How Debbie Downer and a Bunch of Girls Won the Big Game


Yesterday I spent the day tracking advertising and brand hashtags for Hashtracking. Weeks of prep went into my big game planning and strategy. I followed brands and agencies involved with the ads. I read articles about and reviewed the ads that were leaked beforehand and made note of each and every leaked campaign hashtag, so that we would be able to follow along on game day. We worked as a team to set up live public hashtag leaderboards – tracking both the brand names and the campaign tags as the commercials aired live.

This is a labor of love. Ever since I was child, I’ve looked forward to the commercials that air on Super Bowl Sunday. They represent the wittiest, cleverest and most artistic work of top agencies. As the daughter of a former “real life” Madman, for me it’s like watching art.

In fact, I had my 86 year old Maddad (as I like to think of him) over last night, because I like to hear him weigh in on commercials. He’s still got great instincts and a lot to say about the ads. He was fascinated that we were able to watch response to ads in real time via the conversation on Twitter. While Katy Perry performed at #Halftime with Pepsi’s hashtag – we were processing up to 900 tweets per second with the brand’s tag.

It wasn’t just a halftime show spike. With each commercial there was a spike in both ad slogan hashtag and brand mention.

But a few tags stayed active all night long, creating a bit of an upset for a day usually dominated by beer and car ads.

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This year the biggest advertising winners were maxi pads (Always #LikeaGirl) and insurance, specifically – messaging about preventing childhood accidents.

The key to the success of both of these Superbowl ad winners: Emotion

In the case of Always, the messaging was a clear example of the way girls confidence is undermined by commonly heard phrases – particularly in the years between early childhood and adolescence. The videos struck a chord and created a groundswell of response that lasted all evening long making #LikeaGirl the #1 most tweeted ad slogan of the night.

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Nationwide took another tack. They scared the crap out of us.

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At the time of airing, I personally tweeted about how disturbed I was and from the responses I got, it was immediately obvious I wasn’t alone. Tweets streamed in all night long declaring Nationwide a big bummer and the “loser” ad of the Superbowl.

To be sure, Nationwide’s ad stirred up a lot of negative, even angry emotions. Their ad was disturbing. The images of all-too-familiar potential childhood death scenarios preyed on the worst fears of every mom and dad in the viewing audience. We were expecting to be amused (which Nationwide’s other ads – #InvisibleMindy were great for) and maybe to have some heartstrings tugged by puppies and ponies. We knew we’d see some crass humor, sex and pure fantasy ads – cue escapism. But not this stark reality.

The Nationwide ad was a complete disruption. It was the moment that “shit got real” on a day when we were least expecting it. This, and the reaction it evoked, was the power of emotion and disruption in advertising. This was why we didn’t see a beer brand or a car company in the usual expected #1 spot for most tweeted about brands during Super Bowl 49. We saw #Nationwide.

The ad might not have been popular, but it was definitely effective.

You know who wasn’t surprised at all by this upset? Maddad. He called it when he saw it. He’s always been a fan of emotion and disruption in effective advertising.

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