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Super Bowl Ads Try to Woo Millennials

The sports fans will talk about the game, the music fans will talk about the halftime show, and the foodies will talk about the food they ate during the game. But we at XYZ University look at an event like Super Bowl 50 from an entirely different point of view — the generational one.

The sports fans will talk about the game, the music fans will talk about the halftime show, and the foodies will talk about the food they ate during the game. 

But we at XYZ University look at an event like Super Bowl 50 from an entirely different point of view — the generational one.

The Super Bowl has become far more than just another sporting content — it’s a social and cultural event that eclipses almost anything else. While more than 100 million people tuned into the big game, XYZ University tuned into the trends and marketing, and the shift was palpable. It was obvious, even though this was the 50th anniversary celebration of the Super Bowl, that one era has ended, and a new one has begun.

Out of 63 product ads we viewed during Super Bowl 50, only two were tailored towards Baby Boomers, six were focused on Generation X, and all the remaining were focused on Gen Y/Millennials.

This is especially interesting considering that while Super Bowl ratings have soared in the past decade, Nielsen reports the number of viewers within the 18-49 year old audience has remained relatively flat since 2011.

In other words, companies are desperate to reach the Millennial audience, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Millennials are tuning in.

Back to the game — as for the Boomers, Audi wooed them with an ad featuring Buzz Aldrich and music by David Bowie, while TurboTax.com pulled in Sir Anthony Hopkins clad in blue slippers.

As for the Gen Xers, several ads used the music from hair bands that only a Xer could fully appreciate, such as Acura (Van Halen), Jeep (Queen), Taco Bell (Guns ‘N Roses), Skittles (Aerosmith), and Heinz (Badfinger).  And the Avocados from Mexico’s commercial targeted Xers with a Rubik’s Cube and Scott Baio appearance.

But the vast majority of advertising was geared towards Generation Y. The Millennials. The generation that became the majority of the workforce last year. The largest generation in history, turning between the ages of 21 and 34 this year.

Here were some of the themes we observed, and true to Super Bowl tradition, many of these ads are raising eyebrows and generating debate.

Babies

More Millennials are settling down and starting families, so babies were naturally one of the Super Bowl 50 themes. But take a quick look at Twitter and you’ll find that viewers felt most of the approaches were controversial, shocking, and even strange. These included the NFL’s Super Bowl Babies ads, the Doritos ad featuring a pregnant mother and her snack-craving baby, and Mountain Dew’s “Puppymonkeybaby” ad.

Adventure

If there’s one thing we know about Gen Y/Millennials it’s that this generation loves a great experience. Intel reportedly worked for a year on its latest video campaign titled Experience Amazing.

According to the company’s VP of Global Creative, Intel wants to evolve its brand beyond the perception of being a chip manufacturer to being a company that creates “amazing human experiences.”

The VP was quoted in Advertising Age as follows: “Intel’s been part of these huge cultural experiences, and we as a company never talked about them or tried to get credit for them. But we have to let people know. Kids today don’t care about what’s inside — they care about what they get to do with it. That’s been the impetus for the whole campaign.”

Other adventure-themed ads included Apartments.com (“Change your apartment. Change the world.”), Michelob Ultra (“For those who go the extra mile.”), FitBit (“Get fit in style.”), Pokemon (“I can do that”), plus Butterfinger (“Butterfinger is Bold!”).

And we can’t forget the Toyota Prius commercials, in which four guys rob a bank and get away with it — surprisingly fast — in a Prius. Insert more controversy here.

Public Service

It’s no secret Millennials are drawn to volunteering and service to others. This generation volunteers more of their time to community causes than other generations and donates annually to nonprofit organizations. More than 85% of consumers in this age category prefer to purchase a product that’s committed to a cause.

So Colgate hit it out of the park with the ad, Every Drop Counts. The ad encourages people to turn the faucet off while brushing their teeth. The ad notes that brushing with the faucet running wastes 4 gallons of water, which is more water than many people in the world have in a week.

We at XYZ University were surprised that more advertisers didn’t follow suit. The Colgate ad was the only one to hone in on this generation’s passion for causes.

Future

From web sites to razors, many Super Bowl 50 ads took the futuristic approach.

Liam Neeson starred in LG’s first ever Super Bowl commercial, which was more like a trailer for a new action movie than an advertisement. In the ad, Neeson approaches a young man (who is actually his 20-year-old son) and relays an important message about the future which “must be protected.”

This was one of several ads with messages about the future and change, such as Arrow Electronics (“Forever Forward”), Kia (“Next Gen”), Xfinity (“Change the way you experience TV”), Quicken Loans (“Push button. Get mortgage.”), PayPal (“Old money is stuck in the past. There’s a new money in town.”), and CBS’ commercial about streaming television (“Then. Now. All Ways”.)

Furthermore, the NFL has introduced Next Gen Stats, which were popping up throughout the big game. Next Gen Stats capture real time location data, speed and acceleration for every player, every play, on every square inch of the field. On the NFL web site, the organization explains that these stats were introduced because “The future is now.”

As Super Bowl 50 draws to a close, one can’t help but think what the next 50 years will bring to the NFL and to future generations. It’s pretty amazing to discover that Astronaut Scott Kelly watched Super Bowl 50 from the International Space Station. Now the question becomes, where will football go next — and who will be watching?

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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