Ah, the Super Bowl! It undoubtedly is one of the quintessential events in the United States. It doesn’t matter if you know about Denver and downs, Panthers and punts or you’re focused on who’s passing the chips, and not on who’s rushing the passer. It brings us together to experience the things that we as Americans profess to love: feats of athletic heroism, stories about the underdog, being a part of a team and reaping the rewards of hard work.
Advertisers and marketers should also take note of the more subtle things we can learn about American culture and values from the best Super Bowl commercials of 2016. Five themes emerged this year. These are the beliefs, emotions and values that compel Americans to buy (and buy into) a brand
1. We are Patriotic.
More than any other emotion, advertisers played on American pride in 2016. It took the form of humor in the “Bud Light Party” spot with Amy Schumer and Seth Rogan, who took shots at the “division of our nation” and vowed to unite Americans. “Nothing brings America together like Bud Light,” exclaimed Seth Rogan. Jack in the Box depicted the crossing of the Delaware River and delivered a “Declaration of Delicious.” Avocados from Mexico riffed on icons of American pop culture to make their point: the Rubik’s cube, Scott Baio and the gold and white dress that distracted us for weeks last summer.
Rocket Mortgage and Weather-Tec celebrated the power of the U.S. economy. Weather-Tec applauded themselves for taking advantage of a huge natural resource; American workers “who build world class products” that in turn build strong communities. Rocket Mortgage positioned themselves as drivers of the world economy. Easier mortgages create more consumerism, which in turn creates more jobs. “Isn’t that the power of American itself,” they bragged.
Sun Trust vowed to “help Americans catch their breath,” through savings plans, solving a national retirement problem. Audi gives a nod to the U.S. space program as “the Commander,” a retired astronaut is able to rekindle the emotions of one of the “proudest days of [American] lives” by getting into the driver’s seat of an R8.
Apartment.com portrays the American ideal of “moving up” literally as Jeff Goldblum gets hoisted up the outside of a glass high rise with his piano, only to meet George Washington. Their tag line, “Change your apartment. Change the world,” implies that living the American dream impacts the entire globe.
Perhaps no company did it better than Jeep who delivered a powerful monologue in their “4 x 4ever” spot, invoking the power of the military, American independence, freedom, bravery, tradition, resilience and relationships. “4 x 4 by land, 4 x 4 by sea, 4 x 4 by air because we like to fly free…” was chock full of references to the American military, the American penchant for exploration, and the romanticism of the American wilderness. In their second commercial, they give their buyers credit for creating such a powerful brand. “We Don’t Make Jeep. You Do.”
2. We Like to Stand Out.
While these spots showed us that collectively, we are proud to be Americans, the second most popular theme showed that we also value things that make us unique and set us apart.
Budweiser’s “Not Backing Down” commercial showed us exactly how it is not like every other beer. “Not small,” “not sipped,” “not soft,” “not imported (another nod to patriotism),” and “not following.” In another commercial singer Drake demonstrates how T-Mobile is the “un-carrier.”
PayPal l defines itself by what it is and what it’s not in its “New Money” commercial: It’s not paper; it’s progress. It’s not closed at 5; it’s always open. It’s not stuck in the past; it gets better every day. It’s not pictures of presidents on cash; it’s all people.
Michelob Ultra used the same theme, stating that its beer is brewed “for those who go the extra mile.”
Axe tells us to embrace what makes us unique, subtly elevating a quirky, crooked nose and kinky hair over a model-perfect, 6-pack of abs.
The call for being unique was more obvious in Kia’s spot featuring Christopher Walken and beige socks. “The Beige sock people get devoured by those who stand out,” he quips.
Still obvious, but with more of a serious nod, was Mini USA’s “Defy Labels” spots that feature Serena Williams, Abby Wombach, Tony Hawk , T-Pain and others. Their message: no one can define who you are.
3. We Can Make a Difference
Public service announcements asked us to become more involved in the issues that plague our society. We can be more responsible drinkers (Helen Mirren’s “Give a Damn” Budweiser ad), better stewards of our resources (Colgate’s water conservation ad), and more aware of behaviors that might signal sexual abuse, domestic violence and addiction. We are responsible as individuals and together we can make a difference.
4. We Have a Soft Spot for Animals and Babies
Americans love animals and babies. Marmot featured an adorable talking… marmot. Heinz featured stampeding dachshunds dressed in hotdog rolls. Hyundai terrified and then delighted us with talking bears. But the prize for best use of animals and babies has to go to Doritos which used both; one in each commercial, and Mountain Dew for weirdly combining a puppy, monkey and baby into one.
5. We Believe in Super Powers:
The idea of super heroes and super powers seems to intrigue Americans. From Schick’s “Hydro” robot razor to Pepsi’s showdown between the Hulk and Ant Man, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s kickass ad for his game app, we seem to believe that super heroes will save the day. Pokemon went one step further, with their “I Can Do That” spot that ignites super power hopes in all of us.