Superbowl Ads: Five Themes to Look For


Let's face it, the commercials that air during the Super Bowl often make as many headlines as the players on the field.

Analysts predict Sunday’s game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers will set a new viewership record, topping last year's game that brought in 106.5 million viewers.  So advertisers better bring their A game.

Super Bowl commercials are the most-viewed (and typically some of the most creative) advertisements hitting the tube in a given year, and successful ones will have people talking about them long after the game ends.

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Having that large of audience carries a big price tag—at $3 million for a 30-second spot, advertisers are challenged to bring viewers something original.

Even though companies will be pulling out all the stops for their few seconds of fame, we’re likely to see some recurring themes from advertisers this year. We checked in with experts to find the top five themes and trends you should look from commercials.

Social Media

Expect to see many of the ads to feature tie-ins to companies’ social media sites, according to Lewis Small, professor of advertising at York College in York, Penn.

“We’re going to see a continued infatuation with social media,” says Small. “This will likely show up as part of ad plots featuring things like ‘friending/unfriending’, posting etc.”

He also said to expect commercials with a focus on social media to be produced with a slightly more spontaneous or amateur look.

Viewers can also expect to see the continuing trend that started a couple of years ago of companies leveraging the online space to talk about their products, according to Jason Maloni, senior chair of Levick Communications Sport & Entertainment practice.

“Years ago what you saw on TV was the main event, and now it’s just a segway to a different set of features, to a Web site that offers much more info,” says Chuck Porter, chairman of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, a Miami-based advertising and creative agency. “Of course while they’re there, the company will also capture information about them.”

When you direct people to a Web site, companies are able to continue to tell their story, and that’s what advertisers want, according to Walter Guarino, president of N.J.-based Insight|SGW, a corporate branding research company.

“Inviting people to join you on the Internet is simply a way to have them spend more time with your brand, and get that deeper engagement,” Guarino says.


After slowing down for the last two years, automobile commercials are coming back in full force this year, according to Guarino.

For the first time in Super Bowl history, foreign car advertisers will match American car makers dollar-for-dollar on advertising spending, Guarino says. Also for the first time in history, we’ll see an ad from Mercedes.

“GM is going to be coming back in a big way with six Chevy spots,” Guarino says, “GM has spent a fortune coming back after having made the decision not to be in the Super Bowl for the last two years.”

But GM could face a potential backlash from taxpayers who bailed the company out January 2009. The auto maker is expected to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $18 million for three one-minute long spots.

“It’s a legitimate concern,” says Hamish McLennan, Global CEO of WPP-owned Young & Rubicam. “Some taxpayers out there feel like they got GM back on their feet, but on the whole it’s a good platform for advertisers.”

Carmakers took a varied approach with their ads this years and viewers can expect to see a Volkswagen beetle speeding through the forest, a Camaro that turns into a Transformer, Kia to replace its hamsters with aliens, and Audi will “release the hounds,” which is expected to be a high-class version of “Who Let the Dogs Out,” says Guarino.


This year will be “The Year of the Women,” according to Guarino, who said viewers can expect to see ads with “crossover” women who appeal to both sexes, including Kim Kardashian, Faith Hill, and Danica Patrick.

“The spot with Kim Kardashian is slated to be a little controversial and bawdy, but we’re not sure what she’s going to do,” Guarino says.

Kardashian will be the celebrity face for Sketchers, while country star Hill will be doing a spot for Teleflora. Rumor has it IndyCar driver Patrick will appear nude in an ad for—curious viewers  will have to visit the company’s Web site to see the ending.

But why women?

“The truth is, more women watch this football game than any other football game because of the entertainment value, and advertisers very carefully chose women who appeal to other women,” Guarino says.

Hollywood Production Values

Expect commercials to be more high tech and expensive compared to recent years.

“This year feels like a lot of confidence back in the market, with corporations feeling better about the future, and that breeds a creative environment,” says McLennan. “With media fragmentation, it’s becoming harder and harder to get big audiences, and [The Super Bowl] is one of the few things that hits millions and millions in terms of audience. Companies want to show us their best.”

Experts say game watchers don’t want to miss Volkswagen’s spot; the carmaker teamed up with George Lucas Films to create a big production number.

“That will definitely be one of the more talked-about spots. This year we’re going to see big Hollywood-scale productions from a lot of companies,” says Guarino.

Advertisers also returned to some of the more “outrageous plots and settings of the past,” according to York College’s Small,  who said that as the economy improves, advertisers are not as interested in giving people as many “warm fuzzies” as they did the last two years.

“A lot of these commercials are going to look like mini movies,” Guarino says. “Because effectively, they are.”


There are some strong American companies who decided not to run ads during the game, including Denny’s, Papa John’s, and Pizza Hut.

“Honestly, Super Bowl advertisers are a fraternity of companies, and after you’ve been paying into it for years, like Budweiser with the Clydesdales for example,  you get a reputation that you want to uphold,” says Jason Maloni, Chair of Levick Strategic Communication’s Sport & Entertainment practice.

However, companies like Denny’s are considered “freshmen” in that fraternity (Denny’s has only been advertising since 2009) and it’s not such a big deal when they drop out, according to Maloni.

It’s also a “value” reason for some companies, says Guarino. Certain companies are realizing the power of the Web and harnessing social networks.