Why Super Bowl ads rely so on humor
It's a festive day. That's a big part of it.
January 28, 2008
Sitcoms may be faltering, but in the Super Bowl, humor remains the most important element. Many of the 63 spots in this year’s game will rely on laughs to engage consumers, from the always-hilarious Bud Light ads to a new campaign being launched by Careerbuilder. Indeed, last year a Nationwide spot in which Kevin Federline, Britney Spears’ ex-husband, mocked his loser reputation by playing a fry-cook was one of the year’s most-blogged-about commercials, according to Nielsen Online. This year the possibility of comedian Will Ferrell appearing in a Bud Light ad has provided some of the game’s biggest pregame buzz. Various polls leading up to Sunday’s game have shown that Bud Light has the most-anticipated ads, with respondents citing their humor as the biggest factor. This ties into the greater development of the Super Bowl into an entertainment event and not just a sporting one. Walter Guarino, advertising professor in Seton Hall University’s Master of Arts in strategic communications program and president and managing partner of Insight/SGW, talks to Media Life about why humor rules the Super Bowl, why certain commercials work, and how long it takes to come up with an ad.
Why do humorous spots seem to draw the best response from viewers year in and year out?
The Super Bowl is basically a celebration, a time to party and have fun. Thus, those humorous spots blend into the occasion. They also make a boring blowout game a lot more enjoyable.
a huge amount of anticipation for the actual game this year, as opposed
to just the commercials. Will this help or hurt ads, in terms of people
actually paying attention to them and noticing them?
I feel strongly that it will depend on how close the game is. The reason why advertisers pay more to have their spots aired early in the game is that the score can’t be too much of a runaway that soon.
If the game goes down to the wire, people will still watch the commercials with pretty much the same attention they would at the start. Also, the best thing about the amount of anticipation for this particular game is great news for the network. The ratings should be high and they won’t have to worry about makegoods on other shows.
Can a poorly received Super Bowl ad actually have the opposite effect that’s intended — that is, can it ever hurt the brand?
Absolutely. The funny thing is that currently Under Armour (who hasn’t even aired their commercial for a new cross-training shoe) is already being blasted by their investors for spending money on the Super Bowl.
In most cases when the commercial is poorly received, the advertiser revs up their PR folks to get good news out about the company to stave off the negative comments about the commercial as quickly as possible.
What do you think was the best ad, in terms of execution and reception, in last year’s game?
I think the biggest surprise last year was Nationwide’s spot starring Kevin Federline.
It was researched afterwards and came up as the No. 1 buzz (talked about) commercial last year. This year, they dropped out of the game and I think it was partially due to the negatives surrounding Britney Spears all year. My fave was the Doritos spot, which was produced by amateurs and looked quite professional.
How long generally does it take for a Super Bowl ad to be executed, from concept to filming?
Normally, a commercial can take as little as a few weeks or as long as three months. Super Bowl spots can take even longer from concept to filming because they are so important to the advertiser.
Some companies like Anheuser-Busch have been rumored to look at as many as 70 storyboards before a decision is made on which ones to produce. The concepts are pre-tested in focus groups, which adds to the timeline. I’ve also heard of a Super Bowl advertiser starting the process as early as June.
Has the replay of ads via the internet and NFL Network helped increase their value to advertisers?
Yes. The extra mileage an ad gets via the web and NFL Network increases the overall value to advertisers. It’s usually easier to get pre-game publicity because that’s when the media folks are covering the event more extensively. After the game, most media consider the game and the commercials yesterday’s news, unless some extenuating circumstance arises (which is rare).
The afterlife that commercials get now via YouTube and MySpace is already enhancing the value of many commercials, not just those that were aired during a Super Bowl.
Last year there were several user-generated ads that aired during the game. What do you predict this year’s ad trend will be?
I think there will be a bumper crop of kinder and more gentle humorous spots. There will be less slapstick where people get injured for a laugh, but the trend is definitely toward fun.
I am getting right back to where I started when I said have fun. It’s all one big party. This event is tailor-made for entertainment. There will be a few spots that aren’t humorous, of course. Those usually involve a new product launch or a huge promotion.
Finally, who do you like in the game itself?
I may be nuts, but I think the Giants have a shot. For me, as a fan of Big Blue since I was a child, it’s a mini-miracle that they are even in the game.
However, I do like the idea of a team having a perfect season. That’s exciting by itself.
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