What makes a great Super Bowl ad? Is it an epic story? Thirty seconds of LULZ? The debate starts before kick-off every year and continues into the day after across tweets, Facebook posts, and perhaps the ultimate arbiter of the general public's Super Bowl ad taste, The USA Today Ad Meter. But like a lot of things—judged Olympic events, hot wings, political candidates—advertising is subjective. So two years ago the ad industry decided to get its own opinions official by launching the Super Clio—a big game spin-off of the Clio Awards, that's like a player's poll for the ad industry—where those that create ads would judge the Super Bowl work on its merit, and maybe not on whether their favorite celebrity was in it.
This year, the winner is National Geographic's "Bad Romance," a promo for its upcoming new show Genius, about Albert Einstein, starring Geoffrey Rush. The spot, by agency McCann New York, used—wait for it —genius media planning to not only get the ad in immediately following Lady Gaga's halftime show, but get viewers attention right away with Einstein actually playing "Bad Romance" on the violin.
The runners-up are Honda's "Yearbooks" by agency RPA Los Angeles, Budweiser's "Born the Hard Way" by Anomaly, and Airbnb's "#WeAccept." Past winners include Snickers' Brady Bunch ad in 2015, and Jeep's "Portraits" last year.
Judy John, CEO of Leo Burnett Canada and the agency network's chief creative officer in North America, says that while the ad industry isn't known for its lack of awards, the cultural context of the Super Bowl deserves its own trophy. But ad execs' criteria for what makes a great big game ad differs a bit from all the other couch-bound ad quarterbacks. "When you look at the Ad Meter, what typically does really well every year is celebrity, and a lot of the really big production spots, and from an advertising community perspective, there is a greater focus on what the idea is, the craft of the spot is a big part of it, and the connection of it to the brand," says John.
TBWA\Worldwide chairman and global director Lee Clow says it's good to step away from the popularity contest of the broader Super Bowl ad evaluations. "They judge it on the basis of polling and public opinion, but advertising people haven't had the platform to say what they thought about the creativity of the ads in the game," says Clow. "Of course, those ads were still eligible for other awards throughout the year, but in the context of the day and the game, I think looking at what ad industry people think of the work is an interesting conversation."
BBDO executive creative director Chris Beresford-Hill says National Geographic's ad was almost a consensus pick right off the bat, citing its ability to creatively use the Super Bowl itself to stand out from the other high profile TV and movie trailers like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Stranger Things 2.
"I thought it was incredible because it was, in some ways what many Super Bowl ads aren't—crafted and subtle, not loud or over the top," says Beresford-Hill. "The context was amazing. It's a really tough brief. If you did a straight trailer for this National Geographic show, it may have felt like just another TV promo, and get lost among the others. So to go with this crazy contextual win, where the last Lady Gaga song effectively continued into the promo, was genius placement. It pulled the audience right into Einstein, which I don't think they would've been with a more traditional trailer."
Clow—who's no stranger to tapping Einstein for advertising impact—praised the ad's creative simplicity. "It was smart, simple, and back when I started in the advertising business, simple was the hallmark of a great ad," says Clow. "I liked the simplicity and the intelligence of it, where a lot of the others were maybe trying too hard, or there was no real rationale as to why their brand logo was at the end of the ad. It actually worked as advertising, I want to watch the show now."