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POSTED BY: Pat Dugan and Eric Panke

Super Bowl LI: What to expect (from the commercials)

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This year, it’s easier to place a wager on the Super Bowl ads than the game itself. That’s because after a year even the most optimistic people would agree was one of the most divisive and depressing in modern history, it’s a safe bet that this year’s crop of commercials will be more “feel-good” than ever before.

We were already swerving in that direction after the ads of the 2015 Super Bowl, marked by the massive fallout from Nationwide’s noble but shockingly gloomy “Dead Kid” commercial — now widely viewed as the biggest advertising misfire in Super Bowl history. After that, 2016’s ads largely avoided any serious or thought-provoking messages; even a drunk driving message from Budweiser was delivered in a humorous manner by Helen Mirren.

But 2017 looks like it will take light, frothy (and forgettable?) fare to even higher levels. Following the bitter, incredibly partisan presidential election, look for this year’s commercials to feature more humor, as well as themes of unity and inclusivity. Already, Bud Light has announced that its Super Bowl campaign will switch from 2016’s election theme (starring Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen) to one called “Famous Among Friends” focused on bringing friends together.

One big question: Despite the public’s weariness of politics, will some brands attempt to leverage the timeliness of controversial topics, or even send an ingratiating message to the new administration? Already, 84 Lumber has had a 90-second ad rejected by Fox because it portrayed a large border wall. And WeatherTech is already confirmed as a Super Bowl advertiser — and most likely will double down on the “Made in America” message the company has touted for several years.

Other interesting things to keep an eye out for as you reach for the nachos: 

Increasing dominance for digital. Instead of relegating digital content to “second screen” sidekick status, marketers are now making it the star of its own show, as younger viewing audiences watch the Super Bowl on various screens, from smart phones to smart TVs. And advertisers and media buyers have taken notice. Unique ad placements within the digital broadcast are being purchased, both on the national and local levels.

The birth of the “docummercial.” In an attention-getting stunt, Hyundai will be creating its 2017 Super Bowl ad…during the Super Bowl. Instead of a tiresome multi-day shoot followed by weeks of post-production, the company has hired Hollywood director Peter Berg to shoot and edit a 90-second “documentary” as the Super Bowl is played. Said to capture “some of the best off-the-field Super Bowl moments,” the documentary/commercial will air immediately following the conclusion of the game.

The end of consumer-generated commercials. The era of the “consumer generated” Super Bowl commercial may be over. After several years of running its “Crash The Super Bowl” campaign that featured commercials created by customers and voted on by the public, Doritos announced that it will not be returning to the 2017 Super Bowl. (The era actually may have already ended a couple of years ago; more and more of the supposedly “amateur” ads were created by professional filmmakers and production companies.)

In the end, don’t expect much controversy or provocative material from this year’s Super Bowl. Except during the halftime show — because you know Lady Gaga has something up her sleeve.

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Pat Dugan
Creative Director
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Eric Panke
Creative Director, Digital
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