The Super Bowl game itself was unusually exciting but it wasn't enough to prevent ratings from dropping to their lowest level in eight years or advertisers from failing to maintain the excitement during commercial breaks, with brands delivering more duds than winners.
According to executives from a number of agencies who provided their Monday morning quarterback analysis to Marketing Dive, there were only a few advertising wins during Super Bowl LII, namely Amazon's cameo-filled spot for Alexa showing the digital assistant losing and regaining her voice and Tide's clever hijacking of nearly every Super Bowl ad.
"I don’t think there was a distinguishable fumble as there were too many brands playing it safe, not creating a differentiated experience that was conversation-worthy," said Jake Schneider, VP business design and innovation at The Marketing Arm. "Where Bud Light had an opportunity to extend the popular 'dilly dilly' they may have allowed or forced it to jump the shark, or to use the first ad — sending it to the pit of misery."
Digital integrations also disappointed, like Pepsi's VR ads, which fell short of being truly immersive. While too many brands simply released an ad early online and called that a digital strategy, a couple of brands got the channel right. Ally Bank was the brand without a national TV spot that drove the highest percentage of brand conversation for its mobile game that could be played during commercial breaks, according to Twitter.
Overall, brands also avoided hot-button political and social issues that could have grabbed consumers' attention. When brands did jump into the conversation, they mostly missed, like Ram with a maligned spot using the words of Martin Luther King Jr. for a sales pitch. Below, hear directly from a number of agency executives about what they think were the best brand moments and biggest fumbles from Super Bowl LII:
Parody and good humor put Tide, Australia and Amazon on top of the pile
There was no shortage of the typical tugging at the heartstrings on Sunday evening, but the consistently top-ranked spots avoided the waterworks to instead focus on humor. Proctor & Gamble's series of Tide spots featuring "Stranger Things" star David Harbour appeared to be the night's winner in terms of laughs and ubiquity. The CPG marketer cross-promoted the effort with its other brands like Old Spice and Mr. Clean while also taking digs at Super Bowl mainstays like the Budweiser Clydesdales.
"The insight was simple — that if you see a clean shirt, Tide is probably behind it. It was a super meta idea that effectively made you question if every spot you were watching last night was a Tide ad or not," said Amanda Ford, creative director, Ready Set Rocket. "By poking fun at Super Bowl ad stereotypes, the spots kept you as a viewer on your toes, and Tide top of mind throughout the night."
Also successful at leaning into parodic comedy was Tourism Australia with a convincingly fake movie teaser starring Danny McBride as the successor to the "Crocodile Dundee" mantle, accompanied by Chris Hemsworth.
"The Dundee tourism ad nailed so many key elements: it brought in familiar characters and made you laugh, and is the type of content you want to chat about the next day with coworkers," said Molly Schweickert, VP of global media, Cambridge Analytica. "They had a great lead-up as they teased out the concept prior to the game, and did a really nice job complementing the ad on social media, even including great little details such as custom emojis in the Twitter hashtags."
Showing the enduring appeal of putting celebrities in surprising scenarios, Amazon's spot for Alexa was a clear favorite for the night.
"With Apple's new HomePod hitting the market just a few days after the Super Bowl, Amazon knew they had to step up their Echo game," said Rebecca Coleman, founding partner, Something Massive. "In their Super Bowl spot, Amazon delivered star-studded, delightfully funny moments while simultaneously illustrating features and functionalities of the product. In the end, when Alexa gets her voice back, the audience is reminded that there's only one Alexa. "
Empowering messages don't come through
Last year, in the wake of the U.S. presidential election, a number of Super Bowl advertisers including Coca-Cola, Airbnb and 84 Lumber ran spots with heavy political overtones championing immigration and inclusion. Some of Sunday night's big advertisers took a similar route, but unlike in 2017, there was a failure to tap into emotional resonance, leading many ads to come off as cynical.
"[Fiat Chrysler] — with its Ram advertisement — decided to leverage the power and influence of one of America's most revered and iconic historical leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King to tap into the hearts and minds of consumers, and it failed miserably," said Brandon Weaver, managing director of brand experience and innovation, Blkbox.
"Using a civil rights speech to galvanize purchase intent for pickup trucks seemed inauthentic, forced, obvious and faulty all at the same time," he added. "With Black History month in mind, the main takeaway here is: just because it's happening, doesn't mean you have to participate. If you choose to, you have to 'dot your 'i's' and 'cross your t's.'"
"Ram Trucks…what were they thinking? Using MLK speech to sell trucks might be the single worst decision ever," said Michael Brown, executive VP of sports at United Entertainment Group.
One of the reasons Ram's and other ads came up short was a failure to concretely tie the message to the product or service being marketed.
"The biggest marketing fumble for me was the thin connection of cause marketing to the products. There was a big shift to be the 'do good' brand this year away from comedy," Tim Smith, president of Chemistry. "For example, the First Responder spot was heartwarming and beautifully executed, but to bring it back to — Verizon 'we make sure they get the call' was quite the stretch for me."
Brands throw short on cross-channel efforts
Marketers are probably tired of hearing how they need to better link mobile strategies to their in-game advertising to maximize their spend, but Super Bowl LII demonstrated why this is such an oft-repeated theme.
"The biggest marketing fumble was how advertisers failed to engage more than 100 million who had a mobile device in hand or within four feet. It was vintage 1975 with no mobile CTAs," said Jeff Hasen, mobile strategist, Possible Mobile. "Mobile is for action, except obviously on Super Sunday. Even the inspiring ads like the one from MassMutual that highlighted positivity, courage and kindness failed to offer up a way to do our own part. Certainly there was a lot left on the table."
Emblematic of this disconnect was Amazon, which got a lot of props for its 90-second TV commercial but came up short with actually tying the creative to Alexa itself.
"While the Alexa commercial was very funny and charming on air, Amazon missed a big cross-channel opportunity," said Bridget Fahrland, SVP, client strategy, Fluid. "After the game, I asked my very own Alexa what her favorite commercial was. Sadly, all I got back was 'I don't have an opinion on that.' Imagine if she had continued the joke and even introduced me to a new skill — that would have been almost, well, human."
The lack of good mobile and social media plays was particularly felt during a slot of dead air during the game's first half, which set up an opportunity for a repeat of Oreo's Twitter slam-dunk from 2013 but was left largely untouched save for a few tweets.
"The pod of dead air in the second quarter, which ironically could have been a great idea for E-trade as a follow-up stunt to the dancing monkeys from years ago, as a lesson on smarter investments," said Mark Taylor, an independent creative consultant and former executive creative director from Crispin Porter + Bogusky. "It had myself, and probably everyone else in the country, fiddling with their remotes."
Pepsi's big comeback year? Not so much
Pepsi's 2017 was tainted by a now-infamous protest-themed spot starring Kendall Jenner. For the Super Bowl, marketers were eagerly awaiting a comeback as the brand dipped into immersive technology through a partnership with Google to insert viewers inside two of the brand's iconic ads and bring them to life, but the results failed to sparkle.
"The experience was very flat. There was only one way interactivity in clicking a few hot spots in the scenes to create small actions," said Tim Villanueva, head of media strategy, Fetch, who tested the activation on desktop. "It would have been much more compelling with a story, animation or at least chance to further 'explore these worlds' and maximize VR's capabilities.
"If you’re going to do VR, make it an experience worth putting on a headset for," he said. "It felt more like a brand trying to check the list of 'yes, we used a trendy tech' and less about creating a truly compelling user experience."
While fellow PepsiCo brands Doritos and Mountain Dew earned a lot of chatter for a lip-synced battle between Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman, Pepsi once again failed to complete the pass with a nostalgia-tinged spot that felt stuck in the past.
"Pepsi's ad felt more like an internal message than an outward branding strategy," said Adan Romero, executive creative director, Rauxa. "It didn't take advantage of the times; it felt like something that could've been created 10 years ago. In today's world, ads need to be as innovative as possible."