It's the biggest ad event of all: The Super Bowl. Already, the 2022 game on NBC is almost 85% sold out at an estimated cost of a heady $6.5 million. According to a recent poll by The Marketing Arm, almost as many people watch the Super Bowl for its commercials (43%) as for the game itself (57%).
That's a lot riding on 30 seconds of airtime. The Super Bowl is “either the biggest waste of money or the biggest bargain ever,” said BBDO Chairman and Chief Creative Officer David Lubars. The trick is to make it a bargain. So we asked grizzled Super Bowl veterans at a half-dozen ad agencies for the keys to Big Game success. Here are 12 takeaways from those experts on how to create a spot that resonates, sells and can land your ad atop the USA Today AdMeter.
Keep it simple
No doubt there is pressure to create the perfect Super Bowl ad. But the pressure can lead to overthinking and complicated ideas that water down the message the ad is trying to convey. For this reason, every executive Ad Age spoke to for this story agreed the surest route to a great Super Bowl ad is simplicity.
“If I asked you to name three Super Bowl commercials from last year it would take you a while,” said Lubars, whose agency is behind many successful Big Game spots for clients such as Mars Wrigley's M&Ms and Snickers brands. “If it doesn't perform high and become part of the cultural zeitgeist, it wasn't a good use of money; but if it does, it's an amazing bargain because you had 120 million eyeballs looking and talking about it. All you're buying with all that money is an opportunity but you have to make good on it. That's why people feel so much pressure, but you have to put that out of your head and just do something really good like you ordinarily would.”
Lubars emphasized the importance of making the ads more visual and less reliant on audio, given that the game is typically watched at parties where people are distracted. David DeMuth, chair and CEO of Doner, whose agency had done many Super Bowl spots for clients including Stellantis, says he likes to follow a basic criteria when it comes to the Big Game commercials.
“Does it say something that people might care about or respond to? Does it reflect the voice and values of the brand? And then finally, is it going to entertain people in some way? I don't think you want to get too caught up, because that's when the work gets watered down and becomes meaningless. For the Super Bowl, most importantly, you have to ask, 'Does it say something that's going to really get an emotional response out of people?' That might be a laugh or the ad could make them think about an issue more deeply.”
Open your own playing field
Forming the right agency team for your Super Bowl spot can be the difference between a field goal and a touchdown.
Most of the executives interviewed for this story say they like to open the field for different teams throughout the creative department to come up with ideas, and the best ideas dictate which teams will work on the ad. Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer of Goodby Silverstein & Partners, said this internal jump ball is typically open to even the most junior staff on the creative team and the process of coming up with ideas and pitching to clients could easily take a few months. Over time she has noticed a few characteristics of creatives that tend to succeed in creating Super Bowl campaigns.
“A lot of times we've had creatives that are musicians, actors on Broadway, or comedians, people who don't get too attached to one idea and can easily pivot if something changes," said Johnson, whose agency has created many memorable Super Bowl spots for the likes of Pepsi, Doritos and more.
Johnson has also noticed that “culture vultures” typically come up with the best ideas because they are in tune with what is going on in the world. For the past few years these American culture enthusiasts have actually been coming from outside of the country for the agency.
“The Super Bowl is such an American thing and we have a lot of international talent in our creative department,“ Johnson said. “For the last few years, the teams that have really knocked it out of the park on Super Bowl have been from Australia or from Brazil and I think it's because they have grown up watching American culture unfold and they are fascinated and willing to be a part of it.”
Greg Hahn, chief creative officer and co-founder of [email protected] Fixed Address, says that in his experience, when it comes to agency-of-record relationships, the creative teams that have worked on the account typically get the work. “It’s nice to reward the people who are doing the day-to-day work and they’re good creatives so it’s not like you’re settling for them,” Hahn said.
Don't be afraid to cut it close
Each campaign is unique, so timing from start to completion can vary. However, for Jay Russell, chief creative officer of GSD&M, which will be handling the upcoming Avocados from Mexico's Super Bowl spot, less is more. (The spot below was created by the agency for the 2017 Super Bowl.)