC in the USA doesn’t require tv advertising to have closed captions so only a fraction do. Even Super Bowl spots mostly don’t have them, despite the fact that approximately 17 percent of American adults report some degree of hearing loss [NIDCD]. 

On mobile, you can ignore a video in the stream and tend to have audio off by default. How and when to require audio to understand the ad becomes less clear as channel delineations break down. Should online video be assumed to be primarily silent in-stream? Un-skippable ads are clearly different, as are ads on streaming television. Video has more consumption modalities than aspect ratios. Doesn’t seem like a billboard should have audio but what about a digital one? 

I worked with the media company positioning the first digital cross-track projectors in the UK for agencies and the challenge was obvious then. Sound or not? Since “not” is the right answer, who knows how to make silent video advertising? 

I remember some city 6-sheets years ago that you could plug headphones into to sample new music brought to you by some liquor brand. I assume QR codes are used now but the challenge has always been offering something a busy person considers valuable enough to stop and snap for. I don’t want to initiate a digital experience with my phone using my own time and data to get another ad from the campaign I was just looking at. We don’t want billboards to shout at us, let’s say using AI, as we walk by, do we? 

Regardless of the reason, it occurred to me while watching the Super Bowl, in the aforementioned context, that maybe these ads should be considered more like billboards because I couldn't really hear them. I can’t claim an epiphany, it occurred to me exactly when I saw the Disney animated typography ad that looks like billboards. It runs through quotes from the various eras of movies, flexing Disney’s creatively unique intergenerational appeal to advertisers while tugging on the heartstrings of the child inside everyone. 

Did you know that the winning team MVP traditionally goes to Disney after the game? Hence the famous “I’m going to DisneyLand!” expression. Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes have both exclaimed the immortal words. Then they do staged shoots at the parks and sometimes join the daily parade. I feel like they could have done more with that cultural integration of the two but the ad is called “Well Said” and, well, maybe that is a great way to say things based on that context - quietly, with subtitles. At least until everyone does it. Let’s see next year. 

Another ad that seemed well optimized to both silent viewing and many, many forced exposures came with a promotion to win everything advertised during the game. I do remember the DoorDash ad and watched it a number of times to try and get the incredibly long code for the draw but truthfully never came close. It really annoyed me. I’m still annoyed about it. 

Actually, I had forgotten about it and then got annoyed again when I thought about it while writing this. Then my bank emailed to say I can get ‘free delivery’ for a year with DoorDash thanks to what I assume is a data-sharing affiliate marketing arrangement and so I switched from UberEats, because I was never really sure I had intentionally subscribed to UberOne in the first place. True story of a real customer journey. Doordash please send me the code - I’m a new customer, you win already, let me enter. 

Having looked at the various Super Bowl ad meters, I realize that I don’t remember even seeing many of them. Again, I was actively trying to watch them. Perhaps that’s something worth considering next year. Are you launching a long running multimedia campaign or trying to make an impact during the most competitive advertising environment that has ever existed? I’m sure you can do both but it might require some very specific communications planning, rather than considering your Super Bowl magnum opus in isolation during creative reviews and assuming all those impressions really happened with the level of attention, or volume, we apply to the work. We often say that the creative should be made for specific media, what works on TV doesn’t usually work online, but we also need to factor in the different modalities with which creative is actually consumed.