Is the Super Bowl advertising's version of Renaissance fairs?

The big game is the party that happens out on the front lawn for everyone to see, says the co-chairman and partner of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

Is the Super Bowl advertising's version of Renaissance fairs?

Why, yes it is. 

Think about it:

For a month or so, we act like it’s another time and place and wear film-crew safari jackets and make expensive commercials that people will actually watch! There’s all kinds of anticipation and leaking and cross promotion in the run-up. Everyone talks about our work the next day, and the newspapers all write about it, and the creative people go in and ask for big raises, and there are lists of top tens and funniest and best animals, and we are all actually famous again!

Then it’s back into the time machine, buddy.

Back to time shifting, ad blocking, muting and Netflix. Back to only buying live sports and stuff like the Oscars. Back to cranking out banner ads while hoping you can get the creative director to pay for that GPS-based installation in one and maybe even two bus shelters that might win Gold Lions but will elicit only blank looks from friends and cab drivers.

It sounds like I’m down on Super Bowl ads. Actually, I’m not. My agency has been lucky enough to make some very successful ones (the Bud Lizards, the E*TRADE Monkey, the Donkey and the Clydesdales, Emerald Nuts, Hyundai, Doritos Crash the Super Bowl) and even some less successful ones. (I seem to have lost that list.)

So I love this time of year. The Super Bowl is a big bet. It’s a party that happens out on the front lawn for everyone to see. At its best, it is frankly a blast. And if the spots are often disappointing, well, that’s our own fault. Cut it out.

I’m just trying to keep things in perspective.

We have all done our part to keep Super Bowl commercials relevant and "not just spots." The best of us create digital experiences that tie into the final commercial, telling us just enough to stoke anticipation. There are hidden Easter eggs in the spots. And then, of course, there are teasers, selective press showings, embargoed information. By the day of the game, everybody has seen everything. Which is just what we wanted all along.

But this brings me to my real point here today. And there’s a big lesson in it.

By Super Bowl day, we actually want to see all those commercials once again.


Even though we’ve seen the best commercials the Bowl has to offer way ahead of time, there is nothing like seeing them in the context of the game, in a big group, connecting over it all. We may know the jokes, have seen what the dogs will do, have experienced the "breakthrough serious commercial," but it is not the same until we do it together.

For many years, I went to a Super Bowl party that was very instructive. It was put on by a big San Francisco lawyer and was attended primarily by lawyers and their families. No advertising people at all.

These people did not know who Lubars or Droga were. They didn’t care about who made the Chrysler commercial. They had their cell phones out, but it was to see whether their children were okay.

In other words, they were the perfect version of together. No jealousies or overthinking. They just laughed or were moved. Or not.

You can approximate this experience on Twitter in real time, sure. You’ll learn a lot. But Twitter is different from onion dip and beer and the front door swinging open to big hugs.

Because the effect of a Super Bowl commercial is massively multiplied by the simple act of sharing. Sharing together in one room, or as a nation, or a planet, at the water cooler in person the next day is bigger, different, better.

It is what Marshall McLuhan would call an "all at once experience," where the media of the world is all directed into all our faces at the same moment. And has echoes.

It is famousness. The highest high in advertising.

There’s nothing like it.

It’s a feeling we could have year round, if we thought it was important. I’m afraid we’ve largely lost the desire to do things everyone knows about—or at least we’ve gotten confused by the complications of modern media and given up. We’ve retreated back to too many things that make good stories, but no one’s ever really seen them or heard of them.

Let’s find a way to create and embrace famousness. The Super Bowl reminds us of how important it is.

Jeff Goodby is  co-chairman and partner of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.


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