The 4 Biggest Ad Trends You’ll See During Sunday’s Super Bowl

Look for altruism, humor and surprise

Headshot of Kristina Monllos

On Sunday, while the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots go head to head, thousands of marketing professionals will be waiting to see if the $5 million-plus they spent on a Super Bowl ad will actually get consumers’ attention. Could Morgan Freeman and Peter Dinklage’s lip-sync battle be the next Puppymonkeybaby for Mountain Dew? Will Groupon finally have a Super Bowl ad people like thanks to Tiffany Haddish? Can Matt Damon actually inspire people to buy a chalice because it’ll help those in need of water?

Before we find out how these commercials are received, let’s look at some of the trends you’ll see during the Big Game.

1. Multiple spots

Given the price tag attached to Super Bowl ads, it might seem crazy for brands to pony up more than $5 million for 30 seconds of your attention, but some brands are taking things to the next level this year. Instead of just one 30-second spot, some like Budweiser, Michelob Ultra and Toyota are buying multiple spots during the game.

“Rote repetition is important now more than ever,” said Rachel Spiegelman, CEO, Los Angeles-based creative shop Pitch. “Stats for how consumers multitask while watching TV have hit new heights, and during the Super Bowl, those figures increase [times 10] in nature because of increased social activity—both online and in real life. Hitting the Super Bowl’s huge audience of about 115 million people, multiple times, is one way the big guys can take advantage of being a big guy, which is getting harder and harder in modern times.”

Contrary to the push for six-second ads, Robert Green, CCO of Ripple Collective, believes brands are buying multiple spots in the Super Bowl this year because “it’s simply impossible to do real storytelling in a 15- or 30-second stand-alone [ads].”

“The most that can be achieved is a vignette,” he said. “But with every brand claiming it has a story and every agency claiming to be masters of narrative, it’s inevitable that the trend towards multiple episodes would become part of the biggest ad event of the year.”

Eric Springer, CCO at Innocean, believes the stage and eyeballs that live events like the Super Bowl, the Oscars or the World Series provide are worth the cost.

“I tell clients to seize the moment, grab the mic and tell the masses what you want them to know about you,” Springer said. “Think of it this way: If your brand is a band, would you rather play Madison Square Garden in front of 75,000 people or your neighborhood Pete’s Coffee for 12 people? I’d take the Garden any day of the week.”

2. No more prereleasing

In recent years it has become standard practice to release full ads before the game. However, this year, many brands including Diet Coke, T-Mobile and Fiat Chrysler are holding back, waiting to release their full spots until they air during the Super Bowl.

“In an age where pretty much everyone is prereleasing their spots, holding back your spot until game day can stand apart and create buzz for the brand,” said Dan Kelleher, CCO at Deutsch in New York. “But you need to have a plan. Are you teasing it beforehand? Is there a reason you’re holding it back that creates anticipation? Is only airing the spot once part of the creative idea? Just having a spot on the Super Bowl is a PR opportunity for a brand that should be taken advantage of, whether or not you reveal the work prior to the game.”

Pitch’s Spiegelman believes brands are shifting away from prereleasing ads because “consumers expect more from brands they give their attention to.”

“One of the issues with releasing a spot early is that viewers have been trained to get more and more,” Spiegelman said. “If they see a spot online prior to the game and then the same or very similar version of that spot on TV, there’s a disappointment factor that sets in, since they have already been there, done that.”

Prereleasing was made popular by the success of 2011’s “The Force” from Volkswagen, according to Springer, who sees the copycat strategy as misguided. “Everyone followed the VW lead in the following years,” Springer said, “and found out that just because you release your commercial early doesn’t mean people will love it and share it. It’ll simply kill your spot faster. Do a great spot and people will love it through Super Bowl and beyond. Or if you’re doing something special like we did for Hyundai last year and this year—a surprise—then you can’t release it early.”

3. Return to humor

Many of last year’s spots tackled serious issues with messages about equal pay and immigration. That put some brands like Audi in a difficult position. It’s not surprising, then, that many brands like M&M’s, Amazon and E*Trade are going for humor.

“Now more than ever, I think people want—no make that need—to laugh a little,” said Deutsch’s Kelleher. “Heck, even the NFL itself needs a break from all of the politics. The beauty of the Super Bowl is that you have a captive audience of 110 million people who are there to have a good time. They want to crack open a beer, watch some football and laugh at some funny commercials that aren’t trying to solve world peace. And the brands that deliver will be the ones that are remembered.”

Spiegelman sees humor as a smarter strategy.

“For a brand, it’s safer to try and make someone laugh then make them cry,” she said. “If they fail at the former, they usually shrug it off, and if they fail at the latter, it oftentimes results in offending or angering them. The risk-reward payoff isn’t there this year, so it’s more important now more than ever to get it right.”

4. Altruistic ads

While some brands are playing it safe with humor, others are still looking to tackle big issues during the Super Bowl. The change this year? Those issues aren’t as overtly political. Brands like Stella Artois and Budweiser are using the game to highlight the needs of others and how their brands can—and have—helped.

“Last year was the year of action,” Spiegelman said. “We had the Women’s March, individual and celebrity support of Puerto Rico and other devastated areas, among others, that we showed our support on, especially on our own social networks. Likewise, brands participating in the Super Bowl are taking the opportunity to show they are like us and care about the world in an attempt at creating affinity.”

Innocean’s Springer agrees.

“The world can never have enough brands with souls,” he said. “And ideas that bring people together. People don’t want to be divided. It’s not about blue states or red states—it’s about the United States.”

Still, even as many brands are looking to highlight messages of good, the creative has to be worth people’s attention according to Chris Adams, chief strategy officer at Phenomenon. “In the Super Bowl, you’ve gotta be great at something—super funny, super emotional, super beautiful or super interesting. Altruistic ads can be great, and I applaud any brand that’s using their time, money and media to make the world a better place,” Adams said. “But you can’t be a downer and ruin people’s party. And you still have to be either funny, emotional, beautiful or interesting. You don’t get a pass just because you’re doing something good.”

@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.