Three tips for scoring this year’s Super Bowl commercials

It’s that time of year again—the Super Bowl has returned. In its 50th installment we expect all the brilliance, glitz, and athletic prowess of years past, coupled with the most expensive advertising in the event’s history. Given that spots are selling for north of $5 million, how can you judge if an ad is worth the money?

Here are three tips to help you, your dad, or even your football-crazed grandma decide which brands scored a touchdown with their commercials.

1. Is the ad on-brand?

Even for major brands with extensive adverting budgets and massive communications teams, the lure of going for broke with the most hilarious, shocking, or heartwarming ad can be hard to ignore. Whether standing out with a flashy visual or telling a great story, it’s imperative that brands do so in on-brand ways, staying true to their core identity and principles.

Newcastle knows its target audience and its own identity and refuses to stray from them. Instead of advertising on TV during last year’s Super Bowl, Newcastle used its “No Bollocks” stance to release humorous, sarcastic ads online. In this way it remained true to its core, cutting through the bollocks of the multimillion-dollar price tag and speaking directly to its consumers.

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2. Will you remember the brand tomorrow?

What all advertisers really want is for consumers to remember their brand once the clock has run out and the big game has come to an end. Being on-brand is just part of the equation—ads must also highlight the product or offer in a clear and memorable way. Many brands get swept up in storytelling or humor, forgetting that the ultimate point of their ad is to sell more product, increase brand equity, or change consumer sentiment. Doing so requires “stickiness”: Successful ads will stay in consumers’ minds with a clear link to the promoted brands.

Budweiser fell prey to the storytelling pitfall in last year’s Super Bowl, running its frolicking puppy ad to much acclaim. Though the ad topped USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter, no one remembered it was for Budweiser beer. The “stickiness” factor simply wasn’t there, and although enjoyable, the puppy didn’t ultimately sell Budweiser’s product.

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3. Does the ad speak to the times?

The world is an ever-changing place and in any given year, myriad events unfold that shape the course of consumer sentiment and public opinion. Advertisers must understand the context in which their ads will be viewed, or else risk appearing insensitive or out of touch. During this year’s Super Bowl, watch out for puns, references, and reactions to events and conversations from the past year.

We’re already seeing two themes emerge in reaction to the social environment this year. First, the stresses and difficulties of the past year have led advertisers such as Doritos and Hyundai to focus on humor as an escape for viewers, knowing that people are in the mood for something light and fun. Second, advertisers recognize that consumers are opting for brands that share their ideals, so elevating the conversation is important. During the Super Bowl, expect to see PSA-style ads encouraging people to save water and refrain from drunk driving.

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As you settle onto your couch in preparation for the game, remember to keep an eye on this year’s ads. Three questions will help you determine if an ad lives up to its price tag: (1) Is it on-brand? (2) Will you remember the brand tomorrow? (3) Does the ad speak to the times? With these points in mind—and remote in hand—you’re set up to be an ad-judging MVP this Super Bowl Sunday.

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