2015: The Year Super Bowl Ads Hit Puberty

You may have noticed that the commercials aired during the 2015 Super Bowl had a different tone than we are used to. Nearly gone were the slapstick, cat herding, and breast-centric burger spots of years past. In their place was emotion. And lots of it.

Tears were shed during the big game, and not just by Seahawk fans late in the fourth quarter. Emotional spots celebrating dads, centenarians, girls, and even an ill-advised spot featuring a dead kid. All crafted expertly and explicitly to illicit an emotional response from you, the viewer. Apparently advertising agencies across the country have finally noticed all those articles and reports citing how consumers, and in particular millennials, are hungry for meaning and purpose. And while those words are nearly foreign to this particular industry, emotion seems to be a fair proxy for what the masses are hungry for.

Jim Stenegel, the former Chief Marketing Officer from Procter & Gamble was quoted in the New York Times saying “More and more, brands are thinking very seriously about the role they play in life…Call it purpose, ideals, mission, whatever, but it is a sweeping force in marketing departments and agencies.”

His use of the word ‘whatever’ is what I would call particular attention to. Because honestly, after watching the commercials that ran during the Super Bowl I think they were mostly lacking purpose, ideals or mission — but they had a healthy dose ofwhatever… with a strong emotional tug attached.

The truth is that consumers DO want to see meaning and purpose in the companies they do business with. The researchoverwhelmingly backs this up. But they want that meaning to be real, and they want the emotion that they feel to be born of authenticity — a result of seeing and experiencing real impact.

And this authenticity is a challenge for advertising agencies and brands alike. After decades of manipulating people into buying their products and services with anything but honesty or authenticity, it is difficult to shake old habits.

So what you saw during the Super Bowl was a first attempt. Some brands did it better than others — the Always #likeagirlspot came across as more inspirational and focused on changing the world for good than the Nationwide spot, which seemed to trade more in macabre shock value than authenticity.

And it was not evident through watching the commercial, but theJeff Bridges/ Squarespace spot  actually raises money for No Kid Hungry, a national hunger relief organization. It is estimated that the purchase of Jeff Bridges Sleeping Tapes associated with the Squarespace commercial will fund up to one million meals for kids. Which is great — and the piece of the story we believe Super Bowl watchers were unknowingly looking to see.

Perhaps Ann Friedman says it best in her New York Magazine examination of “The Problem With Those Feminist Super Bowl Ads”,

“So then why did I cringe watching companies use those ideas to sell stuff during the Super Bowl? It’s because most of the ads are hollow: soaring messages with few concrete policies or actions behind them…They open up a great opportunity to press the advertisers for details on how they’re putting their purported ideals into practice. How much of its annual profit is Always diverting to girls’ empowerment programs? What sort of paternity-leave policies are in place at Dove and Nissan — and do those companies support better federal family-leave laws for all parents? How is the NFL changing its policies, not just its messaging, toward players who abuse their partners?”

Our belief at Kickstand is that until companies can find a purpose or a cause that is truly aligned with their brand, make a commitment to impact this cause, and  invite the consumer to participate in some meaningful way, anything short of this will be as ineffective as the slapstick, sexualized spots that preceded them.

Consumers want to see the impact. They want to understand how a brand’s passion for dads, centenarians or girls translates into action. They want to see how the brand is putting their money where their mouth is, and they want to be asked to participate

And when brand and consumer come together like this, then you have brand loyalty and affinity beyond anything we’ve seen before. And, even better, there is a chance to see real good happen in the world around us as well.