Strategy Expert: How Can Super Bowl Advertising Remain Relevant?

Strategy Expert: How Can Super Bowl Advertising Remain Relevant?

Jake Thomas, Strategy Director at Match Marketing Group, uncovers the trends and challenges around this year's game

  • 9 february 2017

The Super Bowl is as important of an opportunity for brands as it ever was, as it it provides a highly engaged, mass audience that, as a cultural tradition, willingly accepts advertisements into their lives for this one day.

Opportunities for creativity have only grown with the proliferation of channels and the rise of digital media. On the flip side the challenge is much greater for brands, necessitating that they go beyond the TV spot, and leverage those other channels to extend engagement – something many brands have been slow to adopt beyond basic blocking and tackling (pardon the pun). With all of this comes new metrics for measuring effectiveness.

The importance of channels like Twitter in live viewing contexts coupled with the unpredictability of the big game, have opened up avenues for low latency messaging that responds directly to moments as they unfold. Oreo’s, “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet set the bar in 2013, while Squarespace’s “Real Talk” with Key and Peele employed a more integrated approach to pre- and mid-game comedic commentary in 2016.

Verizon’s pre-canned responses to its competitors commercial spots this year being another example, as well as Snickers “never shoot a live Super Bowl commercial when you’re hungry” ad.

So, what other companies were on-point this year?

Clearly there’s a lot of subjectivity here. But, my opinions here are also driven by the group I was watching the game with as well as social media chatter during the game itself. A few stand-out as being particularly bold:


Ford’s No One Likes to be Stuck ad took the brand’s technology story and humanized it in a light-hearted and relatable way. What’s more, Ford spent a lot of money to tell people they aren’t actually a car company. They’re a mobility company. It was a bold move that was well-executed. But more importantly, is indicative of the larger transformation taking place in the automotive industry. We’ll see if their technology can back up the talk. 


Audi has set their own bar so high over the years that they almost don’t receive the accolades that they deserve anymore. This year’s “Daughter” spot made a strong statement about equality, specifically, women’s equality and no doubt struck a chord with mothers and fathers everywhere all told through that dreamy cinematic quality style that has been prevalent in Audi’s spots for years. But, make no mistake this isn’t just social commentary on the part of the brand, it’s a recognition that women yield increasing influence over the household and are the source of greater and greater spending power relative to men. Expect this trend to continue.

But, there’s an even bigger achievement for the brand here (if that’s possible). Go back and watch spots like “Prom” from 2013 and “Commander” from 2016 as well as this years and you see a consistent narrative built around challengers and underdogs. This is Audi’s position in the luxury car segment and they defend and re-define it year after year.

84 Lumber

No surprise here. 84 Lumber’s The Journey Begins spot made a big cultural statement about the role that migration has played in the shaping of this country. But, when the entire spot was rejected by Fox for being too direct in its depiction of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, the brand took a risk that is all too often overlooked in Super Bowl advertising – it asked something of the audience, namely, challenging them to seek out the rest of the story (which couldn’t be aired) at

Participation or a specific call-to-engage is the new bar for storytelling during the Super Bowl, and something brands still seem to struggle with. Unfortunately, 84 Lumber wasn’t fully prepared for the level of engagement their story would generate when the microsite crashed immediately after the spot aired.

What about underlying trends or themes that run through the advertisements this year?


Obviously, #brandactivism takes the cake for the most prevalent trend throughout the entire night. Themes revolved around equality, diversity and acceptance, and are a result of the prevailing political tensions in this country.

These themes took center stage in too many spots to recount, perhaps dampening their impact, from Audi and 84 Lumber to AirBnb and Budweiser. It was an undertone in others like the Google Home ad which positioned equality as something so basic that it should be a forgone conclusion for every American.

We saw it all the way down to Lady Gaga’s song selection during the Super Bowl halftime show when she kicked her performance off with God Bless America immediately transitioning in to The Land Is Your Land and eventually performing Born This Way, a song about acceptance of sexual orientation.

What will be interesting to watch in the coming months, is the brands that build upon these narratives through action. It’s one thing to utilize Super Bowl air time to communicate a generally popular message about equality, but another to leverage your might to create real change. I think consumers will be paying close attention to this, as there’s a lot of skepticism right now, not just towards larger corporations but all of the institutions that make up our country.

Brand as Tech Company

Brand as technology company came through in Ford’s No One Likes to be Stuck piece and even more surprisingly from HR Block’s unveiling of its partnership with IBM Watson technology, which could have fooled many viewers into believing it was actually a spot for IBM itself.

Jake Thomas, Strategy Director at Match Marketing Inc., leads strategy teams in the development of insights that drive the creative process, along with overseeing campaign development and new business pitches for clients such as adidas, Ford Motor Company, Progressive Insurance and Hormel Foods.

The Super Bowl is as important of an opportunity for brands as it ever was, as it it provides a highly engaged, mass audience that, as a cultural tradition, willingly accepts advertisements into their lives for this one day.

+brand strategy

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