Michael Lee: two days that change the advertising world – the Oscars and the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl.

The Oscars.

The two iconic days in the TV calendar. The two days when the nation comes together as one and gathers round the TV to watch.

Must-see TV that is so must-see that setting the DVR to watch later is social suicide. You need to be in the moment, be there or be square, watch it LIVE!

While the nation’s viewing habits are turned upside down, so are many of the habits of the advertising industry.

Art 1. Science 0.

These are the two days when many of the practices and disciplines used to create advertising for the other 363 days of the year – the well-honed research methodologies, focus group rooms and the algorithms of big data – appear to be temporarily stored away in the broom cupboard.

Advertisers are apparently content to question their own rules and go about creating the most highly visible work they will ever be involved in by following lesser-used instincts and hunches, throwing caution to the wind and going for broke.

They go straight for the biggest of laughs, the toughest of tugs on our heartstrings, the most ingenious of special effects and the most celebrated of celebrities.

Is A Super Bowl Ad Really Worth $5 Million?

They invest in breathtaking media budgets (north of $5 million a spot at last count), engage some of the brightest (and most expensive) agencies and sign off on higher-than-normal production costs.

The two days attract brands of all shapes and sizes. Very few rules seem to apply here. Companies in launch, if not beta stage, with little awareness to automotive, to financial services, to brands we are very familiar with sitting on the supermarket shelf.

This year’s Super Bowl includes newbies like, Sun Trust Bank, SoFi Financial and Quicken Loans, running alongside Big Game veterans like Budweiser, Pepsi and Doritos.

The successful outcome for them all is unquestionable. The successful spot acts out on a stage held only for the most talked about, tweeted about, posted about, admired advertising of the year. Advertising that is discussed, dissected and applauded in bars and homes by consumers, studied by CEOs, CFOs and shareholders alike, written about by every media new and old and lauded by awards juries all over the globe.

So, with so much money and reputation at stake, why do clients take more risks on those two days than in the other 363?

I’m not sure I have the complete answer.

But let’s propose a few theories.

Maybe it’s because the focus is back on mass TV with mass viewing figures, and advertisers simply trust their instincts more in that media; they are more comfortable there than in the newer untested waters of social, digital and mobile.

Maybe the Super Bowl and Oscars are more simply about engaging on more emotional levels. That they are the most emotionally engaging days of the year with a TV, and we don’t need big data and analytics as much to make our consumers laugh or shed a tear or two.

Maybe it’s just like walking the red carpet at the Oscars. The stars look pretty good most of the year; it’s just that on this one occasion they want to look bloomin’ gorgeous. Brands like to dress up in a tantalizing Chanel frock and a Harry Winston tiara too.

The Fear Factor

Rob Feakins, a good friend, until recently the chief creative officer of Publicis, and a chap who has written his fair share of big-game spots has a theory.

“I think it’s fear.” Okay, Rob, that’s a different type of theory. “I think the thing that galvanizes creatives and clients alike when working on the Super Bowl is fear. The fear of not being great. The fear of failure, of being in the bottom three in all the polls, blogs, editorials and analysis the next day.” Public failure is definitely not fun (one that all their friends, family and neighbors will see), I’m sure it creates a very special type of stimuli. Rob continues: “Advertisers don’t live under that type of stress the other 363 days of the year.….Super Bowl and Oscar fear brings out the best in them and leads to some remarkable work.”

Who knows? Maybe it’s a little of all that, but let’s not analyze it to death.

Let’s applaud the bravery, instincts, hunches, insights and single-minded decision-making that helps produce some of the best examples of what all our talents can create.

It’s nice to see our industry taking center stage, showing how great it can be, and having some fun for a change.

The country and the industry is better for it.

This article first appeared in Forbes.

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