The power of the Big Reveal

Super Bowl season drove brands to preview their ads in multiplatform plays. Did the element of surprise help the ones that held their fire?

This year’s Super Bowl was a roller coaster of emotions and an epic battle for the ages. Rumor has it there was a pretty good football game sandwiched between the commercials. It’s rare to share an experience with over 100 million people, and with these masses come advertisers desperate for attention, relevance, and hopefully a little love and remembrance.  

Brands are increasingly trying to capitalize on their investment by releasing their commercials ahead of the big game, but the effectiveness of this is still a question. Racking up views ahead of the Super Bowl can be perceived as success from an awareness perspective; however, it’s interesting to watch who holds back and uses the big stage as an opportunity to treat consumers, as viewers, to something new and unseen.

Let’s take a look back at the spots the world saw for the first time.

Skittles debuted its first-ever Super Bowl ad and went the teaser route, in terms of building early buzz. Reception was generally positive, and USA Today picked it as the most underrated spot. (Disclaimer: My agency, DDB Chicago, did the spot, so I’m a little biased.)

Carnival Cruise Lines showcased a very memorable JFK narrative that hooks viewers from the beginning. For a category and brand in muddy waters, it was the perfect way to take the high road and evoke the emotion that can inspire someone to consider them again. Despite this, it didn’t generate much buzz online, and the views aren’t anywhere near the top of the list.

Game of War was next with yet another Kate Upton spot that continued a lot of the same. The formulaic use of celebrity wasn’t particularly interesting — it could’ve run any previous spot and nobody would’ve noticed.

TurboTax gave it a big swing with their "No Taxes" commercial, but the message was awkwardly delivered and was fairly hit-or-miss in terms of humor. This resulted in a nearly silent reaction online.

Toyota’s My Bold Dad was one of many "dadvertising" spots targeting the male-dominated Super Bowl demographic. However, the spot felt indistinct, especially when contrasted with Nissan’s "With Dad," which was a much more earnest and heartfelt.

The No More domestic violence spot was very powerful, and while the :60 was released ahead of the game (and gathered over 5 million views), the :30 was just as effective in getting its message across. Unfortunately, the shorter version has received much fewer views online thus far.

Things got weird with Jeff Bridges and Squarespace. The approach was interesting given that it’s an online brand and one of the few ads with a strong web call-to-action. Online views of the video aren’t tremendous, but driving you to Squarespace’s site is the point, and the obscurity was brilliant.

Microsoft’s "Empowering" spots went very aspirational and risked being somewhat abstract in support of a rare brand-building effort by the tech company. "Estella’s Brilliant Bus" already has over a million views and ignited plenty of conversation as well.

Discover’s "Surprise" spot was good for a laugh and would’ve been most interesting had Dorito’s not already done the whole "screaming goat" thing. Sprint also brought a goat to the party as it continued to jab at bigger rivals.

Fiat’s "Blue Pill" took a "guy humor" approach that disenfranchised the growing female audience but received some good traffic and buzz regardless.

GoDaddy is no stranger to controversy ,and after pulling their puppy spot they made a valiant effort with their "Working" spot. Unfortunately, the homage to small business owners had very little connection to what GoDaddy actually does (since websites aren’t built with a pen and paper) so it’s questionable as to whether or not it was worth the money.

Esurance swung big and hit a home run with "Say My Name." Tapping into a cultural phenomenon (and bringing Walter White back from the dead) was teased, and this spot was delivered beautifully. On the other end of the spectrum, rival insurer Nationwide’s "Make Safe Happen" is the perfect example of communal viewing taking a darker turn. The spot was powerful, but the Super Bowl was totally the wrong context. People want to have fun and relax, and one YouTube commenter noted that it’s a "gut punch to anyone who has suffered a recent or past loss."

Despite the self-promotion, the NFL’s "Together We Make Football" was produced very well and a great defensive play as the league continues to deal with player, ethics and overall integrity issues.

Budweiser went right after the craft brews in" Brewed the Hard Way," and from the early buzz it appears to have backfired. It’ll be interesting to see how this battle plays out and ultimately affects the landscape.

Jeep’s "Beautiful Lands" was great for about 99% of it. Then came the confusing tagline and I didn’t know if "Play Responsibly" was tying to gambling, drinking or both (and neither of which you should probably be doing while driving).

T-Mobile entertained with Chelsea Handler and Sarah Silverman going toe-to-toe, and reaction seems to be fairly positive.

Speaking of toes, Jublia’s "Tackle It" ad was probably the worst of the bunch. It blew the opportunity with misfires on both content (it looked like it was animated by a crowdsourced freelancer) and context (people eating and watching sports probably don’t want to hear about toenail fungus).

Clash of Clans surprised many viewers by moving away from its animated spots and giving us a splash of Liam Neeson. Nearly 2.5 million views shortly after the game makes it a runaway hit at this point.

Loctite substituted for GoDaddy in the "bizarre for the sake of being bizarre" camp and appears to be generating buzz.

The next few days will tell whether live or prerelease end up being a better strategy. I suspect the choice and effectiveness will vary by brand — as many things often do — but it’ll be interesting to see how the aftermath shapes what we see next year.

Azher Ahmed is SVP and director of digital operations with DDB Chicago.

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