Sports Football

Super Bowl: What's bigger - the game or the ads?

John Law

By John Law, Niagara Falls Review

A still shot from the Budweiser Puppy Love ad for Super Bowl 2014.

A still shot from the Budweiser Puppy Love ad for Super Bowl 2014.

Time was, they were called Super Bowl commercials for a reason: You actually had to watch the Super Bowl to see them.

No beer breaks. No flipping the stations. You stayed glued to the screen every time the game went to a break if you wanted to see what everyone would be buzzing about the next day. It was the one time of year you didn’t dare miss the commercials.

They’ve become such a pop culture event, Canadians actually complain about missing them. Every January viewers gripe to whichever Canadian network is showing the game (Global or CTV), angry about being force-fed far less exciting ads than their American counterparts. It has prompted the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to explain the matter on its webpage. Short answer: “Canadian TV stations pay for the right to broadcast the Super Bowl in Canada. To finance that expense, those stations sell separate advertising during the game.”

Until recently, viewers who craved the U.S. ads would patiently wait until they were posted online shortly after the game. Now, you don’t even need the game…you can watch them right now.

Advertisers paying upwards of $4 million for a 30-second slot aren’t waiting until Sunday to show you what they’ve got. Dozens of websites have compiled many of the 60-plus ads, critiquing, dissecting and reviewing them like the mini-movies they are.

On Wednesday, four days before the Super Bowl, Budweiser released this year’s ad on Youtube. It depicts an adorable puppy escaping from an animal shelter to meet his friends, the iconic Budweiser Clydesdale horses next door. Every time he escapes, he’s returned to the shelter until, near the end, a group of Clydesdales block the owner’s car to keep him from returning the little guy.

Within moments, the ad was a Facebook phenom. But what did it have to do with beer? Not much, and it doesn’t really matter.

It’s a Super Bowl ad, therefore it’s a big deal.

“I look at it now as a form of entertainment,” says Stan DeFruscio, creative director of Loud and Clear Advertising Inc. in St. Catharines. “When you look at the numbers and some of the studies being done, from an actual sales impact standpoint (the ads) aren’t that effective. But that’s not why they’re doing it.”

In some cases, the actual Super Bowl is the polished pay off to a long campaign, aided by teasers and contests. Other times, they’re one-shot deals made for the sole prestige of saying the company has a Super Bowl commercial. Either way, it’s the one time of year when commercials actively engage viewers who already know these are expensive short films.

“The consumers come to understand it,” explains DeFruscio. “It’s almost like, if you don’t show up and you’ve got a major brand…it could hurt you.”

Unique commercials have been part of the Super Bowl since the early ‘70s, but the one that changed everything was Apple’s Orwell-themed ad announcing the Macintosh computer in 1984. Directed by Ridley Scott, its high production values and next-day buzz ushered in the era of big budget, big awareness promos during the game.

We’ve since seen Michael Jordan and Larry Bird playing a game of ‘Horse’ for a Big Mac. We’ve seen mortal enemies David Letterman and Jay Leno share a couch in a promo for The Late Show. We’ve seen Mario Cuomo shilling for Dorito’s. Viewers now crave them so much, the actual Super Bowl is incidental.

This year’s line-up will include Arnold Schwarzenegger playing ping pong for Bud Light, Sarah McLachlan singing about an unfortunate hybrid for Audi, and Bob Dylan(!) in a commercial for Chrysler.

“It shocks me,” says Scott Henderson of Brock University’s Department of Pop Culture & Film. “The thing people complain the most about for every other show, all year round, is the glut of advertising. And yet, people are willing (to watch) during the Super Bowl.

“From a Canadian perspective, it’s the one time of year everybody gripes about the cable and satellite regulations where signals are replaced. They’re getting Canadian ads they’ve already seen. Especially in Niagara, growing up in an era of having the antenna sticking off the roof, picking up American signals. It’s almost a birthrate we’re supposed to get that American signal, and now that we can’t, we’re so irate for one day!”

Henderson still uses the 1984 Apple ad in class, and marvels at the marketing savvy of getting people to seek out commercials before they’re even scheduled to air.

Even without a Super Bowl ad, Newcastle Ale has pounced on the hype by creating a fake behind-the-scenes spot with Anna Kendrick for their non-Super Bowl ad.

“They know people are on the internet thirsting to find these Super Bowl commercials,” says Henderson. “They’re getting the attention without having to spend the big bucks.”

And like everything surrounding the Super Bowl, bigger is better. Once the media started reported how much the ads cost, people started paying attention.

“That created half the buzz, I think,” says Greg Unrau, chair of Niagara College’s School of Media Studies. “You knew they were spending this much money to get something on the air to this many viewers.”

Unrau says he hasn’t watched a Super Bowl in ten years, preferring to ski that day because the slopes are always empty. But these days, missing the game means you aren’t missing the commercials.

“Now, you can just call them up. For the advertisers, that’s a huge bonus.

“Maybe it’s people going, ‘I really want to see these before (the game)…I want to talk to somebody about them before they start talking after the game about it.’”  




Which of the following Super Bowl 2014 ads is your favourite?

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