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The Influencers

Super Bowl 2018 - Or Is It the Scrutiny Bowl 2018?

BSSP's Ed Cotton reveals his predictions for the 'Olympics of Advertising'

Super Bowl 2018 - Or Is It the Scrutiny Bowl 2018?

This year’s Super bowl might as well be called the 'Scrutiny Bowl' of advertising. We now have a confluence of factors making the context for advertising really interesting, placing it under unprecedented scrutiny. 

The factors start from the very top in the White House and go to the millions of empowered, vocal and personal brands consuming the event. 

This is the ultimate in technology meets 'voice' at scale, but now with the added feature -  a President who has taught the nation that there’s a thing called Twitter. 

So before even embarking on a Super Bowl ad, agencies and marketers have to survey the context and decide how they want to play it. Just to be an advertiser this year, takes pretty thick skin.

This year there will be two camps of advertisers. Those who believe scrutiny can be a powerful tension that they can exploit, and will take the opportunity to goad the President, confident in the knowledge that they can back up and support their beliefs. 

Others, also in this camp, will play a more oblique approach - not being as direct - but making their point, nevertheless. 

The other side will see the Super Bowl as a venue for entertainment where we will see familiar comedic faces going for broad-based family suitable humour.

Success for both camps will depend on their ability to use the zeitgeist to strike a chord and capture people’s imagination. The entertainers will have to pick 'appropriate' humour to ensure they don’t lose to mass opinion. Those who take a beliefs route will need to be confident that they have enough shared believers out there. 

So, what’s going to be key?

Watch for the women in advertising. This is likely to be watched more than any other year (witness this year’s Golden Globes), and there will be opportunities for brands to step forward and demonstrate how they are taking a stand. Likewise, it could be a potential minefield for those who lack awareness of the current cultural codes and sensitivities. 

As with all great advertising, brands that demonstrate an acute cultural insight will be winners. These will be companies that embrace such themes as the changing shape of families, the importance of happiness, the benefit of a good night’s sleep, the nation’s growing diversity and the transformation of work and the workplace. Yes, we will see robots. 

Surprise will make a comeback. For some years the ads have been pushed out before the game as marketers want to ensure a foundation of interest before the big moment. Revealing the ad earlier online helped marketers justify their Super Bowl investment, allowing them to use online views as part of their KPIs. But in a world of instant everything, a surprise can be powerful. So instead of sharing spots ahead of time, smart brands won’t reveal anything at all. Others will just tease and seed information but refrain from revealing all. 

Finally, keep an eye out for tech gimmicks. The first spot created with the help of AI, one that uses music written by AI, ads that try to engage people via both their Amazon Echo's and TV.

Let's also not forget there will be dozens of brands poised in their social media control rooms awaiting an opportunity to score a touchdown. No guarantees here, but the team who is set up best and prepared ahead of time to do something somewhat risky with a great legal team who is OK with the scrutiny, is the one most likely to succeed. 

The Super Bowl is the 'Olympics of Advertising.' The brands this year that win gold medals will be aware that they not only created great advertising, but they did so facing more scrutiny than any other Super Bowl. That will be quite an achievement. 



Ed Cotton is Chief Strategy Officer, BSSP/Chair 4A’s Strategy Committee 

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Genre: Strategy/Insight