Brands Play it Safe in Super Bowl LIII

Friday, February 8, 2019

by Carly Montecalvo '19

Whether you are a die-hard football fanatic or a dedicated commercial watcher, this year’s Super Bowl just didn’t seem to live up to the usual hype surrounding the big game.

And not just because the Eagles weren’t on the field to defend their Super Bowl LII championship..

Michael Solomon, Ph.D., professor of marketing at Saint Joseph’s University, attributes this year’s “play-it-safe Bowl” to brands’ aversion to risk and fear of controversy.

“Nobody really wants to go out on a limb, a lot of companies are taking a lot of heat for different things,” says Solomon. “I always tell my students, it’s a great mirror of society, it’s not just about selling stuff, but it reflects advertisers’ best guess of what they feel will resonate with viewers, so they’re going to give them what they think they want to see.”

Solomon, who has worked in the industry for over 40 years, said he expected this year’s commercials to be less risk averse and join brands such as Nike, which in September made activist and quarterback Colin Kaepernick the face of its new ad campaign, in testing the waters in terms of creativity and message.

“Advertising is always a microcosm of what’s going on in the popular culture, so I expected to see a little more assertiveness in terms of human rights issues and sustainability, I really expected companies to take a stand.”

Solomon shared his thoughts by serving as the emcee at this year’s Super Bowl Smackdown event, hosted by the Philadelphia American Marketing Association on Wednesday, February 6.

Joined by an expert panel of Philadelphia professionals as well as local AMA collegiate chapters, the event allowed for individuals to share their opinions with other advertising fans.

Many attendees had a lot to say when critically assessing the effectiveness of the ads, but as Solomon jokes of the ‘Monday morning quarterback,’ “It’s much easier to criticize than it is to actually make the ads.”

Seven categories were presented on topics such as celebrity-driven humor and uplifting technology, where the crowd was able to view the commercials going head to head and duel it out over which they thought won in the smackdown.

Members of the SJU chapter of the American Marketing Association also joined in on the fun when looking at what brands scored bigged.

Junior marketing major Luke Nicolai was excited to hear what professionals in the field had to say about this year’s commercials, “I thought it was great to hear first-hand what so many different people thought about the commercials and really get the mix of perspectives.”

Going forward, Solomon sees brands shifting more towards corporate social responsibility in messaging, “It’s not the end of the world for a company to take a stand. Your brand is an umbrella for these much higher order meanings.”

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