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Does Somber Tone of Super Bowl Ads Reflect a Shift in Marketing and PR’s Messaging and Targeting? Cause Wins the Day

This Year’s Ads Suggest Brands Have a Better Understanding of Audiences 

From Nationwide’s ghostly spot about dead kids to the NFL’s own sponsored ad targeting domestic abuse, the 2015 Super Bowl commercials were collectively among the most somber of all time. Many of this year’s advertising brands opted to associate their messaging with a social cause or otherwise sentimental issue—suggesting that the targeted approach of advertisers is shifting.

There was also a diminished presence of humor and sex, marking a dramatic shift from Super Bowls past. Instead, cause marketing and true-to-life engagement took center stage during breaks from the game–which itself carried a heavier tone this year than usual, with fluffier controversies such as DeflateGate coupled with heavier issues surrounding the NFL this year, such as the Ray Rice sex-abuse episode and newly inflamed allegations that playing football can lead to concussions and other head trauma. All in all, the tone of the ads perfectly matched the seriousness of the PR crises resting on the NFL’s shoulders.

Certainly not all of the ads had this darker tone—among numerous examples, Coca-Cola got patriotic, Doritos added a touch of sci-fi, while Chrysler, Dannon and T-Mobile tapped celebrity star power (with varying levels of success). Nissan addressed the challenge of work/life balance, while Always tapped into Girl Power. Meanwhile, McDonald’s was feeling the love, and Fiat incorporated some sexual innuendo. Carnival Cruise Lines used a JFK voiceover in an effort to add some leadership quality and authenticity to the struggling cruise industry. And Budweiser preserved the cuteness that’s been pervasive in years past with—what else—cute puppies.

But overall, there was a collective message among this year’s spots–one suggesting that we are living in challenging times, and battling many serious issues in our day-to-day lives. In years past, Super Bowl commercials were more escapist, allowing viewers to get away from those vexing problems (which always seem to be around) with abundant sex and humor. This year’s diversion from that course convincingly shows corporate brands using this real-life imagery to better connect with its audiences—evidence that companies are finally getting in touch with the two-way conversation that marketing and PR messaging must evoke for success in today’s marketplace.

Richard Carufel

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