Best Super Bowl Ads Tell Powerful Stories
We watched the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens go at it in Super Bowl XLVII. As the Ravens galloped ahead with a huge lead before halftime, we thought the game was a wrap. But after halftime and a power outage in the stadium that postponed play for 35 minutes, it seemed as if the 49ers would catch up, as they stacked points when play resumed. We all perked up a bit, glad to have a real game before our eyes, instead of the wipe-out the play before halftime promised. Seeing the 49ers finally behaving like they showed up to play gave us a story. We had drama — would they, or wouldn’t they? But it was not to be. The Ravens prevailed with a 34-31 victory, in the game that saw the Harbaugh brothers coaching opposite each other, one getting to hoist the Lombardi trophy, the other wondering if a bad call stole his victory.
The play on the field wasn’t the only reason the Super Bowl was a big deal. It was the ads. The Super Bowl was a big night for advertisers. So big, that they spent $3.8 million for 30-second ad slots during this year’s game. But the ads weren’t just big business for the network and advertisers. Viewers looked forward to seeing the shiny graphics, far-fetched concepts, and the celebrity cameos. It’s all part of the annual Super Bowl hype.
Super Bowl ads are big business — because of the stories
In the midst of all that, though, it’s the writing that can make an ad shine or fade into oblivion. After all, messages are conveyed through writing, both in what is included and what is unsaid. Beautiful writing can leave just as much unsaid as it states. Take the case of the Budweiser Clydesdale ad. It’s an ad that shows a strong connection — Brotherhood, as the ad is titled — between a young guy and the horse he raises. The guy takes care of the horse, sleeps in the barn with him, plays with him, only to ship him off to become a Budweiser Clydesdale. Three years later, the guy sees a story in the paper that says the Clydesdale horses will be in town, so he goes to see, standing in the crowd to get a glimpse of the horse he raised. As he turns to leave, the horse breaks away from the pack and races toward the guy. They share a moment. Powerful.
I absolutely loved it. It may have been my favorite of the night. No words. Just emotion that came through in the images and music. So you say, how is that writing? Well, it was great writing because the writing team had to know how to tell the story and what — if any — words to use. You don’t get an award just because you use the most words.
You get it because you use words in the best way. Even if that means no words.
The Budweiser ad told a story we could all relate to, even if we don’t drink Budweiser or raise horses.
Two other noteworthy ads also told stories and evoked emotion. The Jeep ad, narrated by Oprah, was one that paid tribute to members of the military. I loved the concept. It spoke to nostalgia, family, and patriotism. The ad no doubt got you just a little bit teary and made you squeeze someone tighter — or miss someone all the more. But where the ad came up short is that it was a touch too long. It talked about all the ways a military member is missed. All the special days he or she is missed, the moments and occasions the family goes without that person’s presence.The ad kept making the point, on and on.
Watch the ad, and you’ll notice that it could have ended after, “You’ve been missed,” and not lost any punch. In fact, it would have gained some. It would have ended at just the right, poignant moment. Or, it could have cut everything out after the “You’ve been missed,” line and picked up with the end, “When you’re home, we’re more than a family; we are a nation that is whole again.”
Tight writing often makes a stronger impact. And loose — or long-winded — writing diminishes it.
Fortunately the long-winded nature of the Jeep ad didn’t make us forget the story.
Another commercial that told a powerful story was the Dodge “Farmers” ad. The words of the late Paul Harvey washed over our senses, coupled with the images on the screen, making us all feel warm and nostalgic, glad we have farmers among us. The ad told a story of sacrifice, commitment, family, and love. Hard to go wrong with praising farmers. After all, we do like to eat. That said, I believe the ad could have been a bit shorter without losing its point.
Each of the three ads I highlighted here told a story.
If a story doesn’t resonate — or make any sense — the ad won’t work
But not every Super Bowl ad was a hit. Some were rather lackluster. Blah. Others, though, were just plain awful. They just didn’t hit the mark — at all. The GoDaddy ad, “Sexy Meets Smart,” which showed a sexy woman and a geeky, splotchy-faced guy kissing in a too-close, close-up shot was way off the mark. We got a full view of the kiss, with sound effects. Awful. Loud. Lip-smacking gross sound effects. Whether it was the writing or the execution of the concept, this one was not great. Horrible. This ad was an uncomfortable attempt at some kind of story, but it certainly did not draw at my heartstrings or make me cry. Or laugh. Or even smile, for that matter. Unless you count a grimace.
The Speed Stick “Unattended Laundry” commercial shows a guy dumping someone’s clothes out to make room for his own. The owner, a cute girl, walks up as he is holding her underwear. She asks what is he doing. He says folding her clothes. She says that’s sweet. He says a bit dreamily, “I’d fold your panties any day.” She is taken aback. “What?”
I’m taken aback. By the rather uninspired ad. C’mon Speed Stick. You paid money for this.
Whether your writing is short and to the point or a bit long and drawn out, it has to tell a story. Stories make points, facts, and information memorable.
So which was your favorite Super Bowl ad? And why?