The Super Bowl Ad Bonanza: Transatlantic Views

January 30, 2015 / Features

By Sanam Petri and Orlando Wood

Two Americans now working in the London ad world open up on the subject of The Big Game commercial madness.

This Sunday night, far too late for the sane majority on our side of the pond, tens of millions will tune in to watch the USA’s biggest, most all-American sporting event. The Super Bowl is a media circus like no other. The slabs of advertising in between the tiny slivers of sporting action have become the arena for the single biggest pitched battle between brands, with companies paying ludicrous amounts to secure 30 seconds of audiences’ attention.

While the UK has recently nurtured its own ad face-off in over the Christmas period, the Super Bowl stands as the single most high-profile event for advertisers in the world. As Brits we’re largely blissfully ignorant of all this hoo-ha, so we turned to a brace of American ad-people in London and asked them to pass judgement on the phenomenon the Super Bowl has become.

Sanam Petri
“Like most advertising, the Super Bowl has become one massively self-aware, self-congratulatory circle jerk.

The seats at the game are filled with clients instead of fans.

The tailgating parties are now cocktail parties, held in sky boxes rather than parking lots.

The spirit of America’s favorite past time is now brought to you by Staples.

So, this year is no different. A handful of lucky brands will be given the chance to spunk $4.5 million for 30 seconds of Super Bowl air time. And what do will they get for the pleasure?

Well, in terms of actual sales, fuck all. (Which I think is usually pronounced “ROI.”) If someone actually did a statistically accurate study about the impact of Super Bowl ads and sales, there would be no direct correlation.

However, the incredible spike in sudden awareness will fool many marketers into thinking their ad was money well spent. Which means it’s easy for agencies to convince their clients that a Super Bowl ad is just what they need. When in fact it’s usually only the agency’s stock that goes up.

It is tempting though, isn’t it? The only moment in American culture where people actually want to watch advertising. So it feels like a great opportunity – an audience that is actually receptive to your message, and will talk about your ad the next day.

But wouldn’t it be a great world if people asked themselves instead, why are we making the kind of advertising no one wants to watch in the first place?

The best work travels, with or without Super Bowl-sized budgets. And the very best work actually solves a problem. How many Super Bowl ads have you seen that solve an actual problem a consumer is having? “What should I watch while shoving Doritos down my gullet” is not a problem.

So why do they keep doing it? Possibly because it’s now become headline news when a big brand isn’t buying airtime, and no one wants the bad publicity.

Or possibly because for ad guys, their brand is like their team. A successful ad is like a touchdown. Which means a Super Bowl ad is like a Super Bowl touchdown. And who wouldn’t want to be the star quarterback of JWT!?

But I suppose if we didn’t make ego-driven decisions, would we all be in advertising in the first place?

Maybe next time, a well-timed email marketing campaign is the way forward.”

Sanam Petri is Creative Director for Nike at Wieden + Kennedy London.


Orlando Wood
“I was a fat little kid growing up in South Florida.

I wasn’t exactly “sporty”. I went swimming in T-shirts to hide my particularly rotund physique. My family were all English and moved to the states when I was five.

My dad was an academic and writer, so not the type to chuck a ball around with me. His sport of choice was cricket. I know the rules to cricket. I did NOT know the rules to football.

So, growing up in the states at a physical disadvantage and at an additional disadvantage borne out of ignorance, football represented nothing more than an opportunity for epic humiliation among my classmates.

Super Bowl Sunday was also often dangerously close to my birthday, so mass refusals to my party were often a matter of course.

But in America, you simply couldn’t avoid it. So, I watched it.

And this little fatty LOVED the ads! Thanked GOD for the ads!

The ads gave me something to talk about, some way to enter into discussion in-between the ball moving from one end of the field to the other. Possession changing from the blue-and-white team to the green-and-blue dudes. And, more importantly, other people cared about them as well.

Yes, Super Bowl Sunday is frivolous. To imbue it with undue meaning is pointless. We’re watching a game. A good game. A game that’s taken two teams a season to get to and a game that a nation cares about. Do ads during this time really have to do much more than get eyeballs on them and try to excite, interest, and fire the synapses behind those eyeballs? I don’t think so.

The rest of the year, our work interrupts other people’s enjoyment and asks them to change their buying habits when they next open up Amazon or leave their house. On Super Bowl Sunday, our work elevates to the level of entertainment. Clients are suddenly audacious on Super Bowl Sunday. They bother to think of the consumer first. Not the consumer of their product, mind you, but the consumer of that single 30-60” ad.

How often do clients forget to actually entertain those who accidentally watch our work? Less often than they think they do, I suspect. The majority of client’s jobs are to try to avoid offending the broadest group of people rather than highly entertaining them. They often shy away from a risqué joke because it may, actually, be funny? It’s our perennial struggle with them, but for the Super Bowl, we’re all on the same side.

Super Bowl Sunday raises the stakes. And you know what? Even when an ad is a little ‘off’, I’m still just impressed that they tried.

I get bummed out when ad people’s cynicism gets the better of them and they end up shirking the largest, most bombastic example of what we do. It’s a game, and during that game, people like our ads.

Good for them.

Good for us.

For one day, we become closer to entertainers than we ever usually are. People look forward to an ad break… Don’t I wish that happened more?!?

I’ve had one ad in the Super Bowl. It wasn’t terribly well received. But you best believe I want another crack at it.

To use a brilliant American turn of phrase from an even more brilliant American movie…

‘Bring it on!’

Go Seahawks!”

Orlando Wood is Executive Producer of Biscuit UK.

NB: Orlando now knows the rules of football. Special thanks to MADDEN NFL: 2005-2014.


Here are his top five Super Bowl ads of all time:

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