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Super Bowl 2017 Trends – Stunts & Political Statements

This article was originally published in Forbes

The first-ever sudden death Super Bowl also gave us the first agile Super Bowl ad and the first live streamed ad of this Century… plus many socially aware brands and lots and lots of movie trailers.

Here’s a quick recap of the most interesting trends from Super Bowl LI.

The video tech revolution is here.  Kudos to the brands who took advantage of agile video tech when the stakes were at their highest. Snickers performed its ad starring Adam Driver live. Hyundai also touted a real-time ad that was filmed entirely during the game by Hollywood’s Peter Berg.

But did they deliver? It’s a mixed bag: the Snickers ad was action-packed, but a little hard to follow. The well-known “you’re not you when you’re hungry” tagline was swapped for a, “you ruin live Super Bowl commercials when you’re hungry”, but I was still at a loss, expecting the character-swapping reveal I’ve become accustomed to. It’s hard to make a real-time switch on a well-conditioned tagline, but I expect this ad will play well if people watch it again online, without the distractions that accompany a live Super Bowl broadcast.

Big budget directors aren’t necessarily thought of for their agile video skills, but this didn’t hurt Hyundai’s Super Bowl storytelling. Berg (Lone Survivor, Patriot’s Day) filmed “A Better Super Bowl” at a US military base in Poland during the game. And, with the help of 360-degree cameras and enormous curved videos screens, the car maker brought soldiers together with their loved ones to watch the Super Bowl. It left some viewers scratching their heads trying to tie the ad back to the car, but Hyundai’s support for troops and family came through loud and clear.




The small screen looked like the big screen. Movie trailers tend to rank among the most shared ads on any given Super Bowl Sunday. And we saw savvy brands borrow from this genre to make epic ads, like Wix and Mercedes’ ads that played like trailers, as well as hire movie muscle behind and in front of the camera. In addition to Peter Berg’s spot for Hyundai, we saw the Coen Brothers make Mercedes’ spot and Oscar-winner Robert Stromberg create effects for Lifewatr.  Ads starring Jeffrey Tambour, Billy Zane, John Malkovich, Melissa McCarthy, Peter Fonda and other headliners also lit up the small screen.

WARNING! Celebrities can be a double edged sword – they’ve proven to be both polarising and distracting to the point where the stars overshadow the products. The key to driving engagement, purchase intent and attention is creating an emotional connection with audiences – and celebs don’t provide a guarantee in triggering the intensity of emotion necessary to accomplish this. At the end of the day, it’s important not only to surprise and entertain viewers, but to integrate brand and product features to make the most of the big stage.




Brands become more socially conscious. Brands took advantage of the zeitgeist and national news by promoting human causes. 84 Lumber, Airbnb, Budweiser and Turkish Airlines are examples of brands taking a stance on the hot topic of immigration. And it’s working – 84 Lumber’s website crashed as viewers went to check out the rest of its banned-from-the-Super-Bowl story – and put this brand on the map. Social good is one of the 10 social motivations (or reasons people share) that Unruly tracks. When present, it’s incredibly potent. These advertisers leveraged the platform beautifully, and showed the role that Adland can play in uplifting people.

With ads that overtly stated a cause (like Kia’s call to eco warriors and Audi’s #DriveProgress) or reminded people to “Believe in Yourself” (Honda) or live a #MoreInspired life (Lifewatr), Super Bowl LI, along with the Lady Gaga Half-Time act, drove home love for each other, country, the planet and the future.

It was GREAT to see more advertisers working the content stack. The top shared brands of Super Bowl 51 won by creating multiple ads that were also quality ads, and even launching as many as 4 spots in the broadcast (nice work T-Mobile and Alpha Romeo) Launching these ads to various targets online will be a cinch too, as the different creatives will appeal to different sub-demos within the advertisers’ audiences, and can even be launched as separate campaigns.