Bader Rutter

Of puppies and pigskin: Super Bowl 51 and a call for humor

Your team may not be on the turf Feb. 5 this year, but we’re betting you’ll still talk about the Super Bowl. The commercials are as much a reason to make your famous chili cheese dip and watch the game as that guy with the underinflated footballs is. Creative Director Sarah Kmet-Hunt and Executive Creative Director Mike Fredrick, both avid Packers fans, talked with us about what we might see this year.


What can we expect to see in this year’s commercial lineup? What are you most excited to see?

Mike: In recent years, there’s been success in taking a more serious tone rather than resorting to the usual humor of Super Bowl ads. It’s getting harder to differentiate on humor, to the point where brands like Mountain Dew are parodying the ridiculousness of Super Bowl spots by creating ads like last year’s PuppyMonkeyBaby. That said, humor is always a part of the Super Bowl, so we can expect over-the-top humor from the majority of the spots, especially coming off such a long and hard-fought election year. I think people might be looking for a break and some lightheartedness during this year’s game. They watch the Super Bowl game to be entertained, so they’ll expect the same from the ads.

Sarah:  I’m also very curious to see how many brands tell a serious or inspirational story versus going for the laugh. When it comes from a genuine place that feels true to the spirit of the brand, it can be really powerful and moving. But it’s territory that brands need to go into with some really careful thought; today’s audience is going to see through a shallow play to wear your heart (or your patriotism) on your sleeve, and it’s not going to go over well.

Mike: I’m also excited to see if any companies get attention around the Super Bowl without buying an ad, like Newcastle did a few years ago with their “Super Bowl commercial that never happened” idea featuring Anna Kendrick.

I’m curious to see how many of the ads are released before the game (a trend I find particularly annoying) and which ads are saved for the game. Interestingly enough, both types of ads make the best lists; there’s no secret formula to releasing it or holding it. I want to be surprised and entertained. I don’t want to see something I’ve already seen online two weeks prior. In fact, I purposely stay away from the advertising blogs in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. I don’t want it to be ruined for me! There is a way to do it better, though. If more companies released adjacent content and teasers relating to their Super Bowl ad, rather than just took the lazy way out and released the ad, then it could be fun and drive even more intrigue to see their spot in the game.

Sarah: It’s good to see that I’m not the only one annoyed by the trend of releasing ads before the game. Maybe it’s because I’m a bigger baseball fan than football fan, so if the Packers aren’t in the game, I have to admit that I’m really watching it for the ads more than anything else. It’s a big letdown if everyone has already seen most of the good ones. I’d rather see a really great tease that gets paid off with the release of the spot in the game versus seeing the ad itself, but I feel like lately the ads are more likely to just be out there early.

Mike: We should watch, too, for how many spots will encourage interaction on a second screen. For the most part, Super Bowl spots just feature a hashtag rather than encourage true engaging interaction off the TV and bringing more value to the idea on the second screen. I have to believe companies are going to start doing that better during the Super Bowl. And I’m excited to see what they come up with.

Of puppies and pigskin: Super Bowl 51 and a call for humor

What are the qualities of a successful ad? What do you think makes an ad memorable? 

Mike: A successful ad is still the same as it’s always been — one that’s based on a compelling idea rooted in a human truth. Too often, Super Bowl commercials just exude production technique or humor for humor’s sake. A great ad should draw you in. It should connect with you. It should make you laugh, cry or introspect because of the tentacles it puts on your soul. Sure, that sounds a little corny and deep, but that’s what a great idea does, whether it be in advertising or anywhere else. In fact, you can look at it like this: We all have an expectation of the game and of the NFL to entertain and reward us for tuning in, so we should have the same expectation of the advertisers. We’re glued to the screen one time each year. We’re bringing advertisers that immense value, so we should expect something of value in return.

What are your favorite past Super Bowl ads?

Mike: Choosing a favorite Super Bowl spot is like choosing your favorite child. There are so many great spots over the years.

One of my favorite Super Bowl spots of all time was E-Trade’s Invest Wisely spot in 2001. It was after the dot-com bubble burst and featured a chimpanzee riding through a ghost town of dot-com companies that went out of business. It was so connected and pertinent to what was going on in society at the time. We were all feeling the repercussions of the crash. The frivolous dot-com era was coming down. The year before, in the 2000 Super Bowl, 17 of the commercials were for websites, so it became known as the “dot-com bowl.” That’s why the Invest Wisely spot was so great. It was connected to what we were all feeling and experiencing inside. Sure, it also had a chimp on a horse, which was funny, but the core idea was so strong at the time.

One of my other favorite spots was in the 1996 Super Bowl. Great Googly Moogly for Snickers was successful because it was so simple. It wasn’t trying too hard to stand out by its production value, rather it stood out by its funny idea. And the casting was perfect. It created such a connection that “great googly moogly” made it into the vernacular.

Sarah: One of my favorites is from Snickers as well; it’s the Betty White You’re not you when you’re hungry spot from 2010. It was such a simple, great idea — something that stemmed from a totally human truth. It was funny, and it was fantastic casting of Betty White — a bit unexpected and humorous in a really charming way. It created an enduring story line for Snickers that lived on far beyond the Super Bowl and went in a lot of different directions (although the original really was the best). It’s great to see a spot bring in a famous personality in a way that just works so well, versus bringing in star power for its own sake. (Yes, Skittles, I’m talking about you and your Steven Tyler ad last year. And this from the brand that brought us Skittles Pox, which I love. Just goes to show you, the best brands can make a mistake.)

Last year I loved the Heinz weiner dog spot. Weiner dogs running in slow motion, a classic ’70s ballad and a bunch of guys dressed up like ketchup and mustard — and how the whole thing came together was poetry. It didn’t just remind me that a hot dog is a sad and lonely food without ketchup and mustard, it made me feel it in a visceral and entertaining way. And above all, it made me smile. I still remembered it a whole year later. It didn’t try be more than it was, a moment of pure happiness. (Kind of like a good hot dog with ketchup and mustard on a summer day.)

Creatively, what are the trends we might see? 

Mike: We can expect a lot of star power. Last year alone, we saw Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Liam Neeson, Alec Baldwin, Jeff Goldblum, Steve Harvey and Ryan Reynolds, just to name a few. I hope we see more raw ideas based in human truths that connect more strongly with the viewers. I hope we see better use of teasing the idea, rather than just releasing the spot early and ruining the surprise. I hope we see better, more engaging use of the second screen, rather than just throwing a hashtag at the end of the spots. And I hope at least one company surprises us by doing something totally unexpected that hasn’t been done before. Oh, and if some company doesn’t make fun of the election, I’d be totally surprised!

Sarah: I hope we just see some great ideas. Some simple ideas. Some breathtaking ideas. Something funny in a daring way. There’s so much great talent just poured into the creation of advertising for the Super Bowl that I want to see something surprising. The one other thing I’m curious about is whether we’ll see anyone using audience-generated content in a really clever way or crowdsourced creative (like Doritos) to not only come up with fresh content but also tap into people’s passion about a brand.

Mike Fredrick leads the creative department at BR, serving as executive creative director. A copywriter by trade, he’s worked on multiple B2B and B2B2C clients at Bader Rutter over the past 15 years. Mike likes BR so much, he’s actually been here twice. He’s also a complete advertising nerd who’s happy to challenge anyone to an ad trivia contest. In his free time, you’ll find Mike in the outdoors — mountain biking, camping, hiking or kayaking.

Sarah Kmet-Hunt serves as a creative director with more than 13 years at BR. When she’s not working on crafting better brands, defending white space or making the logo smaller, you might find her drawing and painting with her two kids, hiking or working in her ceramics studio. Or doing what she’ll be doing on game day: smokin’ ribs for the crowd!

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