What We Can Learn from Super Bowl LII Ads


Chants of “Philly Philly” and the classic tune of hope and victory, “Fly Eagles Fly” pervaded the University of Delaware campus as Blue Hens tuned in to root for the Philadelphia Eagles during Super Bowl LII. For passionate public relations students, however, it became an occasion not only filled with friends, food, and fun but also an opportunity to analyze the best commercials of the “biggest night of the advertising year.”

According to Sports Illustrated, brands spent, on average, more than $5 million for a mere 30-second spot. In response to the recent presidential election and subsequent divisiveness seen across the country, many ads took on a partisan stance through their messaging during Super Bowl LI (for example, see 84 Lumber’s The Entire Journey commercial). By contrast, Adweek noted three major trends throughout this year’s content: multiple spots, humor, and in some cases, an emphasis on altruism to take action against issues plaguing the nation and world.

In a world characterized by shorter attention spans and increased digital multitasking, brands need to spark higher recall through the repetition of their messages. Tide laundry products had Stranger Things actor David Harbour perform in a variety of commercials parodying past Super Bowl advertisements that aired throughout the night. After consumers had seen multiple Tide ads, Harbour shattered the fourth wall by planting a question in the viewers’ heads: Was every ad they viewed from Tide? By now “owning” all of the subsequent ads through this earned media strategy, Tide proved the winner for the night and kept their product in the minds of consumers from the game to the next time they shopped for laundry products.

Humor is essential in helping consumers equate a brand to positive experiences. Mountain Dew and Doritos, products purchased together frequently, complemented one another through their strategic #SpitFire and #IceCold lip sync battle segments starring Morgan Freeman and Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage, respectively. Fans of these prominent influencers could then pick the winner of the comedic battle through social media accounts, especially through the use of a geofilter on Snapchat. In this way, both companies reaped the benefits not only of their highly-coveted spot on traditional media but also received free publicity from mentions of these hashtags. 

When consumers learn of the charitable efforts and humanity of a brand, they feel more confident buying products from them and supporting the cause. Dodge Ram decided to incorporate a risky brand message equating the quality and service of its American-made cars with Martin Luther King Jr.’s own virtues of service through a voice-over of his famous “The Drum Major Instinct” sermon. Personally, I agree with the backlash it received, as the company exploited King’s words to sell cars, entirely irrelevant from everything he stood for. The ad was even initially condemned by the King Center in Atlanta and King’s daughter, Bernice, for the use of his words and imagery in advertising. When considering a cause to support, brands should take into account, first and foremost, how they can help and how the cause fits into their vision to maintain authenticity.

By analyzing and learning from the best of the best (as well as some risky moves), we aspiring public relations professionals can learn what to incorporate into our own media messaging. 


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