We’re exactly 2 days away from one of my favorite events of the year, that’s right, the Super Bowl. Although I like football more than I used to now, I still watch primarily for the ads. Super Bowl 2012 looks to be another year full of memorable ads, but perhaps the most interesting aspect is the return of the long-form ad and a return to epic storytelling. I say this because storytelling is woven into American culture, woven into the fabric of advertising, and ads longer than 30 seconds boast superior storytelling. Randall Rothenberg and Mike Hughes point out that “If you’re in the media business, marketing business, or agency business, you’re in the business of storytelling” http://bit.ly/yvdKyT. They go on to talk about how “storytelling is central to building, maintaining, and strengthening the bonds between consumers and brands.” When I was in college, part of my Persuasion class focused on the American Dream myths and how they play a part in advertising. Likewise, Rothenberg and Hughes emphasize the effect creation myths have on company culture. These types of stories serve as something people can identify with and bond people to the brand. There’s no denying it, storytelling is an important part of advertising. Traditionally, Superbowl commercials are 30 seconds long and messages are condensed. In condensing messages the effect of storytelling is condensed and often requires other mediums (web, print, social media) to extend and build upon the initial offering. The rise of diverse mediums in advertising seems to be a direct effect of shorter advertising spots. It would be interesting to see what the effect of long-form commercials would be on diverse mediums. We might just have that chance, as it seems that this year’s offerings are trending towards an increase in longer ad spots. According to Brian Steinberg as of January 3rd, “a handful of sponsors for Super Bowl XLVI have bought time for commercials longer than the standard 30 seconds” http://bit.ly/ythGKX. This includes Volkswagen, which looks to top its infamous Darth Vader offering from 2011′s Super Bowl.
While longer ad spots are not new to the Super Bowl they have been rare in recent years. In 2011, we had Chrysler’s homage to its Detroit roots in a 2 minute ad spot and EDS, now part of Hewlett-Packard, had a 60 second western parody ad in 2000. In addition to trending in the Super Bowl, long-form ads are trending outside of the Super Bowl too. KitchenAid’s 60 second food processor ad led Ace Metrix’s top TV ads for 2011 with a score of 699 due to its innovation and storytelling http://bit.ly/ytzAy4. Ace Score measures ads’ creative effectiveness from the responses of a representative sample of the American TV audience. Final scores are based off of attributes such as likeability, attention, watchability, persuasion, relevance and information. All of these attributes, plus innovation and storytelling, are much more easily attainable in a long-form commercial. With more time comes the chance to develop the storyline more and draw consumers much closer to the POS (point of sale for those of you who don’t know). It’s not that this can’t be done in a 30 second spot, it’s just that it’s a lot easier and more effective in this format. Added to that is the fact that longer ads stand out because they’re rare. It seems to be that things can only go so far in one direction before the scale is tipped and they go back the other way. Case in point, McDonald’s used to emphasize the supersize and now it has gone the other direction and we have Chicken McBites. In a similar fashion ad spots have gotten shorter and shorter, but now it looks like we may be headed back to longer commercials. It will be interesting to see how many of this year’s Super Bowl commercials are longer than 30 seconds, and what effect they have compared to their shorter counterparts. Until early this season Monday Night Football used to open with Hank Williams Jr.’s Are You Ready For Some Football? song. Given that this year’s matchup is one that we’ve seen fairly recently, I think it’s safe to say that people are more so ready for some commercials. Enjoy, and be sure to check back next week when I name my top two best and worst commercials from this year’s Super Bowl.