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How Canadian Agencies Turn Super Bowl Sunday into a Touchdown


Some of Canada’s best and brightest creative minds talk to LBB’s Josh Neufeldt about what the ‘big game’ means in Canada, and what they’ll be looking for this Sunday… apart from the football

How Canadian Agencies Turn Super Bowl Sunday into a Touchdown

Undoubtedly, the Super Bowl is one of the most quintessentially American things to exist. Unlike the MLS, NHL or MLB, there are no Canadian teams, it’s held the status of the most-watched US broadcast for years, and for advertising agencies? Well, to say it’s the biggest, flashiest, most competitive time for US advertising… that might be an understatement. 

But while all this is well-known information, what some might not be aware of is the fact that in Canada, the Super Bowl is also massive. In fact, it’s also the single largest broadcasting event in Canada - with one in two citizens tuning in during last year’s finals. This begs the question, do Canadian agencies - assuming they’re working on campaigns intended to air in Canada - share the same zeal for the occasion as their American counterparts? Or do the historically lower budgets and traditional lack of Canadian involvement in the big game itself get in the way of the fun? 

To get to the bottom of this matter, LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with Canadian ad folk from LG2, Juniper Park\TBWA, FUSE Create, The Local Collective, PMX, Cossette, Ogilvy, Wunderman Thompson, Dentsu Canada and Diamond. 

Allen Kwong
Group creative director at Type1/TAXI

The Super Bowl is a big moment for a lot of Canadians. Maybe not quite on par with how big it is in the US, but a big deal, nonetheless. Viewing parties have always been a thing here, both at bars and in people’s homes. Some watch for the game. Some for the halftime show. And some just for the ads.

In recent years, more and more, Canadian brands have created work specifically for the Canadian broadcast of the Super Bowl. But our scale is a little smaller, so we tend to be nimble and scrappy. Specifically, Canadian brands are activating around the big game, just with smaller budgets. So, they’ve had to find ways to be part of the conversation that you won’t see on TV, whether that shows up as a special meal deal, wild postings, or an interesting social media activation.

Look for our new Volkswagen spot during the Canadian broadcast of Super Bowl 57. Fun fact: at first, the Super Bowl wasn’t on the table. While we were brainstorming, we noticed a big resurgence of retro music in pop culture. That’s when one of our writers had the idea to reimagine a classic VW spot that used an iconic ‘80s song. That idea quickly generated a lot of excitement with our clients and media partners. Together, we decided to make it a Super Bowl spot. That was the spark to use the ID. Buzz – Volkswagen’s highly-anticipated, all-electric reimagining of the legendary Microbus - which further inspired us to reach out to the band whose song we featured, which in turn, led to us layering in a bunch of fun easter eggs for keen-eyed Volkswagen fans. It was a fun process!

Peter Ignazi
CCO at Diamond

The Super Bowl is a special time for ad people. For one glorious week, people don’t hate us or run from what we do. People love Super Bowl ads! Historically, they love American ads, and for obvious reasons. They started it. It’s their show. Advertisers take it super seriously, and when your competition is Tom Brady or Prince, you’d better bring it. 

I know this very well, because back in the 2000s I got to pitch Super Bowl scripts for Budweiser and Bud Light. One year (the infamous ‘wardrobe malfunction’ year), we actually got two of our agency’s ads chosen. It was such a big deal that a Canadian agency got ads in the big show that the Globe and Mail did a piece on it… and such a big deal that half our small agency took a bus to a wing joint in Buffalo to watch it live! 

That said, I’ve never been briefed on doing a Super Bowl thing in Canada for a Canadian marketer. For most years, it was perceived as not really being worth the trouble of trying to compete with the US budgets and US stars. But it always seemed weird to me. Why waste the opportunity of having so many Canadians watching one thing at the same time? Thankfully, I’ve started to notice brands are saying that they are doing ads up here, specifically for the show. I think this is great, and more important now than it has ever been. There are very few times in this streaming world we live in, where a ‘moment’ (albeit a four hour one) is shared by so many people. To not bring a little magic to this unicorn of a branding opportunity seems like a real miss.

Jeff Thibodeau 
President at PMX Canada

Despite the repeal of ‘simsub’ in 2020, Canadians are still watching the game on Canadian channels in massive numbers, so Canadian brands still have ample opportunity to advertise during the Super Bowl. Through CTV and TSN, the NFL and our Canadian advertisers have the largest television platform with which to reach consumers during this key advertising and cultural event.

The Super Bowl is definitely a major impact on the Canadian television landscape each year, although it would be hard to argue it’s as big or important - particularly to advertisers - as it is in the US. Regardless, we continue to see overall growth of the NFL and Super Bowl audiences year over year. In fact, given co-viewing habits during this event, the numbers are even somewhat under-represented! Combined with the consumer shift to a more on-demand, and often commercial-free consumption of content, live events and sports are more important than ever, and remain as real-time appointment viewing for advertisers to capture attention. And while the Super Bowl is for everyone, specifically, it provides some brands a great opportunity to quickly reach the elusive young male audience at scale.

Several multinational brands plan on releasing or launching products during this time - capitalising on the mass awareness moment on both sides of the border - while others mark it as a key lean-in moment to advertise for consumers, increasing the impact of their existing campaigns. For us, as one of the largest buyers of media in Canada, we place several spots each year on behalf of our clients. In some cases it is a lift of US creative, and other times, it can be a new campaign hitting the market here locally.

As a final thought, when advertisers have a planned a Super Bowl strategy, they huddle all channels to support the message they are creating around the game and their products. Even advertisers unable to afford spots in the Super Bowl will often build content on their owned and social channels to leverage the hype and support their message and products.

Rana Chatterjee and Jeff Cheung
Creative directors at LG2

Jeff> Honestly, I’m not sure if the Super Bowl will ever reach the same scale as the US - there’s so much history there - but it’s still extremely popular and culturally relevant here in Canada, and it’s only continuing to grow. The halftime show has always been an important part of the game because people tune in to see who is performing. But now, the legalisation of sports gambling in certain provinces has changed the way the game is watched. It adds another level of excitement and opens more doors for people to be involved - beyond just casual viewing - because now they can have skin in the game. 

In terms of brands pinpointing the moment as a specific opportunity, some do (depending on their budgets and scope for the year), but for the most part, the bulk of what we see in Canada is regular TV advertising rather than bespoke Super Bowl spots. On social media, brands definitely play a bigger role, as they want to stay engaged and a part of the conversation. It’s their best opportunity to showcase a product or promotion that ties to the big game, knowing that so many people will be watching it. 

As to whether I’ve ever worked on a Canadian Super Bowl spot? I did for 48 hours… and then the client cancelled the brief (haha!). 

Rana> While sadly, I’ve never had the chance to work on a Super Bowl brief, as long as I’ve been in the business, the Super Bowl has always been relevant, and I think will continue to be relevant as long as the NFL has the following it does. What I love about Super Bowl ads is the pressure that brands feel to be breakthrough. In theory, it forces us all to take risks, think critically, and potentially push brands to places they wouldn’t normally go (which quite frankly, we should be doing all year). But, as much as we’re all content to rally around the Super Bowl, selfishly, it would be great to have a similar occasion specifically for Canadian advertising. You don’t see anything comparable happening during the Stanley Cup, for example. And, if there are specific ads, they seem to be hockey focused, whereas Super Bowl ads can just be great ads without always being about football. Plus, it’s literally the only time of year the ads get nearly as much attention as the event itself, so it’s a great opportunity to do awesome work. 

There’s also the chance - if you’re part of a multinational network - that you could get asked to help out or contribute to Super Bowl scripts that are happening south of the border. I’ve had a few friends work on Super Bowl briefs as a kind of an ‘all hands on deck’ initiative from CCOs who wanted to access a breadth of ideas, but to echo Jeff’s point, social media is an easy way for local brands to jump on the big game bandwagon without the budgetary challenges and limits of TV, especially on the US broadcast. 

Neil Walker-Wells 
Executive creative director at Juniper Park\TBWA

Regardless of which side of the border you’re watching the game from, the reality is that today’s Super Bowl ads are an event in themselves. 

Much like a ‘Survivor’ finale or any other big TV event, the big game draws a guaranteed audience and presents an opportunity to showcase our best creative thinking, and the best agencies and brands have to offer. The Bowl is a spectacle, and viewers expect to be entertained in the breaks as much as during play or at the halftime show. 

In this regard, I think Canada is definitely still playing catch-up with our US counterparts - making sure the brand and message is a good fit for the occasion. Will an ad ride the moment, or send people to the kitchen for more snacks? Are we watching another ad from a brand that’s shoehorned into the football space? I’m afraid at the moment in Canada that’s mostly yes, and yes. 

One brand, however, that’s always got it right for me on both sides of the border is Apple. Sure, it’s hard to argue with its credentials – 1984, maybe the greatest Super Bowl ad ever – but you can only appreciate its creatively astute approach since. The brand has proven that an ad doesn’t have to be about football or even Super Bowl flavoured. There's certainly plenty of work that exists only for the game, and there's definitely a place for that. But it’s often a detour for many brands - an excuse for them to have a uniquely Super Bowl moment. 

On the other hand, Apple shows up the same way it always does, staying true to the brand, and ensuring that viewers are entertained by well-crafted spots with elegant product integration that’s not forced or over-bearing. Apple doesn’t do Super Bowl ads per se, but uses the moment to entertain, rather than try to appeal to football fans. It recognises the media moment and shows up where the eyes are, but resists the temptation of making work exclusively for the event theme. 

Last year, for example, Apple chose a moment in culture and ran with it, doing a great job of being locally relevant by using a celebrity intuitively, while marrying their offering with a story - see below with Jon Hamm in ‘Everyone but Jon Hamm’. 

It’s an idea that’s continued this year with Timothée Chalamet, and to my earlier point regarding entertainment, it’s nice to see that the brand’s ads aren’t always a one-off… not necessarily about football, but rather about embracing the broader idea of work that captivates and entertains the audience. 

That brings us to this year… where questions still remain. Will we see more Super Bowl ads that are trying desperately to be Super Bowl ads? Or will we see brands astutely deliver on the moment, and succeed in being a part of the spectacle? We’ll have to tune in and see. 

Steve Miller
SVP at FUSE Create

Ah the Super Bowl - the ultimate ‘moment marketing’ opportunity which brands definitely take advantage of… as they should! Especially online, it’s one of those rare events that spans audience and interest, and gets talked about, shared, posted, and liked a million times over. So, if you can connect your brand authentically to the game, the experience, and/or the spectacle, you should! 

Now, Canadian brands don’t typically invest quite as much from a ‘hard-working’ dollars perspective as our US counterparts (or a working dollars perspective), due to both financial and TV audience limitations, however, that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative. I worked on some 15-second spots for KitKat a few years back, and excitement certainly trumped budget. With the Super Bowl comes expectations to be funny, memorable, and talked about. So, if/when Canadian brands and agencies are going to take advantage of the once-a-year event, know the cultural bar is set high, and only slightly higher than the ROI expectations. And on that note, go Eagles!

Matt Litzinger
Founder and CCO at The Local Collective

​​It’s one of the best times of the year - especially if you like overly indulgent eating, group dynamics, gambling, pop culture, advertising, oh…and football!

Ah the Super Bowl (or the ‘big game’, which is how it gets referred to in advertising when you haven’t paid for the right to call it by name), that amazing sporting event that has become a cultural moment in North America. Although it is not viewed in Canada with the same religious zeal it has in the US (that falls to hockey up here), nevertheless, it has become one of the defining advertising moments across the country in a calendar year. In years past, this has been a time for sponsorships and some of the most captivated audience television moments. And, based on the most recent conversations I’ve had… it still is.

One of my favourite Super Bowl spots I created was for McDonald’s (see below). It was a big, epic, around the world story that still holds true today. Because of the global audience, the Super Bowl is a fantastic moment for a client partner to take a risk, and our client understood that. We decided to make a commercial that could run not only in Canada, but around the world, which eventually it did. (It also never showed a single stitch of product which apparently hadn’t been done before, and I’m kinda proud of that).

As always, I’m looking forward to seeing the activations and entertaining commercials from both our country and our friends to the south. Hopefully they’re not all about gambling apps. 

Also… Rihanna!

Anthony Atkinson
Executive creative director at Cossette

The best part about the Super Bowl is the ads. When else do people look at advertising with such affection? It’s a brilliant commentary on our relationship with advertising, and I think it
comes down to one simple thing: the Super Bowl is a moment when brands compete to ‘out-entertain’ one another. I find it fascinating that this one occasion gives brands the permission to put entertainment ahead of everything else, and I only wished we embraced this spirit all the time. And that’s not the advertiser in me talking - it’s the consumer. People genuinely love advertising when its goal is entertainment.

Other cultures have their own moments. The UK has Christmas for example. So, when it comes to Canada, where do we fit in? Truth be told, we don’t really have such occasions, and having a ‘Canadian Super Bowl spot’ feels like we’re trying to fit in with our American friends. I believe we saw our moment for the first time when the Toronto Raptors made the NBA finals. Marketers jumped at the opportunity to make it our Super Bowl, and it was great to see. Another moment for Canadian advertising is during the Winter Olympics, when many brands compete for national pride. Or, at the World Juniors and the Stanley Cup.

Ultimately, It’s hard for Canada to compete with the huge US budgets. But I believe we can be just as entertaining, creative and ambitious. ‘Like a Girl’ would be an excellent example of this. So, I would challenge us all to embrace the same competitive ambition to entertain the masses on any given Tuesday as we do on this one Sunday. Or at the very least, find our own moment that we can call the ‘Canadian Super Bowl’ of advertising - one that’s all ours, and that we can all look forward to.

Francesco Grandi 
CCO at Ogilvy Canada

Full transparency, I’ve never watched an entire game of football in my life. But I know enough about Tom Brady to know he never took a night off. Whether it was preseason or a championship game, he showed up just the same. Where am I going with this? To be the best brand in the world, you need to show up with every single ad. You can’t just do it once a year. You have to play hard, take risks and surprise people all season long. Don’t get me wrong - I love the hoopla around the Super Bowl. It forces us all to bring our ‘a game’. But, if we brought it all the time, our industry could achieve so much more.

OK, I’m doing a terrible job at answering the question. Maybe it’s because I’ve just returned to Canada and forgot about the Super Bowl hype. In the UK, their version of the Super Bowl is Christmas ads. Brands are expected to tug at the heartstrings. Over here, people just want to see a koala get punched in the face (don’t get mad at me, I never wrote that Career Builder spot… although I wish I did!). 

OK, back to Canada for real. We could never outspend our southern neighbours. However, we can still try to outsmart them. This year, I was lucky enough to work on not one, but two 60-second Super Bowl ads for TD - both shot by acclaimed comedy director Jeff Low. From the initial briefing, the rules of engagement were simple: win the Super Bowl by being the most entertaining brand of the night. Fingers crossed.

Cass Zawadowski
CCO at Wunderman Thompson Canada

I think we often forget how similar the US and Canada are when it comes to culturally relevant and significant events like the Super Bowl. I mean, we like football, we like nachos and wings, and we like a good halftime show! All kidding aside, I feel like we’ve always had excitement for the big game, and Canadian brands have always taken advantage of the bigger, more engaged audience, whether it be TV, a social campaign or otherwise. 

Regardless of which side of the border a brand sits on, I think the brands that are killing it are the ones creating inspiration and conversation across multiple platforms. Whether starting with a TV spot or a teaser that drives to a website, or a piece of OOH that creates a reaction and drives people to engage on social, this is what ‘big game success’ looks like to me. 

Karl Ouellette
Associate creative director at Dentsu Canada

From what we’ve seen so far, a lot of companies are back on doing teasers for upcoming commercials and stunts that will happen during the Super Bowl. Whether it’s FanDuel advertising the 'Kick of Destiny' with Rob Gronkowski live at the Super Bowl; Michelob Ultra claiming to take over the game on February 12th; or all the other companies like Avocados from Mexico, Doritos, PopCorners, Pringles, Rakuten, and Workday... all came with stories that are waiting for the game to be developed.

That said, I haven’t seen any common theme from the commercials so far. However, what I find interesting this year is the return to basics, and what we expect the Super Bowl commercials to be. It’s something that most viewers probably didn’t notice, but the past two years have been hard on the film industry, primarily due to budget shortages and sanitary restrictions during filming days. I’m expecting advertisers to go all-in this year - a lot of actors in the same scenes/rooms (big crowds are allowed as we don’t have a restriction on the number of actors anymore), a bigger spread of celebrity cameos, and overall, greater production value.

Now, the question of how advertisers catch the attention of viewers during Super Bowl? That’s the question all advertisers would love to have the answer to. Quite frankly, it’s hard to tell in advance if a commercial is going to work as expected or not. However, we’re seeing more and more companies find new ways of hijacking the event, all without having to spend the big bucks to be part of the commercials list per se. And for me personally, my favourite commercials are usually the ones that are least expected!

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LBB Editorial, Fri, 10 Feb 2023 16:27:00 GMT