This has been a great day of Super Bowl commercials.
But sports fans (and non-fans) have almost certainly noticed a huge trend this year. Whereas past Big Games have been defined by the desire to make audiences laugh, this year has been defined by making audiences cry. Or making them feel proud. Or getting them to donate money.
Chevy put together a beautiful mini-narrative in support of cancer survivors. Bank of America teamed up with U2 in support of Red.org. Intuit promoted Goldieblox, a toy company that promotes engineering to girls. Coca Cola gave a touching rendition of “America the Beautiful” in countless languages to celebrate this country’s diversity (even if their own diversity record is problematic). And this list contains just some of the most talked-about examples from a Super Bowl in which memorable commercials stole the show from some very sloppy football.
Why the change? Well, one need not have a PhD in Marketing Theory to figure this one out. It’s all about virality and Facebook.
Sure, that may sound a bit cynical, and I don’t want to take anything away from this truly awesome trend and the big companies that are putting up millions and millions of dollars to see it through. Sure, they get an outsized benefit from this, but hey, better than a bunch of frog puppets croaking about Budweiser.
But how can one not see a connection between Facebook’s huge year and this new direction for marketing. In a year in which UpWorthy (and a bunch of clones) proved definitively that people would rather share videos that make them feel great about themselves and mankind… the creative agencies have caught on.
Because the magic of a Super Bowl commercial is not the thirty seconds for which brands pony up a ridiculous CPM that, at least upon initial screening, doesn’t always make sense. The magic is in the chance that millions of users post your video to Facebook, share it with their friends, and talk about it for days (or weeks) to come.
To do that, brands have to do more than just announce some token charity investment. In some cases, the brands need to remove themselves entirely from the commercial. That is essentially what the best ones have done this year. One would not have known that Chevy sponsored that spot, had they not mentioned it in the final second of the narrative. I almost didn’t notice that Bank of America was behind the U2/Red.org advertisement, except that I replayed it because I’m a zealous U2 fan.
And again — that is the Facebook effect.
Brands are getting out of the way and making cool video narratives that people will want to share, and that usually means pushing their logo to the periphery. Did we ever think we’d see this day? Seriously… companies paying $4 million for a single commercial in which they de-emphasize their own brand logo?
Welcome to a world in which everyone is thinking about Facebook and virality.
Does this mean that Facebook itself is to thank for a trend towards promoting diversity, understanding, and so many of the virtues that are the antipode of Evil?
Not necessarily. One wouldn’t give them any more credit for this than they would the Arab Spring. Zuckerberg and friends didn’t start Facebook in order to start cultural or marketing revolutions. They built a winning product whose users are finding new and innovative ways to change the world. And if they are making record profits and driving huge shareholder value doing it, then so be it.
Debate about data, privacy, bussing employees, and many other serious matters will no doubt take place for years to come — but on Super Bowl Sunday, I think we can pause and give the Palo Alto gang some credit.
Or as Mark Zuckerberg tells his Harvard disciplinarians at the end of “The Social Network” trailer, “I believe I deserve some recognition from this board.”