With this year’s Super Bowl as the third most watched in the game’s history, there are plenty of lessons to learn and apply to future big-ticket (no pun intended) events. Not only were there an estimated 113 million people that tuned in to see the Kansas City Chiefs rally and defeat the Philadelphia Eagles, but Rihanna’s halftime show attracted another 5.7 million more (totaling 118.7 million viewers).

It’s no wonder that advertisers with big budgets are willing to dish out up to $7 million for a 30-second ad slot. To reach this massive audience, brands must attempt to wow, make people laugh, and drive deep emotions from viewers within just a few seconds.

Popular themes from the Super Bowl commercials

From laughter to millennial targeting, some brands made some great strategic decisions to meet their goals, while others, not so much. Here are some popular themes and examples we saw:

Make ‘em laugh

Comedy, always a classic commercial theme, had a solid showing. Jokes from Bradley Cooper to Diddy to Ben Affleck and JLo received chuckles and praise.

Bradley Cooper and His Mom Attempt A T-Mobile Commercial

One Hit for Uber One

Make ‘em cry (or at least tug on their heartstrings)

On the flip side, the highest-rated Super Bowl ad went to the Farmer’s Dog first-ever spot. If you haven’t seen it yet (and are a dog lover) be prepared with a box of tissues.

Forever – Farmer’s Dog

Ads with animals tend to rate positively, with another emotional spot from Amazon.

Saving Sawyer – Amazon

Bring the nostalgia, and hit your target audience

Gen X actors won big this Super Bowl, with ads featuring Ben Stiller, Alicia Silverstone, Zach Braff, and Donald Faison; but those ads were targeting the nostalgia of Millennials, with callbacks to their respective seminal roles in Zoolander, Clueless, and Scrubs.

Cher is Back – Rakuten

New Year, New Neighbor – T-Mobile

Use misdirection to stand out

Like a magician or a mentalist attempting to wow you, some brands opted for similar trickery. Enter the collective panic when Tubi’s “interface interruption” ad caused viewers to collectively yell at their TVs.

Interface Interruption – Tubi

Blue Moon

What did we learn from this year’s ads?

Despite everyone’s best efforts to get some laughs, be memorable, and drive sales, the real challenge is keeping the attention of a growing young target audience. With Millennials becoming the largest generation with major purchasing power (22% of the population with over $65 billion dollars), the focus should be on attracting GenZ shoppers, spending over $100 billion dollars.

Younger fans not only have shorter attention spans but have the desire to be socially current. Tuning in may mean paying attention when there’s a great play, the score gets close or paying special attention to a halftime performance.

This year’s halftime performance clearly demonstrated its value with more viewers tuning in for Rihanna. With 68% of millennials and 63% of Gen Z having a favorable opinion of Rihanna, relevant cultural icons can still capture waning attention spans.

What to keep in mind for targeting sports-minded audiences

With March Madness, baseball season, the Women’s World Cup this year, and a Summer Olympics next year, standing out will be harder than ever. Creating strategies that keep true to your brand, while matching it with the proper audiences and media, will be tricky. Identify partners that can help you with your connections planning and prepare yourself by understanding how the latest trends impact your campaigns.

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