Opinion

Fear of the social media mob will render Super Bowl ads sexless, safe and bland

As the biggest event on the advertising calendar looms ahead, Bob Hoffman argues how brands' fear of the online lynch mob has sanitised the once groundbreaking Super Bowl campaigns

It’s mid-January and by now we should have been inundated with Super Bowl advertising hype. But we haven’t.

Marketers, who in recent years couldn’t wait to ruin the impact of their Super Bowl spots by releasing them weeks before the event, haven’t done so. It’s like years ago when Super Bowl spots were kept under wraps.

Skittles’ Super Bowl ad was among 2017’s most popular

If one were inclined to be generous one would say that marketers have grown up and are showing some mature and uncharacteristic self-restraint. Sadly, I am not inclined to be generous. My guess is that the real reason for Super Bowl advertisers’ unusual reticence has nothing at all to do with self-restraint. It has to do with fear.

The source of this fear is social media – tens of millions of disagreeable people looking to make trouble. The growing vitriol of social media maniacs, and the power they have to destroy, have become a concern to marketers. While social media was once seen as a major resource for marketers, it has become a potentially greater source of problems.

In today’s environment, any Super Bowl advertising perceived as remotely controversial or in any way discomfort-making is likely to elicit a torrent of venom – probably keeping some advertisers from releasing anything beforehand. A few nasty tweets from self-righteous troublemakers and your $5 million Super Bowl investment is DOA.

I expect the Super Bowl advertising class of 2018 to be sexless, safe and bland. The risks of offending anyone these days are way too high.

It’s back to the future in other ways as well. Pepsi, one of history’s most profligate Super Bowl spenders is reportedly going to play it old school with a spot that Adweek says, “…appears poised to hark back to Pepsi’s pop culture glory days.” After their calamitous Kendall Jenner fiasco earlier this year, who can blame them?

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