Why Super Bowl ads can no longer be 'America First'

With more ambition, marketers could create work that wins the day and the hearts and minds of consumers around the globe, writes the chief creative officer of Droga5 London.

There is a Japanese game show where they pick one object in a room and replace it with an edible scale replica. Then contestants walk around the room taking turns tasting everything around them until they find the item in question. The person who bites into a doorknob, a shoe or a cabinet door and discovers that it‘s made of chocolate "wins."

I know this because the internet told me.

If I can find out about some niche television game show from the other side of the world that a mate of mine retweeted, then sure as shit the ads populating the dead time between touchdowns and long runs or whatever-the-fuck (I’m not a sports guy) in America’s premier footballing event are going to spread around around the globe in the tens of millions. 

So why then does it seem as though the brands that have offerings in multiple markets around the world pander to an exclusively US audience?

The Super Bowl is celebrated by our industry because it's the one occasion where people pay attention to us rather than treating what we do with—at best—sneering contempt or worse still, an open hostility typically reserved for sex offenders. But within the industry it's also widely acknowledged that the work broadcast during those 3+ hours is not the best we have to offer. 

Sure, there’s always the occasional gem but in recent years it’s been a tired, pandering orgy of celebrities, cute animals, and broad physical comedy that makes Jim Carrey’s turn in "The Mask" look like an example of Bergman-esque restraint. There is a level of cynicism employed in the creation of so many of these multimillion dollar spectacles, born of link-testing and a desire to win the Ad Meter, that you wonder if with a little more ambition and self-awareness, marketers could create work that doesn’t just "win the day," but wins the hearts and minds of consumers long-term. Not just in America but around the globe.

What if all the brands that spent an irresponsible amount of money for 30 seconds to tell a dick joke during a broadcast sporting event started thinking about how their ads travel? What if they factored in the life these ads have after their allocated slot and started using the tastes of their other markets to inform their offering? I know this approach is fraught with practical complications and I'm not suggesting anyone should strive to make their ads globally relevant. Global work rarely actually resonates globally. But I'm just talking about stepping outside the American-ness of it all. Or rather, what US marketers perceive to be American-ness.

Put something on air that doesn’t appeal to what you imagine to be the lowest common denominator. Talk up rather than talk down.

See, most brands believe the archetypal American consumer they’re selling to is—to put it tactfully—unsophisticated. I believe that the opposite is true. The average American decodes a lot more than we give them credit for. Give them the chance and they’ll both get and enjoy well-crafted, intelligent work. If the excuse you need is that the work will travel further, so be it. Watch.  It will pay dividends.

David Kolbusz is the chief creative officer of Droga5 London.

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