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Super Bowl Spots Were Fun, Affecting, But No Gillette Ad

“[Bud Light] took an existing campaign and realized they’re the only major beer without corn syrup, and the agency realized how to put it [forward] as a unique selling point and it worked. I thought it was hilarious that they cast corn syrup,” said senior affiliated faculty member Peter Seronick.
By David Ertischek ’01

Last year’s crop of Super Bowl ads were a direct response to the divisive American politics prevalent under Donald Trump’s presidency. This year’s ads focused more generally on social issues and and good old-fashioned entertainment, said two Emerson Marketing Communication faculty members.

“It was a market shift this year. Last year was after the election, and there was a lot of nervousness in the world,” said Executive-in-Residence Michael Tucker. “There was a lot of discomfort and brands were willing to step up and do something political. This year it was really devoid of that and almost a return to what Super Bowl ads are typically – entertainment with a brand at its core.”

Tucker said that many ads turned to themes of social activism like the Hennessey ad narrated by hip-hop star Nas that was about African-American cyclist Marshall “Major” Taylor, who won his first professional race in 1896 and was the world’s most famous athlete in 1901. Variations of the ad have been running since April 2018.

There were several woman-focused spots about female empowerment, including one featuring Serena Williams and another with the first woman to earn a football scholarship, which senior affiliated faculty member Peter Seronick thought missed the mark.

“They made a statement, statements that I support, but I didn’t remember them,” said Seronick, who owned his own advertising company and worked for Boston advertising giants Arnold and Hill Holiday. “It was the venue it ran in. It probably would’ve had more impact if I were watching something I wasn’t emotionally invested in, because I’m a Patriots fan. They deserved a more important place in my mind. At the moment, they passed right by me as subject matter that is really, really important.”

The cost of 30 seconds of airtime during the Super Bowl is staggering these days, said Tucker. At $5.2 million for 30 seconds, that equals to $173,000 per second. Add production costs, such bringing in A-listers, like Steve Carell in a Pepsi ad, Jeff Bridges and Sarah Jessica Parker in a Stella Artois ad, Christina Applegate for M&M’s, plus Hollywood directors, and you’re talking about ads that could cost $10 million.

Beer ads are always a staple in the Super Bowl ad realm, like the Stella Artois ad, and this year, some hit and others missed.

Michelob ran multiple ads, but one that got people talking (and confused) was Zoe Kravitz trying to solicit an autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR, which is quite trendy these days. In the ad, Kravitz spoke quietly, tapping her fingernails on a bottle with ambient sound. ASMR is an experience that may provide a tingling sensation that goes from your head down your back in a slightly euphoric manner.

Seronick vaguely recalled the ASMR ad, while Tucker found it creepy, and looked up the science of ASMR on Monday morning.

“The hope is people are going to say, ‘What’s going on here? I have to look it up and understand it.’ That’s also part of those ads, to provoke interest and get people inquisitive.”

Seronick said he really liked the continuation of Bud Light’s “dilly-dilly” Medieval characters campaign, even if the corn lobby did not.

“That spot was the most memorable for me because they took a competitive issue with the competition. The ‘dilly-dilly’ campaign is a wonderful, fun spot and they’ve never really pushed any unique selling points and just got the brand out there,” said Seronick. “They took an existing campaign and realized they’re the only major beer without corn syrup, and the agency realized how to put it [forward] as a unique selling point and it worked. I thought it was hilarious that they cast corn syrup. It was great later in the game when they did a Game of Thrones spot to promote its last season and teamed up with Bud Light.”

While Seronick said he’s never watched Game of Thrones, nor is he much a beer drinker, those two ads spoke to him, and in the case of the latter, it’s because he avoids corn syrup in products.

Both Tucker and Seronick said they liked the thoughtful and simple Google ads — one that highlighted the web giant’s new job board for veterans, and the other about the most translated words via Google Translate.

But probably the biggest ad of the year didn’t even air during the Super Bowl. It was Gillette’s twist on its “The Best a Man Can Get” campaign, addressing “toxic masculinity” such as bullying and sexual harassment, asking “Is this the best a man can get?”

“They said ‘Let’s do this before the Super Bowl’,” said Tucker. “It was before all the media hype of the game and was what everyone was talking about. They had people talking about the ad on news shows and it was on the front page of the Boston Globe, New York Times and Washington Post.

Tucker said the content of the ad was so strong that it ignited controversy while addressing a major issue in today’s world.

“That’s why a lot of ads are released before the Super Bowl. A lot of people watch them on YouTube, on the brand’s site, comment on it, ‘like’ it and link to it and share it in some viral way.”

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