Is the Super Bowl at a Tipping Point? Not for the Reasons You May Think…

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Ah… Super Bowl! Take a deep breath… draw it in… you can smell the sweat, nachos and beer. Open your ears and all you hear is the continuous murmuring and chat about “the ads” and whom did it best.

Like Christmas in the UK, this is a time of year when the advertising industry stands alone in the spotlight and once again returns to a time when it creates and reflects the culture around us.

From the marketers’ perspective, however, this cultural affect is less important than the opportunity Super Bowl provides for brands to appropriate a cultural event and shake awake our consumption gene after its post-Christmas hiatus.

It presents an opportunity for brands to “Sell! Sell! Sell!” to a hyped-up, over stimulated, often slightly inebriated audience with pure abundance and without restraint. These are good times!

After all, Super Bowl has all the qualities that brands relied on to be successful when trying to grab an audience. A collective, TV led, experience that celebrates excess and consumption. It was perfect.

But is “was” the key word in all of this?

Putting aside recent controversies that the NFL has found itself in, have we reached the beginning of the end for celebrations of mass consumption? Will we look back on 2018 as a tipping point in the history of Super Bowl?

Don’t get me wrong. There are few people in the world more passionate about Christmas, Super Bowl, Thanksgiving and Labor Day than me. Like most people, they have formed the fabric of my life, created the routine of my year and are responsible for most of my favorite life time memories.

But I think that these moments where we have historically celebrated our abundance may be facing a new challenge from which they cannot hide.

I think it’s fair to say that what was once the provenance of green movements, mass consumption concern has become mainstream and that this change in the human psyche will have a profound effect.

Diminishing resources, plastic continents floating in our oceans and long term environmental damage has connected with people across the political and social spectrum. Weighing heavily on our minds and souls.

With this in mind, is Super Bowl becoming an occasion that finds itself out of time?

Like the notion of animals in the circus, is celebration of consumption on the wrong side of changing societal opinion?

As we fill our trashcans with more plastic bottles, wrappers, cans and other detritus of our lives, who among us can say they don’t feel a small but unpleasant feeling of guilt well up inside?

So, what does this small but maybe significant change mean for brands and how do they make themselves meaningful to people today during these moments of celebration? Let’s be honest, none of us want these moments to stop but we might find new ways of enjoying them and brands to follow suit.

Maybe this is what is behind the recent explosion of political advertising such as 84 Lumbers “The Entire Journey Piece” from 2017, which along with many other brands took a strong stance against racist rhetoric that seemed to be so pervasive in 2018.

Or, brands trying to associate themselves with values such as community and belonging, something we see in Groupon’s “Who Wouldn’t” where focus on “local” is the driving force behind this technology behemoth’s message.

Or, causes, issues and events such as natural disasters and the recovery effort made by brands like Budweiser in “Stand by You”.

Brands are already beginning to recognize the changing dynamic and cultural context and trying to find ways to create a message that balances these new concerns in the minds of people.

Making this fit inside the world of Super Bowl, an ultimate celebration of excess, is going to be hard for brands to square away without feeling unnatural. But, as we’ve seen with examples over the last couple of years, it’s not impossible.

What we can say for sure is that things will change and that they can change fast.  As the #MeToo movement has shown, the media is capable of waking up to issues and adapting to reflect them.

In the world of 2018 and the context of #MeToo we would be shocked by advertising of the recent past when the likes of Go Daddy and Carl’s Jr exploited women as sex objects, maybe we are about to see the same kind of change in our relationship with consumption and excess.

If so, the future for Super Bowl and advertising could be challenging, but also exciting.

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