I was given two pieces of sage advice in my first week of arriving in New York.
- "Never admit you’ve got a hangover."
- "Don’t come over here going on about soccer, 'the world's game.' No one here really gives a shit. Pick an American sport and learn to love it."
Well, the first piece of advice went out of the window on my third day.
The second one?
Well, I took the advice, and after a week or two’s deliberation and some help from some colleagues (and after going to a NY Islanders game and not being able to see the puck thing), I picked American Football.
I watched a couple games in bars, and didn’t have a clue what was actually going on. But, despite what seems like 300 people running around the pitch (sorry, field), about 60 referees, the stopping and starting, long periods with not much happening, all the craziness that goes on around it, I’ve I think I’ve finally got the hang of the rules. And worked out what it’s all about…
It’s basically chess, crossed with UFC.
So here I am three months later, writing an article about said sport, perfectly positioned, of course, as a Brit working for a French company in America. Hmmm.
But of course this hasn’t been my first exposure to the great game.
Despite Channel 4 in the UK screening games in the late '80s at 2 a.m. at the weekends to an audience of stoners and ravers still awake and off their nuts, and a tiny collection of expat Yanks, it never really took off or made any impact until recently, when Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Sports started showing American football comprehensively a couple of years ago, and the exhibition games that take place at the home of "real football," Wembley. (I’m waiting for us to return the favor and see Stockport County vs. Hartlepool play at the MetLife Stadium).
But it’s advertising that really made me take notice of the game in the UK.
Because the Super Bowl has made as much a dent into the psyche of the British ad scene as it has in the US.
We’ve watched with huge envy and respect as year after year hugely entertaining, funny, epic, emotional, clever and game-changing spots have made their way across the Atlantic.
It always screwed up anyone in London trying to get an A-list director between the months of November to January. Forget it; everyone is booked up shooting Super Bowl spots on budgets that we just drooled over.
We just never had an event that garnered that kind of interest in commercials in the UK until recently, when the annual Christmas, sorry, holidays ad-fest became a thing, where seemingly all sense of restraint and common sense go flying out the window and every retailer in Britain spends their annual media budget on beautiful three-minute cinematic blub-fests deliberately designed to make you cry. It seems to be the only time of the year everybody raises their collective game, and people actually seem to like advertising again, like my mum did back in the day.
But back to the Super Bowl. It’s a thing of wonder that in the age of digital, experiential, big data, programmatic, 360 and every other wot-not and new fangled channel, and all the truly innovative work getting produced nowadays, that it’s good old-fashioned television advertising that still gets the biggest nation in the world talking about our industry, for bad or for good. Better or for worse.
As my old boss once said, "No one ever comes to work in the morning and says, ‘Did you see that great interactive banner ad last night?’ " (And boy, did that cause some agro.) I’m going to put my tin hat on and say it’s fascinating that its film that still gets the nations juices running and taking notice of our industry.
There’s life in the old dog yet.
And there’s certainly life in the Super Bowl spot; 111.5 million viewers last year setting the record for a televised event tells you that. So no wonder the average cost of a 30-second spot is — *gulp* — $5 million. (Alas, not so much life in the old chickens, as I’ve just discovered 1.2 billion of their wings are consumed at Super Bowl parties each year, at which people with sticky fingers apparently make 28.4 million tweets about the adverts). Impressive.
Aaaaanyway, have I ever told you how England were robbed in the ’86 World Cup by Maradona? Bloody robbed they were ...
Andy Bird is CCO of Publicis New York.