Why This Super Bowl Is Different

John Drake
Feb 5 · 3 min read

This year, deciding to advertise during the Super Bowl is a two-part equation for brands: tone and business reasoning. The latter is important every year; the former is important this year.

Let’s start with tone. For a brand, its personality should be constant, but its tone should change based on the circumstances. In that regard, a brand behaves similarly to us. Every person has a unique personality, but their tone adjusts to whatever is going on in their life at that moment.

This year’s game is happening within a global health pandemic, a difficult election, the capitol riot, serious social unrest, deep economic challenges, vaccine tension, and much more. The tone with which a brand presents itself during a mass televised event to ultimately sell people something matters, more than ever, this year.

In 2002 after 9/11, Anheuser-Busch got it right with their America tribute. That year, FedEx also did their hand gestures ad. Very different tones during a challenging time, but both played well that year with the Super Bowl audience.

Budweiser, 911 Tribute Super Bowl Ad, 2002

In 2012, amidst the Great Recession, Chrysler got it right with the Clint Eastwood-narrated “It’s Half Time America” ad. That was also the year when Honda ran Ferris Bueller for the CR-V. Very different tones, but both were well-liked that year.

Chrysler, It’s Half Time America Super Bowl Ad, 2012

In all of these examples, a successful tone delivery separates good planning and good creative from the rest of the pack. It’s a combination of considering three things: the brand personality being dealt with at the onset, the product category, and the subject matter of the storyline or humor.

A brand’s tone on Super Bowl Sunday will likely drive the public response. Advertisers and their agencies need to get that dialed correctly or risk a $5 million dollar distraction.

The other part is the media choice: does the Super Bowl make sense as a $5 million dollar platform? There are three reasons to advertise on the Super Bowl…

1. It’s a new product that many could find value in.

Monster.com, When I Grow Up Super Bowl Ad, 1999

The key is new. The advertiser is saying, “hello.” After all, Super Bowl-Advertising-As-Event started with Apple Computer launching Macintosh, something new and relevant to the mass market. And when online job-seeking was hatched as a category in ’99, Monster used the game for the same reason… Every season brands use the platform for this.

2. It’s a household name that has an important message to say.

Always, Like A Girl Super Bowl Ad, 2016

The key is importance. After the game, many of the commercials panned may not have fully embraced the fact that the Super Bowl is — right or wrong — one of the biggest events of the year. If the core message isn’t perceived as important enough to be worthy of that environment, there’s a high risk the audience won’t like it.

3. A household name, who’s a category leader, and wants to establish their position further, gain more market share, or expand the way we think about them.

Hyundai, Smaht Pahk Super Bowl Ad, 2020

Hyundai’s Smaht Pahk nailed this last year.

This is primarily reserved for products that show well when we’re in our football-watching mindset. Products that are social, fun, and enjoyable for many. Brands like Hyundai, Tabasco, McDonald’s, and Coke have executed well here.

So let’s see who creatively gets the tone right and who media-wise gets the platform right.

A place to absorb Drake Cooper’s reflections on…