The Super Bowl Ads – TV Sacks Social

Let me begin with a disclaimer. I’m not American and I know very little about football – American or otherwise. What I do know is that if this year’s Super Bowl was a contest between TV and Social Media. TV won hands down.

When I refer to TV, I’m talking about the ads of course. The Super Bowl is a unique annual phenomenon where the advertisements become every bit as important as the game, with pundits analyzing who won and who lost in the battle for views and positive sentiment.

To an outsider, the Super Bowl feels like an event that is not subject to the normal laws of time and space. It’s as though the clock winds back to the days before the Cable TV and the Internet, when America is brought together as one nation under a one-eyed god.

TV reigns supreme

It isn’t meant to be this way. The established orthodoxy dictates that we live in world of media fragmentation where digital has overtaken television as the dominant medium, and ‘social’ is where it’s at. But like Momma’s Apple pie, the ingredients for the Super Bowl ads have largely stayed the same over the years.

There have been some experiments along the way. Doritos crowd sourced ads caused a stir a few years back, as did Pepsi’s decision to Refresh Everything. But it is notable that having refused to play ball in 2010, Pepsi was back in 2011 and their ad this year featured another timeless stalwart Elton John alongside Flavor Flav. – putting another nail in Hip-Hop’s coffin.

This refusal to move with the times caused frustration among my US colleagues at Deep Focus, who pointed to the missed opportunities by brands to really engage with their consumers. But I suspect that the Super Bowl is less about meaningful engagement and more about what Robin Wight refers to as the ‘Peacocks Tail’.

Survival of the Flashiest

The Peacocks Tail refers to the theory of sexual selection first described by Charles Darwin in the Origin of Species. Darwin argued that apparently useless displays of extravagance such as Peacocks tails are actually used to communicate important signals.

These flamboyant and wasteful spectacles send out messages of fitness and strength. It’s as if the Peacock is saying to the Peahen: “If I can afford to waste so much effort on this meaningless display, I’m worth checking out.”

It strikes me that the Super Bowl advertisers were saying much the same thing to us. The ads weren’t about engagement, fan growth, or calls to action. They were about entertainment, raising a smile, and putting on a show.

However, unlike last year when Volkswagen’s junior Darth Vader scored a decisive touchdown, this year the overall victor was harder to call.

But by the time the New York Giants had secured their place in American sporting history as the winners of the XLVI Super Bowl, it was clear that television had left social media in the dust for another year.

Images courtesy of Daniel IncandelaBenson Kua & Official U.S. Navy Imagery via Flickr. Reproduced under Creative Commons license.


    It’s not a contest, even though some people want to make it one.  They are good for each other.  So many stories about social media explosion etc, calling it Twitterbowl etc.  Most tweeted about ad was H&M (Beckham’s pants) at 109,000 tweets.  That’s 0.1% of the people viewing tweeting about it, even assuming one tweet per person.  Perspective sorely needed.

    Nice reference to Robin Wight, Jonathan, who if course lives his own Peacock theory.

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