-By Daniel Nunan
Who else watched a whole bunch of ads for American services and products that you can’t actually consume in Australia recently? If you’re even remotely open to the concept of watching TV advertising for fun, you’ve probably enjoyed the creative by-product of big US brands vying for the attention of 114.4 million American eyeballs. Super Bowl ads aren’t just special because they’re so highly viewed – they also have a reputation for being some of the funniest, most heart-warming, moving and ballsy TV spots in the world.
The arms race of excellence for Super Bowl ads dates back at least as far as 1979, when Coca-Cola ran a 60-second spot featuring hulking Pittsburgh defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene turning (spoilers) nice. The McCann-Erickson ad was such a favourite it was even adapted into a TV movie in 1981.
“Hey Kid, Catch!”
Just a few years later, Apple stepped it up a notch with their iconic ‘1984’, an Orwellian sci-fi drama directed by Ridley Scott, featuring an athlete throwing a hammer into a screen to free slaves from the clutches of Big Brother. It was epic, gutsy, experimental, and… it worked.
The Super Bowl has become the place to debut your big ad, and audiences expect them to be GOOD. Iconic ads like Wendy’s ‘Where’s The Beef’, Volkswagen’s ‘Darth Vader’, E*TRADE’s ‘Monkey’, Snickers’ ‘You’re Not You’ (with Betty White) and a seemingly endless roster of Budweiser, Skittles and Dorito’s viral classics were all Super Bowl babies. Even McDonald’s basketball hit ‘Nothing But Net’ was unveiled during the NFL’s season decider.
With so many Australians actively sharing these ads around Facebook every January, it’s hard to believe that there’s not a market for a similar premium ad event down under – giving international and domestic advertisers a chance to strut their stuff in front of willing Aussie consumers. So where’s the Australian Super Bowl? And how do we get one?
First things first – we’re going to need a big, televised event. Something annual, so advertisers can plan for in advance. Big one-off events like royal weddings won’t cut it. The big ratings winners each year tend to be sports and reality season-enders, with football grand finals and cooking show finales featuring up the top consistently. Long-term, you’d have to think the footy codes would be the only guaranteed stayers in that shortlist (no offence, Masterchef) – which leaves us with two genuine candidates: the AFL and NRL grand finals.
If we’re looking to replicate the Super Bowl’s success, starting with another free-to-air footy final is a big help. Sure, the codes’ audiences are skewed male, but so is the NFL’s. And there’s good reason to think that this issue isn’t as crucial as it seems as first blush, because despite what happens during the regular NFL season games, the Super Bowl audience has a 54/46 male/female split – and that gender gap is closing every year.
This suggests that there’s something about the event of the Super Bowl – not the football game itself – that makes advertisers willing to pay a reported US$5m a pop for 30 seconds of air time. The data gives us one big clue: viewers actually peak right in the middle of the coverage, when the Minnesota Whatsits are eating oranges in the sheds and Beyoncé is sweating it out on the 50-yard line. It’s this culture of total entertainment that the event has fostered that makes Super Bowl viewing parties a (relatively) gender-neutral ‘thing’ in a way that Aussie codes could only dream of.
There’s another thing that people watch the Super Bowl for: the ads. And before we go thinking that good ads are just an added bonus for the viewing public, a 2010 Nielsen survey found that found that as much as 51% of the audience tune in for the ads alone. Football schmootball, Beyoncé Shcmeyonce – the Super Bowl ain’t the Super Bowl without Puppymonkeybaby.
So at the end of the day, details like more women watch AFL than NRL, or that last year’s NRL final nabbed more viewers than the AFL’s may not count for as much as you’d think. What the codes and their respective TV rights-holders need to do is to give a genuinely huge half-time concert spectacular a crack (sorry, Grand Final Sprint-ers and Auskick kids), and start fostering the kind of entertainment culture that the Super Bowl has perfected. For the die-hards who’ll miss the in-depth sporting analysis, secondary free-to-air channels like 7TWO and GO! could come to the rescue. Whoever gets the edge has a lot to gain in advertising revenue.
The final piece of the puzzle is up to advertisers and their agencies. It’s time to put in the hard yards, get our game faces on and make a real go of it. Because the whole season hangs on this next 30 seconds.