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Sounds of the Big Game – Commercials!

illustration of girl wearing headphones, football field in background.

Wow…what a terrific championship football game! Both teams had so many tools with which to win, so it went right down to the wire. Patrick Mahomes appeared to be undeniable, and coupled with Travis Kelce’s passion and performance, they managed to eke out only the 2nd overtime win in big game history. But when it comes to marketing – especially audio marketing – which brands took home the big win?

Many of us were just as pumped to see the always-fascinating lineup of commercials in and around the game. And while it was a wide range of wildly creative spots, most advertisers played it safe, with many using humor and celebrities to drive home their messages. Aubrey Plaza, Ben Affleck, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito and Christopher Walken are just a few or the stars who lent their talents to the advertisers willing to pay for them! There were few thought-provoking, controversial stances taken, though the Dawn Project’s ads claiming Tesla’s self-driving cars were unsafe were noteworthy. And the commercial touting Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential bid using President Kennedy’s old, 60s campaign jingle was almost startling! It was placed by his Super PAC committee (as a SuperPAC, they didn’t need his approval), and he had no knowledge of it – even apologizing to his family afterward for the gaffe.

But as a sonic branding agency, our ears were especially attuned to how the commercials sounded. Viewers respond more quickly to sound than to visuals, so special care should be taken crafting memorable soundtracks that evoke emotion, perhaps even more so than the pictures. To quote Alexander Lowen: “Feeling is the inner life, expression is the outer life.” In other words, stirring the soul leads to a physical reaction, hopefully emotionally connecting a viewer to a product or service. It is the very essence of what we call sonic branding. So, let’s look at some of the spots that struck our ears as memorable and effective.

Google Pixel – Javier in Frame

Google’s new camera can create voice prompts to help with framing for those who have limited sight. The spot takes a sober stance, initially using the voice prompt audio. Then, magically, a heartwarming piano track accompanies the reveal of the selfie guided by the voice prompt. What follows is a short journey of many of life’s emotional moments, guided from soft focus to gratifying, in-focus shots created by the visually impaired actor. It ends with a precious moment we all can relate to. It’s a beautiful journey, full of emotion and making a case for technology working for the betterment of all.

Dove – It’s a Hard Knock Life.

Dove lets us know that there is no success without failure – or hard knocks. This skillful interpretation of “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from the musical “Annie” is cleverly edited with the syncopated beats of the song aligned with young girls taking pratfalls on their way to success. It abruptly pauses with a sobering message about female empowerment, and uses natural, atmospheric sound as it drives the “hard knocks” theme in the closing shot. The sudden audio change drives maximum emotional impact after what seemed like a humorous direction.

NFL – Born to Play

Want some rock ‘em, sock ‘em action? This spot has it – all while engaging in some masterful storytelling. The “stop/start” track, with an African musical flavor, perfectly matches the action-packed chase scenes. Expertly placed natural sound punctuates the boy’s journey, avoiding the imagined NFL football players as he pursues his football fantasy. Suddenly, it transitions to a heartwarming exchange between him and an NFL player, switching to an emotionally engaging musical soundtrack that perfectly reflects the boy becoming aware of someday being able to achieve his NFL destiny.

Reese’s – Yes

It’s an emotional tug-of-war as the crowd at the party alternately responds to the announcer’s statements, and perfectly acted as well. It’s abrupt, it’s surprising, and it’s hilarious! It’s a simple idea – made outrageous. An oddball music track, the over-the-top voiceover and the natural sound also contribute to the engaging nature of the ad. The stop/start pacing leaves you wanting more. It certainly begs you to watch it again!

Disney + – Well Said.

Sometimes, simple is best. Take a spare piano track, cleverly edit it with memorable lines from Disney+ content, and you’ve created marketing magic. Disney has a vault overflowing with wonderful quotes that instantly connect you to the emotional impact of those scenes. It’s a great example of mining equity in your brand to help ensure future success. And they did it without effects, highly paced visuals, or a bombastic audio track. Disney is truly where the magic happens.

Snapchat – Less Social Media, More Snapchat 

Snapchat brings the aural drama, starting with the sounds of an orchestra tuning, then morphing into a social media action sequence which resolves with a visceral punch. There’s a dramatic pause, then a slow drift into Stevie Wonder’s iconic hit “Fingertips Part II,” bringing the release and joy of communicating with Snapchat. The diverse audio landscape astutely mirrors the viewer transitioning from a social media experience to a Snapchat environment. It’s an emotional roller-coaster that’s a joy to ride.

Experiencing the world through your ears, rather than just your eyes, is a mind-opening experience. Imagine any of these spots with no sound. They are immediately stripped of most of their emotional appeal. They are dry, arid landscapes, begging for more context of feeling and connection. The visuals hit the brain, but the audio hits the heart. So don’t wait until next year – spend more time listening to rather than watching commercials.  You might be surprised by what you hear.

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