Just over 24 hours to go until I finally get to see my first Super Bowl LI commercials of 2017.
That’s right – when I see the spots during the game, it’ll be the first time I’ve viewed them. No peeking ahead of time on YouTube, industry sites, or social media posts. No spoilers, no preconceived notions, no opinions formed.
It’s no secret the current trend is for many brands to release their Super Bowl spots early to generate pre-game views and buzz. And I get it. It costs marketers a lot of money to produce their spots, so why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of the “Super Bowl Commercial” label to create exposure and conversation around the work and your brand? That’s smart business.
But it’s just not for me.
You see, Super Bowl Sunday is sort of like Christmas Day for ad folks, and the commercials are the presents, especially for creatives like me. After a couple of years of previewing the spots before the game, I realized I was taking something away from the whole experience. It was like I had figured out where my parents had hidden the gifts, snuck in and unwrapped everything, then re-wrapped them and tried to be excited when I opened them on Christmas morning.
If you haven’t seen them before game day, there’s a certain anticipation as each spot begins to air. You know – like you’re unwrapping a present. By the time they’re finished, you’re absorbing what kind of gift you’ve just been given. Great spots are like the presents you put at the top of your wish list. The ones your parents magically discover hidden behind the tree when you think you’ve opened everything and you’re not getting that thing you really wanted. Bad spots, on the other hand, are a 6-pack of socks.
To push the metaphor even further, when a historically underperforming brand surprises you with great work, it’s like expecting a book and getting an Apple watch. Conversely, when a reliable brand disappoints you with underwhelming work, it’s like hoping for something amazing and getting a star named after you instead.
I also think the only way to truly judge whether a spot is a winner or a loser – creatively speaking – is to view it in a forum of its peers. Think about it. It’s not hard for any Super Bowl-produced spot to look pretty good when measured against the ocean of work from car dealers, fast casual restaurants, and drug companies we see every day. But put it up against an exclusive gallery of work with similar production budgets and agency talent behind them, and now you’ll see which spots are really special.
It’s tempting to jump the gun, especially when you start hearing buzz around some of the work. This year, the Audi spot about gender pay equality, the Budweiser spot dealing with immigration subject matter, and the 84 Lumber spot which was rejected for its perceived politicized content all come to mind. They’ve garnered millions of views already, and the dialogue surrounding them is probably worth the money it cost to create the spots. But I’m resisting the urge to watch them, because I want to see how impactful they are in the context of everything else I’m going to see during the game.
I actually made one exception this year, and that was for a spot from Yellow Tail Wine. I’m a bit of a wine geek, so I was curious about the first wine brand to run a Super Bowl ad in 40 years. I was willing to break my own rule because, well, I expected the commercial to be about as good as the majority of their wine – which is to say, not very good at all. As a result, I decided that I wouldn’t be disappointed for having watched it before the game if the spot lived down to my expectations. And with a cringe-worthy combination of bad special effects, a gratuitous appearance by a bikini-clad supermodel, innuendo-laden jokes, and a guy with a dodgy Australian accent, did it ever:
Yeah. Let’s hope the bar is raised on Sunday. I’m pretty sure it will be.
I hope we all get what we want tomorrow, and I can’t wait to review the work on Wednesday night and hear everyone else’s opinions. If you want to follow along with my real-time commentary, check out my Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/whit_thompson) throughout the game.