3 Ways Brands Used Tech to Tell Stories During the Big Game

— Ray Page, Executive Vice President, Digital Experience & Technology 

Football’s biggest night featured tech as a brand-builder and human connector

We live in a time where technology infuses every aspect of our lives. It’s easy to say most people were probably watching this weekend’s Big Game on their TV or tablet and following the chatter on their social channels at the same time. What’s surprising is how most brands didn’t take advantage of their consumers having their brand in their hand on Sunday. In a world where brands are shifting billions of dollars toward consumer-facing tech, the ads aired were surprisingly old-school.

It’s not easy to tell a smart tech story through creative. We all say it’s important to bring the humanity to technology, but that’s easier said than done. Many brands opt for clever ads full of funny writing and celebrity cameos. And very often, big tech companies fumble the ball. Many settle for introducing a tech-driven product or feature, like Hyundai’s funny “smaht pahk” ad, rather than find ways to weave that tech story into their larger brand narratives. It’s hard, yes. But consumers expect more from brands. Brands must do the work needed to tell those broader narratives.

There were some ads on Sunday that were thinking more about those larger stories, how to weave tech into humanity, and how to build branded tech experiences that consumers haven’t seen before. This year’s game gave us a few examples of brands using creative to tell the kinds of tech stories that will resonate in 2020.

Tech as creative facilitator

Most consumers probably don’t think high tech when they think P&G, unless they happen to be ordering their Bounty paper towels on Amazon. But that doesn’t mean P&G isn’t building innovative, high-tech supply chains, internal systems and marketing experiences for their customers.

This year P&G worked with Grey to create a landing page where viewers could choose their own adventure, Black Mirror “Bandersnatch” style. In the weeks leading up to the game, visitors to the site customized an advertisement featuring Sofia Vergara, the Old Spice guy, a Charmin bear, and other mainstays of P&G advertising. P&G then aired a version featuring users’ most popular choices during the game.

This is one of the only ads I can think of where the online experience was vastly superior to the version aired on TV. A big part of the fun was fiddling with the technology — interactive video powered by an Israeli startup named Eko — to see all the different hidden jokes and Easter eggs. It’s not a deep or emotional story, but it’s a story told in a new way, through surprising technology.

Creative as tech brand-builder

Microsoft partnered with McCann — who created last year’s powerful Xbox Adaptive Controller commercial — on an ad featuring Katie Sowers, offensive assistant coach for the 49ers and the first female and first openly gay coach to make her way to the Big Game.

What’s interesting about this ad is that unless you watched the last five seconds, you’d never realize it was a Microsoft ad. Sowers is shown using a Microsoft Surface in several shots, but the ad isn’t about the product — it’s about Sowers.

That fits right in with the actions Microsoft is taking to build and showcase technology for everyone through software and hardware design, as well as cultural evolution. Inclusivity and inspiration sit nicely alongside their more product-focused accessibility stories (like last year’s Xbox Adaptive Controller ad).

Emotion-fueled tech

Most roundups of the best work from Sunday’s game have mentioned Google’s “Loretta” ad, and they should — it’s a real gut punch. Produced in-house and inspired by the true story of an employee’s grandfather (who also provides the voiceover), it’s like the first ten minutes of Pixar’s “Up” rolled into the best voice assistant ad you’ve ever seen.

The ad is a throwback to the format Google used in its first-ever TV commercial, the “Parisian Love” spot from 2010 which used the search engine’s interface to tell a human story. Turns out Google is ridiculously good at turning tech UI into tearjerkers.

It’s also good at turning bad press into bad press. The brand has been running a blitz to change the conversation around voice assistants from, “They’re a security risk and they’re listening to everything we say,” to “Oh my God, this commercial made me cry.” Their creative and comms are humanizing AI for B2B and B2C audiences, de-stigmatizing the tech and showing the power of personalization, all at once.

Pushing nuanced brand stories about technology and humanity through the noise of celebrity endorsements and brand stunts is no easy task. But at $5.6 million for a thirty-second spot, it’s worth considering how brands can use tech — or their tech stories — to build creative that’s an integral part of their brand story long after game day.


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