What the Best Super Sunday Ads Have in Common

Over the last five years, we’ve laughed with Doritos, cried with Budweiser stared blinklessly, captivated by stories like Always’ ‘Like a Girl’, and closed our eyes and cringed with RAM’s ‘Built to Serve’. In just a few days, we’ll come together for the 53rd annual Sunday Funday filled with great football, cheesy appetizers and, of course, the ads.

Each year, there are winners and there are losers—on the field and during the commercial breaks. For teams, it’s hard work, determination and a touch of luck that leads to the #1 title. This year, we wanted to understand what makes a Big Game TV spot #1. To do this, Hoffman York pulled two lists of #1 Big Game spots from the last five years. We used research from USA Today to identify consumers’ favorites and AdWeek for the advertisers’ top picks. We then analyzed each of these ten spots based on 10 criteria. Lastly, we pulled the common denominators to create these top four criteria for a #1 Big Game spot. What did we learn?

1. The longer or shorter the ad, the better

100% of top spots were a length other than the traditional 30-seconds

In the last five years, out of 10 spots, not one stuck to the traditional 30-second format. Ranging from the 2018 15-second spots from Tide’s ‘It’s a Tide Ad’ campaign to Jeep’s 60-second monologue-esque Portraits spot, brands are continuing to try out different lengths when telling their stories. The trend of this varying length has been on the rise. Nearly half of all US spots are a length other than 30 seconds. Of course, plenty of spots have proven it is possible to captivate an audience in 30 seconds (or less), but it is apparent that to be #1, brands need to toy with the length of their spot. Consumers and advertising critics are looking for something unique.

2. Celebrities still work  

50% of top spots featured a celebrity

Familiar faces grab a viewer’s attention, especially those of their favorite celebrities. Celebrities, spokespeople and notable talent have been included in the Big Game playbook for years. In 2018 alone, there were 56 celebrities in the spots and 43 in 2017 according to AdAge. Commonly, the use of celebrities is paired with humor. Take the list of top-spot celebs David Harbour, Melissa McCarthy, Kevin Hart and Rebel Wilson. Each celebrity appearance captivated viewers, grabbing their attention instantly and often bringing with them big laughs during the Big Game. Celebs can have large price tags, in addition to the cost of production and the media buy. They can also pose a risk to brands.

Celebrities are still people, people who often live under a media microscope. It’s important to choose a celebrity who isn’t a PR crisis waiting to happen. On top of this, choosing a celebrity that can best represent your brand and its values is extremely important for your message.

3. Laughter is good medicine

40% of top spots used humor when telling their story

When thinking of many Big Game spots, humor surely comes to mind. Humor has been a theme among the USA Today consumer rated spots for the last three years. Melissa McCarthy saved the whales, Rebel Wilson was the interim voice of Amazon Alexa and Kevin Hart was quite literally a helicopter dad.

Being funny is easy—for some more than others—but being funny while promoting a brand can be a little more limiting.  People like when they understand a joke and the positive release of endorphins after laughing. However, it’s important for those using humor to make sure the people laughing remember the joke and the product or service associated with it. 

4. The more tears, the more memorable the ad

40% of top spots tugged on viewer heartstrings

Some stories make us laugh while others make us cry. Okay man, fine, you had something in your eye. Commonly paired with other themes such as cute kids and baby animals, four of our 10 spots tugged and pulled on the heartstrings of football fans. Budweiser took the first place spot with Puppy Love in 2014, and again in 2015 with their spot titled Lost Dog.

As much as comedy can be valuable to a product or brand, so can doing the opposite, tugging on your heartstrings. According to a 2016 Nielson Report, “Emotions are at the heart of the relationship we have with brands. They influence our conscious decisions and drive our non-conscious decisions.”

Whether it’s a pleasant surprise or the ability to relate to a celebrity; whether it’s laughing, crying or deep thought, more than anything, it’s important to make people feel something during a commercial. People are emotional creatures. It’s the only sure-fire way to make them feel something about your brand

The cost of a 30-second slot during the ‘Big Game’ will run brands more than $5 million—and that’s just for the media buy. Last year, the game attracted the eyes of 103.4 million viewers, according to CBS. 

Check back for our thoughts on 2019’s winners and losers next week.

For more than 80 years, Hoffman York has been developing ads and integrated marketing campaigns for B2B and B2C clients nationwide. Hoffman York is a full-service independent advertising and marketing communications agency offering award-winning services, including advertising, digital strategy and development, research and analytics as well as earned, social and paid media.

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