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The Super Bowl proves that the power of celebrity is still scoring big with consumers – but cultural relevance is key

Emma Shuldham, Managing Director at ITB Worldwide looks at what brands can learn from those who leveraged cultural cache in their Super Bowl LV ad offerings this year and gives her take on what this means for the power of celebrity in 2021 and beyond.

It might have been Tom Brady who steered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 31-9 victory at the Super Bowl LV, but in a Super Bowl like no other, what this year’s sporting spectacular showed us is that some things will never change when it comes to leveraging the power of celebrity; it was the brands who drafted in the A-list talent for their ad spots, which were fetching up to $5.5m this year, who scored the touchdown with consumers.

From Michael B. Jordan for Amazon’s ‘Alexa’s Body’ to Bruce Springsteen for Jeep’s ‘The Middle’ and Timothee Chalamet for Cadillac’s ‘ScissorHandsFree’, mega stars are still incredibly relevant for commercials that make an impact and get people talking.

And get people talking they did; thanks to social buzz generated on the small screen. According to Google data released on game day, Amazon, Jeep and Cadillac topped the list of Top 10 most viewed ads globally on YouTube, with Uber Eats’ ‘Wayne’s World & Cardi B’s Shameless Manipulation’ and Paramount Plus’ ‘Sweet Victory’ spot, which brought together an all-star cast of heroes including SpongeBob, RuPaul and James Corden, rounding out the top five.

Leveraging celebrity talent for their Super Bowl ad spots has long been a must-have for brands and no doubt will continue to be the case for years to come. But after what has been – and continues to be – a tumultuous year for everyone across the globe, the themes of friendship, family, unity, and even nostalgia took centre stage, with the Cadillac ad playing on the iconic Edward Scissorhands film and even John Travolta recreating his famous dance from Grease for fertilizer brand Miracle-Gro.

But particularly interesting about this year was how brands leveraged cultural cache with the casting of the celebrity talent; take for example Michael B. Jordan, who holds the title of People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, being converted to a sensual human ‘body’ of Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa.

There’s something in this that we should all take forward as a consideration when it comes to celebrity collaborations in the future. The secret to any great brand-celebrity partnership is pinned by cultural relevance but to be able to do that well requires clever insight to be able to tap into the human stories and emotional connections that will best resonate with consumers in the moment.

No brand wants to find itself in Jeep’s position where it had to pull its Bruce Springsteen ad after it had already aired during the big game, following the revelation that the superstar was charged with a DWI last Autumn. [Update: Jeep has since announced it will ‘unpause’ the ad after the charges against Springsteen were thrown out]. Due diligence and brand safety audits remain essential and a reminder to us all that when working in the business of influence, that the humans we work with, no matter who they are, are just that; human, and therefore potentially fallible.

Brand-talent partnerships around milestone events have their own rules, risks and rewards. To strike the right chord, any celebrity or influencer engagement requires careful vetting for brand alignment, safety and relevance. That’s where the clever combination of human insight and data comes into play, using platforms to determine sentiment, engagement and forecast impressions for talent performance, layered with human insight around cultural relevance and PR value.

The Super Bowl is just the beginning and with red carpet awards season upon us, albeit later than usual, it’s an important time to remember that annual events like these can be an incredibly powerful platform for brands to participate in a cultural conversation – but also that due diligence is required to ensure that the connection and interest between brand and talent is real, authentic and, perhaps most importantly, brand safe.

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