Maturity, depth will outshine slapstick humor in Super Bowl XLVIII ads

What can we expect from this year’s Super Bowl commercials? Less crudeness for one thing, said Kelly O’Keefe, professor of creative brand management in the VCU Brandcenter, part of the School of Business.

“I expect deeper emotions to begin to win out over slapstick humor this year as Super Bowl advertising is definitely maturing,” he said. “What used to be a venue for dumb guy jokes, hot models and talking babies has started to shift toward ads that tug at your heart. Last year we saw a touching Clydesdale ad that was more about friendship than beer. A patriotic Jeep ad. A Dodge Ram ad that brought Paul Harvey’s voice back to life to give us all a lump in our throats. And our usual dose of kindness from Coke.”

Kelly O’Keefe

Kelly O’Keefe

Television advertisers are opting for a more mature approach because there is more risk this year, said O’Keefe, who expects “2014 will be the ‘Social Bowl’ for advertisers.

“Last year, Oreos didn’t buy any Super Bowl ads, but they stole the show from the sidelines when the power went out,” O’Keefe said. “This year, big brands will be ready with brigades of people poised to post and tweet about every play. This may work as consumers will be connecting to friends both physically — with parties — and virtually — with Facebook and Twitter. Almost everyone will be checking in on a mobile device here and there through the game.”

With more avenues for social commentary comes more risk.

“Ads have always been judged more cruelly on Super Bowl night,” O’Keefe said. “Consumers are conditioned to expect great work and they judge a mediocre ad as harshly as an on-field fumble. Since this will be a ‘Social Bowl,’ look for biting commentary to spread across social media.”

But, O’Keefe noted, there will also be winners; the “chosen few” who will benefit from consumer attention sparking conversations the next morning.

“Overall, this will be a year when our favorites are measured in ‘likes’ and the best ads will treat us as adults,” he said.