Last night was unique for New York – okay, I'll say New York/New Jersey – and of particular importance to me.
Four years ago, I was asked to help make the creative pitch that brought the big game to the biggest stage and, ever since the owners voted our way, all I'd been hoping for was a Giants appearance and two feet of snow.
The Giants were a no-show – actually, that role was played by Broncos – and the foul weather arrived just a few hours late, but it was still an uncommon night for me as I was invited at the last minute to bring my 12-year-old son to the Meadowlands to watch the event unfold live.
When I got the invitation on Thursday, my first thought was how lucky I was to be going. My second somewhat pathetically instantaneous reaction, and one that I blame on being a creative director, was, “Wait a second, I won't be able to watch any of the ads live.” For the first time in my life, I'll miss seeing half of the biggest show in America. And while I'm proud to say I never debated going, I did start to think about how to follow along.
One, I could try to watch the spots ahead of time. No. Turns out that the “teased” ads aren't a huge percentage of the total and, well, pre-watching isn't any fun. It's like standing by the water cooler at 5 am, hoping the one other early riser at the office is interested in talking to you about anything other than coffee. Another approach would be to catch up and judge the spots afterward via YouTube, Hulu, or USAToday's Admeter. Nah. By that time, who, including me, would even care? The deluge of conversation would already have happened on social media.
Duh, social. I'd follow along by scraping the short summaries and reactions on Twitter, all while in a total stadium vacuum, seeing none of the actual ads. It was a plan, and I set some rules:
• Check in only during a few game pauses so I'd actually experience the event, too.
• No linking through to the spots. Ever. Just reading tweets.
• Pick some new people to follow for the night, like @3PercentConference, which had gathered hundreds of brilliant women creatives to add their voices to the mix.
From the start, it was obvious that there would be clear winners and losers. And that I'd have pretty much zero idea what people were talking about.
Maserati exploded out of the blocks. Resoundingly popular for its beauty, poetry, and something about “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Huh? Whatever, it sounded cool. Although the best reaction I saw was from Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter (@BastardMachine), who begged for the brand to partner with Studio Ghibli next year to make “Kiki's Delivery Maserati” Maserati, please do this; I'll work on it for free.
Next up was a flurry of tweets panning Ford. I couldn't tell why. And who cares? Clearly social media had become a Gladiatorial arena: thumbs up or thumbs down, no debate. This was getting fun.
Soon enough, more trucks, this time from Chevy. With, hang on…“bull sex?” Again, what? Bizarre, but it seemed marketers were very confused this year, summed up nicely at 6:56 pm by the great Rob Schwartz (@Schwartzie14) with this: “Um, I'll admit it, I haven't understood most of the ads that have run. I mean seriously. My head is bleeding from scratching it so much.”
Then, at 6:59, it happened. An account was created and began to tweet, capturing what would be the night's winning “live” moment that would explode beyond the stadium: @joenamathscoat. A half-hour ago, we'd seen Broadway Joe step out for the coin toss wrapped up like a Yeti in a brilliant outfit, one that defined who he is and echoed who he had always been. It was the best branding of the night, hands down, and the most fun “campaign” to watch explode in social.
At 7:15, something else interesting happened. They began to run a few, select highlighted spots on the Jumbotrons. Like Pavlovian dogs, the fans went quiet for the first time all night; moths attracted to the bright, shiny object of a glossy Super Bowl ad. It was Doritos. And…an ostrich? What? The ad ended. There was pindrop silence before a literal, collective “Huh?” washed across the field. Then crickets. Absolutely no reaction or interest, echoed by the silence online – I didn't see a single tweet about the spot and suddenly realized what was worse than success or failure for brands: total disregard.
Coupled with the bizarre reality unfolding in the game – an utter blowout – there seemed to be very little love for the marketing this year. Another ad loomed large, this time Chevy's “real men don't like vegetables on this day,” and, again, confusion and bored silence.
I started to check out of Twitter and into the game. There had to be a shot Denver would come back. Right? Some kind of chance? Well, maybe after halftime.
Which brought us to what was clearly the best work from a brand last night from an integrated marketing perspective. Pepsi. They welcomed everyone to the stadium through a well-branded and fast-moving security area. They owned the stadium as the only cola on site. And, at least from our seats, their sponsored, huge display offered every single close-up and replay. Now they asked nicely that we join them by putting on black skullcaps with LEDs (mounted on a Pepsi badge) so we could collaborate to build the world's largest-ever TV for the Bruno Mars halftime show. And guess what? Everyone did. Literally everyone; people sprinted back down the aisles from the bathroom lines to be part of it.
The MetLife lights went dark and Bruno, the Red Hot Chili Peppers – fronted by a 51-year-old shirtless and kickass lead singer – and Pepsi absolutely killed it. They gave us and the world a great show with tons of pyro and just the right amount of red-white-and-blue Pepsi branding. The reaction live and online was one of complete success.
I could go on, but I'm wary of getting as boring as the game turned out to be. It's probably enough to add that the one clear social fail of the second half came from the first-ever ad for a religion. Oh, and some kind of utter sell-out by Bob Dylan.
So, the big winners from the perspective of my live/social/no ad experiment? Joe Namath. Anthony “Dorian Gray” Keidis. Pepsi. Maybe Maserati and Radio Shack – I still haven't watched, so I'm not sure. And, from the ride home, clearly Esurance for tapping into our lottery love and offering up a single, selfish reason for millions to tweet using the #EsuranceSave30 hashtag.
And how was experiencing a very different kind of Super Bowl marketing? A total blast. And one I recommend you try next year. Either at the game, or, better yet, at home; just walk away from the TV to grab a bite or a drink every time they cut to a commercial break. Trust me, it's worth it. This just might have been the year when social media became far more fun to follow than the ads themselves.
Nick Childs is executive creative director in New York for FleishmanHillard.