Written by Ashley Woods

The advertising around an event like the Super Bowl is often the best of the best. The game itself boasts an average of 100 million viewers with nearly a 50/50 split of men and women, which makes it’s a great opportunity for some of America’s largest brands to reach their audience. However, with 30-second commercials averaging $5 million dollars, naming rights not included, the stakes are high for brands to get a return on their investment. Some brands see value in paying for sponsorship deals including naming rights, as well as shelling out millions for a tv spot (or several), while others take non-traditional approaches in hopes of stretching their marketing budgets further.

Skittles, who in the past has paid for air time during the live broadcast, opted for a different route this year. Appealing to non-football fans and staying true to their wacky brand personality, they created an exclusive Broadway musical on game day that was ironically an ad bashing advertising. With just a single live performance and no recording to share, they relied heavily on teasers released in the weeks leading up to the show. Check out Adweek’s behind-the-scenes take on “Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical.”

One brand who has had a major sponsorship with the league for years is Verizon. Up until this year, they’ve passed on airing commercials, instead focusing their advertising dollars on local and in-stadium experiences like this year’s Super Bowl Live, a free-to-the-public fan village. However, Verizon also purchased airtime this year to kick off their #AllOurThanks campaign. The 60-second spot was part of a full documentary that aired on CBS the following night about the first responders who answered the calls that saved the lives of 12 NFL stars. Verizon also posted the videos online and pledged to donate $1 for each share to first responders, up to $1.5 million dollars. Additionally, they have given people the opportunity to thank first responders in their state by sharing a personal story through their website

From Verizon giving back to first responders through the Gary Sinise Foundation to Skittles ticket proceeds benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fight AIDS, it was nice to see brands giving back, and using their marketing as an opportunity to get their fans involved in raising money for good causes.

With 30-second commercials averaging $5 million dollars, naming rights not included, the stakes are high for brands to get a return on their investment.”

Another thing that stood out this year were the brand partnerships. While the only way to see Skittles’ Broadway musical was to buy tickets, they partnered with Spotify to share the soundtrack.

T-Mobile used two of their four 30-second commercials to promote their rewards program, highlighting their partnership and deals with Taco Bell and Lyft. They also had a simple, yet entertaining and relatable execution for all four of their quarterly spots.

Budweiser allowed Game of Thrones to take over one of its ads with an entertaining co-branded spot as part of its Game of Thrones-like “Dilly Dilly” campaign launched in 2017.

Aside from the brand partnerships and philanthropic tie-ins, the best Big Game ads are interesting, entertaining and memorable (what all advertising should be, really). Here are some other stand-out commercials from this year’s game, along with some industry backstory on each:

Burger King’s spot featured a 45 second clip of footage from “Andy Warhol Eating a Hamburger”, directed by JØrgen Leth and used in his 1982 film “66 Scenes from America.” Leth liked the idea of the hamburger as the great social equalizer in America, and that people, no matter their socio-economic status, could enjoy them.

In a wild coincidence, Coca-Cola’s pre-game spot was also inspired by Andy Warhol and opens with his quote, “A Coke is a Coke.” He once said that anyone could drink one, from Liz Taylor to the president. It was a great way for Coca-Cola to capture that spirit of diversity and inclusion, two brand values they’ve championed for over 130 years. Their animated commercial was a fresh and relevant way to unify fans right before the start of the game.

Executives at The Washington Post bought its first spot ever in the Super Bowl with less than a week to prepare. Narrated by Tom Hanks, the spot delivers a powerful message that owner Jeff Bezos believed was worth the risk.

The NFL 100 Super Bowl commercial that aired just before halftime was another somewhat rush project that wasn’t filmed until mid-January, right in the middle of the playoffs. But just like you’d expect, they pulled off a well-executed, entertaining spot that probably wins the prize for highest ROI. It was reportedly shot for free and no player was paid, aside from expenses to attend the shoot. Plus, the NFL got the 2 minute spot for free, a $21.4 million dollar value.