The Secret to the Best Super Bowl Ads

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Why you should care

Because advertising around the big game is an art, and we all want to watch.

As a guy from Denver who bleeds orange and blue, I have two reasons to watch this year’s Super Bowl: the game and the ads. Each 30-second spot will cost a reported $4.5 million, and with that much money on the line, advertisers will put huge efforts into making sure their ad counts. And consider this:

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Number of seconds for an ad to communicate its main message, according to new research

Blink (or check your phone) and you’ll miss it. The study’s co-author Michel Wedel — PepsiCo Chair in Consumer Science at the University of Maryland — said that fast communication works only when ads prominently feature their product. “Mystery ads” that wait until the end to reveal the brand or ads that require time to digest don’t do as well quickly, he told OZY.

But all that changes on Super Bowl Sunday, when Americans — who would otherwise use commercial breaks for bathroom breaks or fridge breaks — stay glued to the TV to see how Budweiser or name-your-favorite-car-brand will advertise. In that context, quick communication is less important, Wedel said. “The Super Bowl is a different animal,” said Angeline Close, associate professor at the Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations at UT Austin. A bigger one, too: Last year’s Super Bowl XLVIII had an average of 111.5 million viewers and generated 25.3 million tweets.

The best ads include a call to action that “empowers” consumers, said Close, like when Coca-Cola invited viewers to vote on its storyline in 2013. But ads introducing new products can be more practical and straightforward (remember early iPhone ads that demonstrated swiping when touch-screen phones were still new?). Other experts say playing popular music during ads can effectively tug at people’s emotions, while some ads succeed simply by telling a darn good story.

Whatever the approach, Close warns advertisers to avoid anything that might alienate a particular demographic. No ageism or sexism, even if it’s tacit (cue GoDaddy’s controversial spot). Commercials that test boundaries can reward advertisers for their daring and creativity, but you also don’t want to be the one to generate #NotBuyingIt hashtag buzz on social media. And what about releasing ads early? Close is in favor of it because, as she said, “exposure is exposure.” This year, Anheuser-Busch leaked a teaser for its Pac-Man-themed Bud Light ad, and Victoria’s Secret already released its gameday ad on YouTube. Come Sunday, during the breaks in the action, you decide if Don Draper would be smiling or tweeting #NotBuyingIt.

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