In lieu of our annual analysis and break down of Super Bowl ads following the big game, this year I thought I’d take a different approach. Partially because, three days after the game, I’m having a hard time thinking of any advertisements that stuck out. I really cannot recall one ad that made a huge impact. However, I wanted to take a different track this year because primarily, I felt that this was one of the first years in recent history where the game was actually more exciting than the ads!

Super Bowl ads are notorious for attempting to accomplish three things:

  • Entertain the audience with fresh, new and wild advertising campaigns.
  • Gain brand momentum with a large captive audience.
  • Sell product.

In recent years, there has been a noticeable shift in Super Bowl ads communicating a brand message around what that brand stands for. Or, especially with last year’s Super Bowl, planting a stake in a social cause that the brand has tied itself to.

In my opinion, 2018’s Super Bowl ads fully turned that corner. And while there was still product to be sold, the ads found new and unique ways to do it that were not so in-your-face-go-but-this.

Ads fell into one of three camps:

  • Tying a brand to a social message. (Ram Truck’s Martin Luther King voiceover ad; Toyota’s multi-religion ad.)
  • Celebrity cameo/self-deprecation. (Rocket Mortgage’s ad; Christ Pratt’s Michelob Ultra ad series.)
  • Cross-brand promotion. (Pepsi’s Doritos Fire and Mountain Dew Ice ad; P&G’s Tide and Old Spice ad.)

Honorable mention:

  • Movie trailers. (There were lots.)

So, what’s the conclusion to draw about the future of Super Bowl ads? The way I look at it, there are a few possibilities, all of which seem relatively plausible, considering the $5 million price tag of a 30-second ad.

  • Brands aren’t seeing the return on product pushing. This is pretty straightforward. While Super Bowl ads are notoriously entertaining, there has been little evidence that they help move product off the shelves for brands.
  • Entertainment is taking a back seat. As popular as the Super Bowl has become, and the divisive state of affairs in our country, brands are replacing entertainment value of their ads and striking an emotional chord with audiences.
  • Brands need to share the cost. The price tag for Super Bowl ads keeps climbing. And for that increased cost, brands must see a higher return on their investment. Without that return, I foresee the cross-brand promotions continuing. It allows two brands under the same parent company to share placement costs.

What was your take on the Super Bowl ads this year? Were you a fan? What would you like to see changed for next year and future Super Bowls?