Nick Westergaard

By Nick Westergaard on February 5, 2017

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Monday Morning Ad Quarterback: The Best Ads of Super Bowl 51

best super bowl ads

The Super Bowl gives us a chance to see the season’s two best teams go head to head as we enjoy the company of friends and family while indulging in some of our favorite eats. However, many fans flock to the game to watch the other spectacle — the Super Bowl ads and the digital conversations they spark. With a price tag of $5 million for just 30 seconds of time, the “big game” takes on new meaning for marketers. 2017 was no exception.

The Best Super Bowl Ads of 2017

It’s been a long-standing tradition here to do a Monday Morning Ad Quarterback post, recapping the winners and losers in marketing’s main event. As things move even faster in the digital age, “Monday morning” has become Sunday night! This year, I wanted to focus on the brands that told the most compelling story as well as those that sparked digital actions.

Now let’s get started. Ready? BREAK!

The Best Stories Had a Message

In the wake of a contentious political environment — from the inauguration and women’s march to the recent ban on immigrants — the big question going into Super Bowl 50 was how our current zeitgeist would impact the big game. The answer? Many of the ads did, in fact, carry a bigger message – one of inclusion and, ultimately, patriotism. From Airbnb to Anheuser-Busch, many brands chose to wear their hearts on their sleeves.

But my favorite ad was Coca-Cola’s “It’s Beautiful.”

This could seem like an unsexy pick, especially given the fact that this ad already ran during the Super Bowl in 2014. However, it serves as a good reminder that relevance rules. Coke has long promoted a global, up-with-people message dating back to 1971’s “Hilltop” ad (“I’d like to teach the world to sing …”). For all of the attention that the Anheuser-Busch immigrant ad got, it wasn’t as tied to their brand story. Plus, as Slate reports, the ad is not 100% accurate.

“It’s Beautiful” wasn’t a pivot for Coke but rather a reinforcement of a long-running story. Current events have made Coke’s message more relevant than ever before. It also generated some of the most ad-related tweets during the game. Granted, not all have been positive as some are calling to #BoycotttCoke but, as I’ve noted, standing up as a brand is important and ultimately leads to stronger, positive ties.

Sometimes the best strategy isn’t a radical departure. Sometimes it’s surprisingly simple.

Creating Conversations Online and Off

So which Super Bowl ads had me clicking most? To segue from talking about spots with a message, supply company 84 Lumber kicked up controversy with their moving spot about an immigrant mother and daughter coming to the states. The ad was refused by Fox, who said it was, “too political.” 84 Lumber responded by creating a more urgent call to action, inviting viewers to go to their website to watch the full story.

The problem? It’s a good one to have but their site was overwhelmed. I had to wait hours to see the rest! And by that time I was a bit less engaged in the story.

I like smaller digital interactions. Like brands who listen to the conversations and reply in kind. For example, in the first ad break following Lada Gaga’s halftime show, National Geographic ran an ad for their upcoming scripted series debut, Genius. The ad cleverly featured star Geoffrey Rush in costume as Einstein playing Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”

While this was fun, I enjoyed hearing back from Nat Geo following my tweet.

Again, at a big event like the Super Bowl, it’s easy to get carried away with spectacle. Don’t lose sight of sound strategy and the basics like listening.

Honorable Mentions

Speaking of story, Tide had a fun multi-ad arc featuring Terry Bradshaw fighting a pesky stain. T-Mobile did the same thing with the Kristen Schaal #Punished series. If you’re looking for a good meat-and-potatoes ad that addresses customers’ problems in an attention-getting way, check out John Malkovich’s cautionary tale for Squarespace about getting the domain name you want.

Can I Be Catty for Sec?

How about some of the ones I didn’t care for? For starters, I’m still not entirely comfortable with the NFL pushing the idea of “Super Bowl babies” on us. TMI, right? Aside from the NFL’s interest in your “post-game show,” there were a few other misses.

Honda’s Yearbook spot had a motivational message but not a great connection to the product it was selling (the new CRV). It’s a perfect example of the fun, concept spot that you like but can’t remember what it was for. The same could be said for the Kia ad with Melissa McCarthey.

TurboTax has had a great series going lately featuring celebrities like Kathy Bates asking tax questions but a hella realistic Humpty Dumpty in the hospital?!? No thank you. I’m hoping I don’t see this monster in my nightmares.

What Do You Think?

Those are my picks. What’s your ruling on this year’s ads? What insights have you heard around the water cooler? What’s the social buzz? Remember, you can view all of this year’s Super Bowl ads on the official AdBlitz YouTube channel.




Nick Westergaard
Email Brand Driven Digital

is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, where he helps build better brands online. He also teaches at the University of Iowa and is host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.


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