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At Writing by Design, we believe that powerful marketing begins with potent language. Our blog is your source for tips and insights into the world of market-minded communication.

Our Favorite Ads from the Big Game

Yesterday was one of our favorite days of the year… the day big brands showcase their creativity through commercials cleverly written and produced for more than 100 million people who tuned into the Big Game.

In case you missed it, the New England Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams 13 to 3 on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Oh, and American pop rock band Maroon 5 performed at the official Pepsi Halftime Show with guest appearances from hip hop/Lo-fi artist Travis Scott and Atlanta native Big Boi.

But now back to the real reason we all (OK, most of us) tuned in—the commercials! As a writing company that produces marketing communications and assists giant companies with positioning and launching their new products, we’re kind of tough critics.

There were many standouts: Hyundai’s uncomfortable elevator ride, Planter’s “People think I’m nuts” with Charlie Sheen, Budweiser’s classic Clydesdales commercial with a contemporary twist showing how the company is progressing and Audi’s cashew commercial, so we thought we’d have some fun showing you “what’s in the writer’s head” as we evaluate our top picks.

Here’s a look at some of our favorite commercials from the big game and what made them stand out in our eyes.

  1. T-Mobile (Patti’s pick)

T-Mobile gets my award for favorite ad of the night with its humorous and “been there, done that” texting moments.

What we think their insight was: T-Mobile demonstrated their way of connecting with people (#AreYouWithUs) by using common texting situations that almost everyone has experienced to tout its services. One ad demonstrated the pressure of choosing what to eat for a couple where one partner is trying to decide how to answer the simple question of “what’s for dinner?” Sarcastic answers erased by back-spacing eventually end up with “whatever you want bae,” leading to an unwanted “sushi” response that is quickly rewarded with T-Mobile’s “free tacos every week” at Taco Bell for T-Mobile customers.

Another ad had viewers laughing while a father texted his daughter search words for a recipe as though he thought the phone would give him a “Google” answer. The daughter tells her dad she’s not Google, but ultimately responds with a link to the recipe he wanted. And another ad showed a “long-texter” responding to a simple question of “hey, what’s up?” to tout TMobile’s unlimited plans.

Features they highlighted: Free tacos, Lyft rides and unlimited texting topped the list of features for people who sign up to be part of the T-Mobile family in February.

Benefits they included: I’m not sure that T-Mobile had to use any benefits other than demonstrating that they are a cool brand that “gets” people—all kinds of people—and feels like a really awesome service to be “with,” as in #Areyouwithus.

  1. Colgate Total (Patti’s pick)

Gosh, who knew that a brand as old as Colgate could make the list, but this one does and wins for extreme close-up shots.

What we think their insight was: This is easy, as this problem has likely been around since the dawn of time and is universal. People wake up with bad breath, and unless you brush really well, and maybe even really often, there’s no way you feel comfortable getting really close to somebody— especially face-to-face. The ad shows Luke Wilson as a “close-talker” who is literally in the faces of co-workers talking so close that it would make just about anyone uncomfortable.

Features they highlighted: Colgate toothpaste strengthens teeth, kills germs through the whole mouth and keeps your breath minty-fresh.

Benefits they included: You can feel confident knowing your breath will stay so fresh it can even stand the test of extreme close-ups.

  1. Olay (Patti’s pick)

Olay’s #KillerSkin ad featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar kept us guessing with a twist of humor and extremism all at the same time. I mean, can skincare actually do THAT?

What we think their insight was: Women long for younger, more glamorous-looking skin.

Features they highlighted: Using Olay can transform your skin so that it looks younger, more beautiful and shockingly different from before.

Benefits they included: Your skin will look so different that you might ultimately look like someone else—to the point that you can’t unlock your phone because even facial recognition software doesn’t recognize you! And a burglar will tell you that “you could be a movie star” because your skin looks so great.

Unlike Dove’s genuine #RealBeauty campaign from years ago, this Olay ad humorously tempts women to believe that the results from using the product are so extreme that your face would be unrecognizable by facial recognition software. While the puffery is humorous and the ad draws you in with some drama (a burglary taking place in a home) with a humorous twist at the end, the extreme example of the woman’s photo from pre-Olay to today is a bit over the top to say the least. The point, however, is made and makes women wonder “what if?”

  1. Pepsi (Kayde’s pick)

Pepsi’s ad takes a phrase heard frequently in venues serving soft drinks when someone orders a Coke: “Is Pepsi OK?” and moves it from a secondary option to the drink of choice. Steve Carrell leads the commercial with his over-the-top reaction to the question with a little help from Lil Jon and Cardi B.

What we think their insight was: People don’t want to settle when it comes to their drink of choice.

Features they highlighted: Pepsi is more than OK. It’s like puppies, a shooting star and the laughter of small children bottled in one delicious soft drink.

Benefits they included: Why are you ordering a Coke when you should clearly be ordering a Pepsi?

Side note, do you call it soda, pop or coke?

  1. Microsoft (Kayde’s pick)

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a fan of video games. I’d much rather see kids (including my own) playing outside or reading a book than picking up a video game controller, but Microsoft may have softened my hard heart. They took the bull (the bad reputation for being violent, addictive and a sedentary activity) and flipped it on its head. The ad shows that not only are video games good, but they make it possible for EVERYBODY to play by showcasing their adaptive video game controller.

Microsoft didn’t ignore the fact that parents are under increasing pressure to make sure their kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. They also know parents are under the microscope to reduce the amount of time their kids spend staring at a screen. Taking it one step further, it’s no secret that gaming and other online activities are a place where cyber bulling and exclusion are commonplace.

What we think their insight was: Parents—especially parents of kids with different bodies—want a place where their kids can feel confident in who they are and like they are part of the community.

Features they highlighted: The traditional joystick and small buttons on video game controllers made it hard for some kids to play at the level they knew they could. The Xbox adaptive controller is a wider, keyboard-sized controller with a larger surface for tapping (instead of hitting buttons) and the option to connect external devices like larger buttons or joysticks.

Benefits they included: Everyone gets to feel connected with their friends—no one has to sit on the sidelines because they can’t physically play the game. As one parent said in the commercial, “you never want your kid to feel like an outsider or an ‘other.’”

“When everybody plays, we all win.” Well said, Microsoft.

  1. Amazon Alexa (Kayde’s pick)

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, right? Well…sometimes it makes things a little more interesting, like Amazon’s ad showed us with the versions of Alexa that didn’t quite make the cut. A not-so-great experience with an Alexa hot tub, astronauts accidentally using Alexa to turn the world’s power on and off, or, my favorite, the Alexa dog collar—made for dogs—featuring Harrison Ford and a Boston Terrier. The commercial hit the nail on the head with its use of humor in oh-so-real technology fails we can all relate to.

What we think their insight was: People want technology included in various aspects of their lives, but current technological advances don’t always live up to expectations.

Features they highlighted: Amazon’s Alexa could be everywhere, but they’ve been careful to only release the best versions of Alexa.

Benefits they included: Alexa is helping (or at least trying to) make your day-to-day tasks less mundane.

Tara’s take on Two key themes

In addition to the creative commercials that caught our eyes, I was very interested in the themes that seemed to run through many of the ads. During the very first commercial break there were four spots: Bon & Viv™ Spiked Seltzer, M&M’s®, Hulu’s A Handmaid’s Tale and Bumble’s ad with Serena Williams. All four prominently featured women, and Serena William’s ad included an empowering, encouraging message.

Ads either incorporating women or specifically targeting women continued throughout the game’s frequent breaks, which is a strong departure from years’ past when it was assumed only men tuned in to watch football and the ads were targeted likewise. According to a 2017 article, 45% of the NFL’s fan base is women. The NFL has made changes to reach and promote more to women, and the marketers have followed suit. This is also a reflection of an overall cultural shift to recognize the equal power of women in society.

Another key theme was the use of a ‘plot twist.’ Many of the night’s commercials started one way only to take an unexpected turn. Key examples? Budweiser’s Bud Knight Jousting commercial that ends up hijacked in true ‘Game of Thrones’ fashion. Or, the ad for the new The Twilight Zone that seemed like a return to the Big Game but morphed into a paranormal universe.

As we consume more and more media, our ability to be wowed or surprised or even interested fades. Marketers and brands must come up with creative and unique ways to catch our attention, and flipping the script can be a clever way to stand out from the crowd.

Now it’s your turn! Which ad from the Big Game was your favorite?

Headshot of Patti Purcell, Writing by Design presidentPatti Purcell brings 25+ years of journalism and marketing skills together to provide national and international companies with outstanding concept writing and marketing communications services via the company she founded in 2006, Writing by Design LLCShe and her growing team, based in Wisconsin, tie strategic thinking, efficient processes and Crystal Clear thought and execution into all projects supporting clients large and small.

Headshot of Tara Bryant, director of Crystal Clear communicationsWith a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business and more than 11 years of diverse marketing experience, Tara Bryant understands that clear communication is the key to customer satisfaction. Whether it’s consumer product goods, higher education, insurance, or healthcare, developing a solid strategy that leads to concise, targeted messaging creates a framework for successful projects and sustainable growth. Tara is experienced in writing copy, designing ads and recording radio spots, and is responsible for leading the Writing by Design team and its clients through each communications project. 

Headshot of Kayde Kempen, SEO and communications specialistKayde Kempen is an associate marketing manager at Writing by Design. She has 7+ years of marketing communications experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Kayde has written hundreds of blog posts and e-blasts, both for Writing by Design and its clients, is the lead content writer for Writing by Design’s website/SEO clients, and assists with press releases, concept writing, script writing and more. Prior to joining the Writing by Design team in 2016, she was an associate marketing manager at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh where she worked for five years and led nearly 90 website redesign projects, wrote for the University’s alumni magazine and news website, and wrote and managed a variety of print and digital marketing projects.

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