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The 5 Things a Strategist Looks for When Watching Super Bowl Commercials

How the biggest day in advertising can influence your brand’s marketing (even if you don't buy airtime).

Football ratings have been on the decline throughout this year. While the reasons for why range from concerns about the sport’s safety and the frequency of televised games to distractions caused from a charged presidential election, many are still incredibly excited for this year’s Super Bowl. Whether you’re a die-hard fan, a casual observer or someone who is only interested in the food, there is one thing that we can all enjoy: the advertising.

In between the action as the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons compete for the Vince Lombardi trophy, brands too will be competing: for your attention and, ultimately, disposable income. We’ll see elaborately thought-out ideas and executions that either gain our attention and win our hearts or waste upward of $5 million to $8 million on 30 seconds of airtime. Either way, the competition over who wins Super Bowl ad glory should be fun to watch.

Here are five things I look forward to seeing advertisers try to do on Super Bowl Sunday.

For some brands, the investment in a Super Bowl spot is so high that playing it safe is the only answer. Others, though, are willing to do anything to stand out from the crowd. Snickers has already announced it will be running the first live Super Bowl commercial and Hyundai said it will attempt a real-time production during the game. While these activations could be chalked up to being a novelty, it could also be a unique way of telling a brand story.

Implication: Are there other occasions when stunts or gimmicks can serve as a way to tell your brand’s story?

Last year, Mountain Dew very effectively raised brand recall with “Puppy, Monkey, Baby.” Though not a personal favorite, the spot definitely had staying power. And good thing for Mountain Dew, too. As most of its customers are likely younger and purchasing their beverages from convenience stores, the brand wanted its spot to be attention-catching enough to keep it top of mind when consumers make the low-investment purchase.

Implication: When is humor and recall most needed? Is there an ideal channel for your brand?

In 2013, Dodge Ram released the highly emotional spot “Farmer,” a year after Chrysler’s “It’s Halftime in America.” Last year, Jeep rolled out “Portraits,” which had a similar tone to the previous but was also designed to be viewed on a mobile phone. I’ll be curious to see which brand or brands this year will continue using both tactics—evoking emotion to build brand affinity while also taking advantage of the second screen.

Implication: Are there rules to where or how your content can be viewed? What should be the consideration as you develop the idea?

There are always larger themes that exist in our cultural zeitgeist. Given how divided and serious the country feels after the election, it will be interesting if brands try to integrate larger values into their ad messaging. Last year, Budweiser played it safe with its political-themed advertisement. Will someone take it a step further this year?

Implication: What are the benefits of tackling larger cultural issues?

Finally, over the past few years, the Super Bowl hasn’t been just a day-of event. A few years ago, Volkswagen’s Star Wars-inspired “The Force” spot began the trend when it released its four days prior to the game. Since then, more and more brands are using the time before and after to keep the conversation going. Esurance last year bought the first ad immediately after the Super Bowl to direct customers to a very successful Twitter sweepstakes that lasted days after the big game.

Implication: How can you leverage alternative placements for other big events?

Brands are taking full advantage of all the resources they have to be heard during the Super Bowl to distinguish themselves and win the day. While some play it safe, all try to reach their target consumers at a time when they know most people will be watching. Either way, there is always something to enjoy and learn from on this given Sunday.

Ashwin Chugh is a strategist at Leo Burnett USA.