The Brand Super Bowl 2017 … best marketing moments from Airbnb to Budweiser, IBM Watson and 84 Lumbar

February 6, 2017

You probably heard … the 51st Super Bowl, the world´s biggest annual sporting event, exploded with more hype and marketing dollars than ever in Houston last night, as the New England Patriots finally overcame the Atlanta Falcons in extra time.

The Super Bowl, with an estimated $350m net economic impact has become one of the big moments, not just in the sporting calendar, but in the marketing world too.

Whilst we turn up or tune in for the NFL’s annual finale, it is the half time show, and the regular ad breaks that gain just as much attention. Whatever you think of her, Lady Gaga’s Pepsi-fuelled half-time show, illuminated by Intel’s 500 synchronised drones, was undoubtedly this year’s highlight:

Besides the match score, the biggest question for fans –  and the world’s media – is which brand will take home the trophy for best Super Bowl commercial. For hundreds of millions of viewers it´s a must-watch experience to decide on their favourite advertising moment through the game.

Of course advertising alone doesn’t build a brand today – in fact the role of ads has profoundly changed – rather than simply build awareness, or drive an impulsive purchase – ads are more to reframe an idea in people’s minds by building new associations and possibilities, to provoke a debate on social media  and assert peer to peer influence, to drive people to a mobile app or website where they can immerse themselves more in the brand, its content and experience.

Brands had paid around $5 million per 30 seconds for a moment of Super Bowl airtime. If you also consider costs for creative development, production, PR, social media, then some brands easily spend $10-12 million and more for a 60 or 90 second spot. It’s a big bet in order to grab their target viewer’s attention – particularly in a world which no longer favours mass marketing, generic messages to everyone. But it’s huge appeal also demonstrates the important role of advertising within the media mix – to catalyse, to build or simply to reconfirm a consumer’s engagement.

In 2017, the inauguration of a massively controversial new president loomed over Houston – his outrageous actions against refugees, prejudice against diversity, his threat to build a wall, and much more, provided an abundance of politically-motivated themes to build on. A brand’s ability to connect with the zeitgeist has become all important, driving relevance and realness, to engage with social debate and have an opinion. In many cases, to fight for a cause, to have a higher purpose, to make life better. People in brands that are more than products, that reflect who they are, or want to be.

Airbnb’s simple but incredibly effective exploration of “acceptance” was my favourite moment, which CMO Jonathan Mildenhall conjured up in-house in just a few weeks. Budweiser told the story of its immigrant founders battle against adversity, whilst 84 Lumbar echoed the much talked about wall. Intel spectacularly illuminated the stadium with 300 drones, outshining Pepsi’s contribution to the half-time show, whilst IBM Watson is just beyond this world in its analytical potential.

Below I’ve captured my “super 7” most interesting, distinctive or entertaining moments of this year’s Super Bowl brand fest:

Airbnb’s “We Accept”

Audi’s “Drive Progress”

Budweiser “Born the Hard Way”

IBM Watson with H&R Block “Future”

Intel’s drone lightshow

Netflix “Stranger Things”

84 Lumbar “The Full Journey”

So which is your favourite? Of course the measures of success are not as simple as evaluating the creative execution – its the impact it ultimately has in driving brand preference, purchase and performance that really matters.

But do any one of these ads have the potential to become a legendary commercial like Apple’s “1984,” Volkswagen’s “Kid Vader” or McDonald’s “Jordan vs. Bird”?

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