Reflections on Super Bowl night7th February 2012
Last year I wrote about the Super Bowl ad contest between rival car companies VW and GM (see here), but I was really trying to make the point that sporting events in the States are about much more than just the sport.
This year I was lucky enough to be in New York for the game, which allowed me to test this widely held view. For the first time I can remember, the pre Super Bowl ad buzz actually made it across to the UK this year in a significant way, with a huge PR campaign surrounding David Beckham and his H&M package (pay package!) making the headlines as well as trails for Madonna’s half time show appearance. When I made it to New York, the buzz intensified and Beckham’s package (OK, I’ll stop that now) reared into view on massive billboards. Something tells me that H&M were advised to go for a cross -channel integrated PR and marketing campaign this year. It appears to have worked!
Anyway, back to the action. The first thing that one notices about watching American sport is that it’s much more inclusive than in the UK, with many more women appearing to take an active interest in the game. We’ve come a long way in the UK, but watching a game in the pub can still be a very male activity. Presumably this inclusivity is why the ad men go so wild for the chance to get in front of 100 million Americans in one go.
In truth, the adverts aren’t the main event and neither is the half time show. The star is the game itself and boy was it compelling. To an English eye the slightly contrived ending might grate (it always seems to go down to the wire), but you can’t argue that it wasn’t exciting and the talent on show wasn’t the best in the business. What did surprise me was the way people actually watched the ads and looked forward to them. That’s anathema in the UK where the ad break is time to put the kettle on or visit the loo. In the States, the brands that take out ads are part of the action and the occasion rather than being resented for butting in.
The Super Bowl is a huge event in the States and is more comparable to a World Cup Final match rather than the FA Cup or Champions League, in which fans of other teams only take a passing interest. In some ways it’s more like big public holiday, where parties are held, kids stay up late to watch and national treasures (or borrowed treasures in the case of Sir Elton John) are wheeled out to take part in ads or half-time shows. That’s why the ad men are willing to pay such huge sums to reach people at this moment and why the ads often play it safe, using cute dogs, kids and nostalgia to create a bond with the audience rather than relying on laddish humour or the risqué ‘banter’ that often crops up back in the UK during sporting occasions.
In many ways, American sport mirrors American life. It’s high-octane, very commercial and constantly evolving…much like David Beckham’s publicity strategy.