If 2015 was the year of Super Bowl ad poignancy, 2016 is shaping up to be the year of Super Bowl laughs. Many brands have already teased spots with big-time comedians as they also use the Super Bowl as springboards for new campaigns and/or taglines.
It’s a relatively dramatic shift, one insiders say is driven by a desire to harness influencers to really wow audiences, a one-time off-the-field Super Bowl staple that has been sorely missing in recent years. Brands themselves, however, say comedic talent helps them communicate their values and stay true to their ideals as they embrace spirits of inclusion and unite viewers over laughs.
Super Bowl XLIX: The Year of Poignancy
The emotional Class of 2015, of course, was led by Nationwide’s dead kid spot, which generated mixed reactions, but also included: Toyota and Nissan with dueling homages to fatherhood, Budweiser’s infamous Lost Dog, Always’ Like a Girl, Microsoft’s Braylon, Coke’s Make it Happy, McDonald’s Pay with Lovin’ and Dove Men+Care’s Real Strength. What’s more, six of these ads ranked among the top 10 of 2015 and they cumulatively generated millions of views. (Budweiser has since pulled its Lost Dog spot from YouTube, making a precise tally impossible.) This year, however, only a handful of brands have announced ads that carry on this theme: Colgate’s #EveryDropCounts, Mini’s #DefyLabels and WeatherTech’s salute to American manufacturing.
The Comedic Touch
Instead, many brands have opted to make America laugh this year. And many brands have enlisted big-name comedians to do it. That includes Amy Schumer for Bud Light, T.J. Miller for Shock Top, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele for Squarespace, Billy Eichner for Butterfinger and Kevin Hart for Hyundai. When you include the humorous commercials with celebrities that don’t necessarily focus specifically on comedy, like Alec Baldwin for Amazon, Christopher Walken for Kia, Lil Wayne for Apartments.com and Drake for T‑Mobile, additional examples abound and a trend emerges. What’s more, this lighthearted approach to 2016 Super Bowl messaging seems to resonate with consumers so far: Schumer and her #BudLightParty counterpart Seth Rogen have driven 1.7 million views for the beer brand and Miller’s repartee with Shock Top’s orange slice mascot Wedgehead has 1.4 million views. And in three teasers, Lil Wayne and George Washington have racked up 4 million views in their homage to the Jeffersons. One could argue the about-face is a reaction to Nationwide, which chose not to return in 2016 after it perhaps took the emotional theme too far last year and the response among advertisers is to therefore shoot for laughs over meaning in Super Bowl 50. Gary J. Nix, chief strategy officer at branding agency bdot, said the shift reflects advertisers simply trying to make noise with influential celebrities. “Lately, few spots have made that really big splash and the past few Super Bowls have collectively received grades of ‘Ehh,’ and ‘So?’ from the ad industry,” he said. “Thus, because laughter is a powerful tool to evoke good feelings and emotion, I think companies are trying that particular method this go around.” Here’s a look at what these brands have in store – and why they say comedy is the right fit this year.
In a press release, Bud Light calls itself “America’s most inclusive beer brand” and says its campaign is meant to embrace a new tagline – “Raise One to Right Now” – and provide a “unique and light-hearted Bud Light perspective on timely cultural moments,” including Super Bowl 50. The brand also says its humorous campaign is part of a larger effort to “evolve the way Bud Light looks, acts and connects with modern consumers.” It will continue throughout the year with Schumer and Rogen rallying “beer drinkers to put their differences aside and agree to agree on Bud Light.” In a prepared statement, Bud Light vice president Alexander Lambrecht said, “This is more than just a Super Bowl ad. It’s a completely new communication of what Bud Light stands for – inclusivity, positivity and fun.”
According to Shock Top, it partnered with Miller “to deliver unfiltered experiences to beer lovers” in its first Super Bowl spot, which also marks the beginning of a year-long relationship with the comedian. “Shock Top embraces an unfiltered lifestyle and the Super Bowl will help launch our 2016 ‘Live Life Unfiltered’ campaign, establishing who we are with people around the county,” says Jake Kirsch, vice president of Shock Top. “We hope our ad strikes a chord and evokes a laugh among our drinkers and encourages them to consider us the next time they’re at the grocery store or bar.” Further, Kirsch says humor “is in our Shock Top DNA” and notes it’s also a great way to break down barriers. In addition, Kirsch says the brand opted to work with Miller because he embodies the brand’s unfiltered persona and, “We figured if we are going to do this, we better go big or go home. And so to stay true to our brand and mantra of living life unfiltered, we engaged [Miller] to say it like it is…to deliver a fresh, unexpected experience that promises to entertain, surprise and drive a few laughs on Super Bowl Sunday.”
According to reports, Squarespace is going for something different in its third Super Bowl commercial with comedic duo Key and Peele playing “two ridiculous characters.” Indeed, Chris Paul, vice president of media and acquisitions at Squarespace, says the choice to work with Key and Peele was natural because in part they are smart, creative, and entertaining collaborators. “We’re highly conscious of the fact that for most Americans, the Super Bowl is an occasion to come together and celebrate with friends and family,” Paul says. “We wanted to make sure our ad was light and entertaining, while being aligned with our brand values.” In a teaser, Key and Peele – as aspiring sportscasters Lee and Morris – announced they will undertake the daunting task of providing live commentary throughout Sunday’s game.
Butterfinger announced its Super Bowl spot in December with help from Periscope and a professional skydiver. And Butterfinger, too, is kicking off a new brand message — Bolder Than Bold — with its 2016 Super Bowl play. In addition, Butterfinger is another brand that says humor is in its DNA. And, per brand manager Kristen Mandel, “We always aim to make you laugh in the bolder than bold approach we take in everything we do.” Further, Mandel says Butterfinger engaged Eichner because he “embodies Butterfinger’s Bolder Than Bold personality, and was the perfect fit to help bring this fun and unique campaign to life for fans.”
The auto manufacturer is also launching a new branding campaign with its Super Bowl buy, which it says reflects its “mission to make its vehicles and the entire consumer experience better.” In addition, actors Kevin Hart and Ryan Reynolds will make cameos as the brand highlights its 2017 Elantra and 2016 Genesis models. “We wanted to use a unique storytelling approach and A‑list talent to delight and entertain the fans while showcasing the latest technology available in our vehicles,” said Dean Evans, chief marketing officer of Hyundai Motor America, in a statement. In addition, Eric Springer, chief creative officer of ad agency Innocean, said of comedian Hart’s spot, “Part stuntman, part overprotective dad, altogether hysterically funny. There will be plenty of beer coming out of people’s noses this Super Bowl, thanks to [Hart] being in this spot.”