Let’s be honest—that was not a good game. But the ads weren’t bad. Ok, some of the ads weren’t bad. There were some definite winners and a few clear themes, including nostalgia, humor, and women’s empowerment. But for the second year in a row, no pharma marketer shared their message on the big game. I’m sure there were 100 reasons why, not the least being the $5M+ price tag for :30 of air time. But just because the industry didn’t show doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learned at others’ great expense. Here are some of the themes I took away that we marketers should all be thinking about.

stand for something bigger than yourself

Advertising is about more than just selling stuff. It’s about building brands, and brands need to stand for something in this day and age. I think that goes for pharma brands, too. The brands that build the biggest loyalty, that become the stickiest and most meaningful to their base, are the ones that go beyond functional messaging to find a shared belief system with their audience.


Microsoft Xbox Adaptive Controller

Microsoft could have easily used this ad space to promote the Xbox One or the Microsoft Surface, two of its money-making behemoths. Instead, it put diversity ahead of dollars and said, “When everyone plays, we all win.” In just :60, they showed that they stood for something bigger than themselves, and in turn, stood for those often too small to notice.


Stella Artois

At first glance, you might not see this humorous spot as being bigger than the challis the Stella is poured in, but look closer and you’ll find that the brand supports Water.org through its “pour it forward” initiative. It’s a commitment they made back in 2015 and it’s going strong today.


you don’t have to stand alone

There’s no rule that says a brand is an island. In fact, those brands that surround themselves with likeminded companies can amplify their marketing dollars and enjoy a ripple effect from the connectivity. Just ask last year’s Super Bowl Advertising winner, “It’s a Tide ad.” Are there causes or broader wellness brands that align to your drug or category that could amplify your message and make you even more invaluable to your target?


T-Mobile and Taco Bell and Lyft

The T-Mobile spots, while simple, were really pretty effective. They were also pretty smart. By understanding who their customers are and how they navigate the world, they were able to enjoy a financial boost and extend their reach. 

[Videos have been removed from YouTube]


Bud Light and Game of Thrones

I don’t care how big of a gambler you are, there’s no way you saw this one coming. Throughout the game, Bud ran several of their funny if not widely critiqued medieval spots to varying degrees of success. Then, they hit us with this whopper, bringing in GOT’s the Mountain to slay the Bud Knight, and then the Dragon to burn it all down. Well played for both brands.


Be culturally relevant.

It’s not just important to know your audience, you need to know what’s going on around them in the real world. What are they into? Who do they follow? What are the things that influence and motivate them? If you can insert yourself into their larger world and “happen when things matter to them,” they will be yours.


Michelob Ultra

I’m not saying this is a good spot. Far from it. But what the Michelob team tapped into was this cultural phenomenon of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response). For those not in the know, ASMR gives some people a head-tingling sensation and a sort of euphoric calm. ASMR videos have millions of views on YouTube and have a loyal, almost cult-like following. And now Michelob proves they are at one with this universe.


Let me know what you thought of this year’s collection of spots and if there were any lessons you took away.

Gary Scheiner
Executive Vice President, Executive Creative Director