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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

Game Time

I've never been a big sports fan, but as a marketer, Super Bowl weekend -- where companies will spend millions of dollars to produce and air spectacular advertisements in the hopes of winning our hearts, minds, and wallets -- is one of my favourite weekends of the year.

I usually prefer to watch the Super Bowl ads for the first time during the Big Game itself -- it's the only part of the game I truly care about, actually -- but so that I had something to write about this week, I watched all the 2020 ads that have already been released online.

Here's a little of what you can expect on Sunday:

The Funnies

Lots (and lots) of companies use humour in their Super Bowl ads in an attempt to breakthrough... some more successfully than others. I laughed-out-loud at the Amazon, Hyundai, Little Caesar's, Reese Take 5, and Snickers commercials, but some other brands tried too hard. (I'm looking at you guys, TurboTax and Pop-Tarts.) Every Super Bowl in recent history has featured several "funnies", and this one will be no exception.

The Celebrity Sightings

Ellen Degeneres for Amazon. Chris Evans, John Krasinski, and Rachel Dratch for Hyundai. John Legend and Chrissy Teigan for Genesis. Lil Nas X for Doritos. Bryan Cranston for Mountain Dew, doing his best Jack Nicholson impersonation. These are just a few of the many celebrities starring in various Super Bowl spots this year. Some definitely worked better than others. (I've been thinking about it for hours, and I still don't understand the Audi spot featuring Maisie Williams singing a song from Disney's Frozen...)

The Tear-Jerkers / Emotional Ads

Some of the best emotional ads I've ever seen were introduced to the world as Super Bowl ads. This year, the Google ad and the New York Life ad are the ones you have to see. Americans will also likely applaud Budweiser's "Typical American" spot for the sense of national pride it tries to instill, but I couldn't relate. (And that's okay, because I'm clearly not the target audience here.)

The Woke Spots

Some companies choose to produce advertisements that encourage us to make the world a better place. These can range from the inspirational to the flat-out hypocritical. An example of the latter: Audi's 2017 Super Bowl spot, which tried to tell viewers that the German automaker was committed to gender equality in the workplace... even though it was later discovered the company performed far worse in that area than it's competitors. These spots are inherently good or bad... but they certainly work better when they're authentic, and when the company has earned the right to talk about a given injustice based on its demonstrated actions in addressing it. Nike's controversial Colin Kaepernick campaign worked because Nike has a long and authentic history of supporting its athletes. But sometimes you see a spot, love the message, but can't understand why the company is the one starting the conversation. This year, Microsoft put together a truly wonderful ad starring Katie Sowers, offensive assistant coach for the San Francisco 49er; it's a full minute long and describes her journey from a childhood passion for football to becoming the first woman to coach in the Big Game. It is an inspirational story and a really important message... I just couldn't figure out why it was (or should be) a Microsoft spot, aside from the fact that they're a sponsor of the NFL.

The Spectacles

Every Super Bowl has a spectacle, an advertisement that wouldn't be out of place at the Sundance Film Festival. Sometimes it has action. Sometimes it has humour. Sometimes it features a twist. The Porsche ad for their new electric car has all three. I enjoyed it. It's not going to make me buy a Porsche, but it was a fun watch. The Wal-Mart spot is another spectacle, although in an entirely different way. (It's still an excellent commercial, though!)

The Fails

Fact: they can't all be winners. I think the award for Worst Super Bowl 2020 Ad (so far) goes to Heinz. Honestly, I don't even want to say anything more about it. If you see this spot and love it -- or even understand it -- please send me an email to explain it to me.

The Home-Runs

Once in a while, we're gifted with a Super Bowl ad that's so good, we can't talk about anything else. So good they become instant classics, and for marketers, instant case studies: Coca-Cola's "'Mean' Joe Greene" (1980), Apple's "1984" spot (1984), McDonald's "Larry Bird vs. Michael Jordan Showdown" (1993), and Volkswagen's "The Force" (2011) to name but a few. I can't say for certain whether we're going to see one of those instant-classics this year... but I really, really liked that Snickers ad.

If you don't want to wait until Sunday to start watching all these commercials, AdWeek has assembled everything that's been released so far and put them in one convenient place.

And if you want to know what I thought were the best Super Bowl ads this year, check out this post.

- dp


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