The Mill has worked on a slew of Super Bowl commercials over the years. Josh Mandel, managing director of the company’s Los Angeles office—who has put in time at R/GA, 72&Sunny, 180Amsterdam, Wieden + Kennedy and Nike—reflects on why the Super Bowl has such staying power and how engagement continues to evolve.
Definitely. As a culture there are few moments left where we all experience the same moment, at the same time. The Super Bowl especially is a point that everyone looks forward to, knowing that’s the case. Advertising has become increasingly fragmented and personalized over the past decade, as new and alternative platforms grow, but it’s just as important to acknowledge that audiences still treasure those “cultural campfire” moments; there are just fewer of them.
The power to create around cultural moments has never been stronger for brands. What makes the Super Bowl unique is that it is a magnet not just for sports fans but a touchstone of attention on the commercials themselves. People are watching with family, watching with friends, watching because they know people from work will be watching … The game brings together so many different groups of people.
The big game brings together so many different audiences, especially in today’s media landscape where everything is so sliced and diced for an audience of one. The Super Bowl is about something larger and more exciting; niche audiences all participating at same time.
The Super Bowl has always been a “high bar” moment—meaning the expectation of creative and strategic concept is high, not just for brands and agencies but for the people sitting at home and watching the spots. It can and should represent the best of our industry, although that isn’t always the case.
A commercial to reach a specific group is one thing, but for the Super Bowl, the expectation of quality and grandeur is such that you almost have to write for the moment of Super Bowl, as much as you’re writing to create an effective piece of communication.
Not to oversimplify this, but the special sauce is that it’s entertaining. Everyone tunes in hoping the game itself will be an entertaining game. When it’s not, we suffer accordingly. But we are also looking to the work that fills the gap to be entertaining, and the successful stuff reflects that.
Brands have tried to amplify their moment outside of the game by releasing teasers, to better unpack what they are doing. Today it is not just about having one spot, it is about helping our clients through a comprehensive integrated campaign. The technology that makes an impact on the flat screen is also being used to extend communications campaigns to increasingly immersive experiences, such as social components, virtual and augmented reality. Outside of early-release content there is still further opportunity to create a longer-lasting impact. The appetite for Super Bowl related messaging exists in the two-week period from playoffs through the big game. The NFL always takes full advantage of that. I imagine brands will learn to think more like a programmer and work in the same way.
Well, my personal favorite moment outside of the game was Beyoncé’s performance. Beyond entertainment, she created a culturally loaded experience.