Why do clients want proper advertising for the Super Bowl but not the rest of the time?

My friend Jerry Judge (left) of the Fearless Group in New York has highlighted the apparent absurdity of Mondelez hiring the world’s hottest creative agency Wieden+Kennedy to produce its Oreo 2013 Super Bowl ad while at the same time bending over backwards to restate its loyalty to decidedly uncool incumbent Draft FCB – and awarding its US creative work to The Martin Agency, not W+K.

Which you might call trying to have it every which way.

Here’s Jerry’s view.

Advertising generally takes the form of an interruption. On line, off line. Who cares. It’s an interruption. If you’re watching Homeland (which it seems all my colleagues do) and terrorists are about to ambush the CIA, and all of a sudden the action’s interrupted by an ad for, say, stomach gas suppressant, you’d be pretty pissed off. Thank goodness for Showtime.

But most ads try to pretend that they aren’t interrupting you at all—they’ve got this mistaken idea that they are the main event. Ads, in general, like the king, assume they’re right. So by and large they bluther on talking to themselves and ignoring the people who are supposed to see them.

Then along comes the Super Bowl. For a brief, glorious, (and sometimes vulgar) moment, the ads are made for the viewer. They offer a gift in exchange for butting in on the football. It’s often a laugh, sometimes a gasp or a bit of intrigue. That’s the good manners you need to show if you bustle into someone else’s life.

The funny thing is, Super Bowl ads stop feeling like such an interruption. People seek out these ads, and even look forward to commercial breaks. They share these ads with their friends. Because when ads are designed to delight the viewer, they often succeed in doing just that. Makes you wonder—why aren’t ads like this all year round?

I just saw that Oreos is having Wieden and Kennedy do their Super Bowl spot. Not all their advertising. Just the Super Bowl spot. A proper, great agency. It’s as if, for the Super Bowl, Oreos needs real advertising. The rest of the year? Not so much.

He’s absolutely right of course. Years ago I became involved to a small degree with some research Lowe in London (then run by Jerry) had produced called ‘Ad Avoiders.’

This showed conclusively that people avoided ads they didn’t like but responded well to ads they did, usually funny and engaging ones. A statement of the bleedin’ obvious, you might say, but it came a as big surprise to a lot of people.

Did it persuade clients to commission more funny and engaging ads? Probably not. Unless, as Jerry says, it’s for something where the ads really seem to matter, like the Super Bowl.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.


  1. Having lived in the US for a few years I can add that this suggestion (that ads should be more like Superbowl ads all year round) does actually already pervade in America. Which is a damn shame.

    American TV breaks are stuffed full of 30″ comedy sketches trying to sell you anything and everything. Advertising trying to be comedy is a painful process to watch… and I’m saying that as someone who normally loves a good cringe.

    Naturally, the quality of ‘funny’ in TV ads can’t be kept at Superbowl standards all year round. So this results in most 5-6 minute US ad breaks full of really naff puns, old jokes and short one-scene comedy skits that honestly make you wish you worked in a different industry.

    At JWT in New York they actually employed a couple of guys who were real life comedy sketch writers and we used to call their output “Gags With Tags” because that’s essentially what they did, write bland comedy skits and then someone else would add the client’s end frame to them (or worse try and crow bar in some clumsy product references to the joke) so the client would sign it off.

    I think perhaps Kraft’s approach is quite respectful to the unique Superbowl scenario, when a 30″ ad can become iconic beyond advertising. Good luck to W+K with that challenge. They are probably the right agency to have a damn good go at it.

    On the regular day to day, let’s not believe that advertising in Homeland is ever going to be welcomed by consumers. Increasingly we fast forward through or skip TV ads these days anyway when we can, no matter how good the creative.

    If an ad is really worth seeing for it’s comedy / entertaining value, someone will eventually direct us to it on YouTube…

    Its a big decision for advertisers these days, exactly what they use Prime TV spots for and how that relates to other (more social) viewing platforms. I’d bet that Mondelez will be trying to innovate in this area and we should probably pay close attention.

  2. Steven…
    I too can claim Jerry as a friend and when in NYC, boozing companion…
    But, besides that… As I said in an email to him regarding his above Super Bowl wisdom…
    Never forget, the reason W+K maintains its standards is ‘cos they don’t belong
    to any holding company, bean counting wankers.
    There’s still a lot of shitty Super Bowl advertising…
    I can’t wait to see the new Go Daddy stuff from Deutsch…
    Remember how they were going to stop all the tits & arse shit…
    Yeah, fucking right!!!