Super Bowl LIII is right around the corner, and more than 100 million people are expected to tune in Sunday to watch the Los Angeles Rams battle the New England Patriots.
But many are looking forward to skipping the game and watching the ads during commercial breaks.
Morning Shift talks to E.J. Schultz, assistant managing editor at Ad Age covering sports marketing, to preview the best ads, discuss Chicago connections like an appearance by Chance the Rapper, and explore why a 30-second spot can cost companies north of $5 million to air.
The biggest trends in Super Bowl ads this year
E.J. Schultz: Well, as usual, a lot of brands who are paying the estimated $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime have already released their ads. Our latest count shows 27 of them have already been released. And we’re expecting roughly about 60 to air in the game in terms of national ads, so that trend is continuing. I think the narrative that I’ve seen so far is that brands really seem to be playing it safe this year. I’ve not seen anything yet that even gets close to anything political. I would say the majority of the ads are comedic, using celebrities, and they’re really tiptoeing around anything that could be controversial.
Susie An: Would you say that’s different this year, given the hot political climate?
Schultz: Someone could surprise us. Like I said, there’s still about only half the ads that we’ve seen. Usually though, every year you see one or two ads that do take risks, but you’re right I think in the past 12 months, things have really gotten even more polarizing in this country. And when you think about the Super Bowl, you mentioned a hundred million people watch it, and those people are probably split down the middle politically, and so brands, the last thing they want to do, is upset half of their consumer base. This is the one event, still, on television, that is a mass marketing vehicle, and so most brands play it safe.
What makes a Super bowl ad good (or bad)?
Schultz: Writing still matters. You have to have a great witty line. Something that people are going to remember. You played some of the classics, right. Budweiser’s Wassup? People still mention that even though it’s been years since that campaign ran.
An: I just have to say, I don’t know if it was last year or the year before, but the Mountain Dew “puppy, baby, monkey.” I did not like it, but it kept going, and somehow it was popular with people, and I don’t understand why.
Schultz: Yeah, that is one that people still reference. It was sort of an amalgamation of the Super Bowl tricks, so the brand sort of having fun with that concept.
An: What would you say are some of the best and worst advertisements you’ve seen over the years?
Schultz: Because it’s still fresh in my memory, and this was one of those rare times when people really talk about an ad, and it was not a Super Bowl ad, it was the Nike ad for Colin Kaepernick that got a lot of attention. And that was an example of a brand taking a risk, right? Coming down on the side of Colin Kaepernick, who is of course known for kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial and social inequities. I don’t think Nike is going to be advertising during the Super Bowl unless they surprise us. You know, the Gillette ad from a few weeks ago that people are talking about. Again, that’s polarizing, but at least it breaks through.
The best ads of Super Bowl LIII we’ve seen so far
Schultz: The two that I found the funniest are the Amazon Alexa ad where they sort of play off of this idea of experimenting with putting Alexa in different things like a microwave or a toothbrush, and the clip you played was having Alexa on a dog collar, and that’s a scene that has Harrison Ford, and every time the dog barks, Amazon automatically orders dog food, which is pretty funny. The other ad that seems to be well-received is the Hyundai ad. It has Jason Bateman in it, and he’s just generally a likeable guy I think, and he plays an elevator operator, and so they’re moving up and down the floors of a building. Each floor represents something you dread, like going to the dentist, and the kicker is they’re trying to promote car shopping, so it goes to the top of the floor to promote their shopping experience.
This interview was been edited for clarity and brevity by Daniel Tucker. Click play to hear the full conversation. And to see all of the ads released so far, check out Ad Age’s story: Watch all the 2019 Super Bowl commercials released so far.