This year’s Super Bowl provided an interesting line of sight on how brands are feeling about taking risks — and what people want brands to do more of.

Compared to last year, we saw fewer issues declarations or attempts from brands to co-opt a significant cultural movement in order to attach their brands or products. That’s probably the right approach for a mass cultural event like the Super Bowl. According to this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in institutions in the United States crashed, posting the steepest, most dramatic general population decline the Trust Barometer has ever measured. With so little trust to count on, it’s more challenging than ever for brands to take stands on serious issues. 

Brands need to do more, but maybe that one night in February is not the right time. Why? It’s often perceived as brands cashing in on a moment in time. Instead, taking a stand needs to be something that brands do every day, and in every way, as part of who they are. There was one ad in particular last night that is facing severe scrutiny today for co-opting a significant historical speech in order to sell cars.

Here’s what brands did right last night:

  • Match the Mood: There was more fun and less seriousness — back to what Super Bowl advertising once was — and it’s probably right for times. We don’t all want to be reflecting on what’s wrong in the world. It’s a moment to root for one team over the other and enjoy the best of competitors in one sport. And have the time of your life.
  • Demand Less: Marketers are realizing that the Super Bowl is not necessarily the right opportunity to encourage hashtag usage, follow a complicated social media engagement structure, or demand more action from consumers. Netflix* teased out a movie that would be available immediately after the game, with no consumer action required.
  • Innovate in Context: Some of the most entertaining and surprising ads of the evening were those ads with brilliant executions that made people think about the ad after airing. Tourism Australia did a solid job with this; they left consumers surprised by the mid-ad switch and then conversations spiked after asking to #bringbackdundee.

The brands that did the above got the content and, more importantly, the context right.

Brands do need to do more for society and drive change in the world, but making a Super Bowl ad about an issue and doing very little else will end up only drawing cynicism.

Mark Renshaw is global chair, Brand practice.

*Edelman client

Adrian Curiel