Comedy vs Sadvertising? At Super Bowl 50, It’s All About The Feeling

The Super Bowl is a festival of advertising as well as sport. And it’s not only screen time the two share. Just like the game, the ads get picked over and criticised by a raft of eager pundits. Which means that each year, a media narrative builds up. Last year, we were told, was the year of “sadvertising” – when the Super Bowl ads got emotional to the point of becoming too emotional.

And inevitably, this year is the year when humour comes back to the Bowl. Short, funny commercials. Big stars. Bigger laughs. That’s the Super Bowl 50 story. Is it true?

Everyone loves a narrative. As Jonathan Haidt puts it, “We are story processors, not logic processors”. So the Rebirth of humour at the Super Bowl is a story people can get behind.

But just like last year, it isn’t quite so simple.

Yes, there were plenty of weepy, feelgood ads at the 2015 Super Bowl – led by McDonalds’ “Pay With Lovin’” hug-fest. And yes, this year’s pre-released ads have a lot of celebrities, and some of them are even telling jokes. Amy Schumer leads the pack, as the presidential candidate in Bud Light’s topical and witty big game spot. But the millions watching the game will also be treated to appearances Christopher Walken, Ryan Reynolds, Helen Mirren, Drake, and many more.

But humour never went away. Doritos’ “Crash The Super Bowl” campaign – built on short crowdsourced skits – has kept the laughter coming for many years now with its broad, mass-appeal comedy. If 2016 is, as reported, its last bow, it’s going out in typically entertaining style, with a battle of wits between a grocery store and some Dorito-craving dogs.

There have always been plenty of celebrities on Super Bowl ads, too, even if they haven’t always performed so well when we test them. Last year, a T-Mobile ad featuring Kim Kardashian mocking her own reputation bombed on our BrainJuicer Ad Testing metrics. It underlines the peril of using celebrities – pick the wrong one and people’s negative feelings about the star will overcome any positive ones for your brand!

And as for the death of the big emotional ad – it doesn’t get much more stirring and widescreen than Audi’s Bowie-sampling “Hello Commander” commercial, which is already one of this year’s most discussed ads.

Ultimately, the “humour is back” idea hangs on a very dangerous misunderstanding. That “humour” is one thing and “emotion” is something different. Not so. Laughter is one route to happiness, just like sentimentality, awe, and inspiring stories are. ALL of them make people feel more, and help them buy more.

As usual, we’ll know the Super Bowl winners when we know how they make people feel. And this year, we’ll know that the very next day, thanks to our overnight testing with ZappiStore.

(If you want to find out the next day too, sign up for our free results webinar on Monday.)

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