Josh Mandel of The Mill on the Staying Power of the Super Bowl

The changing strategies around a singular event

The Mill has worked on a slew of Super Bowl commercials over the years. Josh Mandel, managing director of the company's Los Angeles office—who has put in time at R/GA, 72&Sunny, 180Amsterdam, Wieden + Kennedy and Nike—reflects on why the Super Bowl has such staying power and how engagement continues to evolve.

Is the Super Bowl as big a deal to advertisers and brands as it used to be?

Definitely. As a culture there are few moments left where we all experience the same moment, at the same time. The Super Bowl especially is a point that everyone looks forward to, knowing that's the case. Advertising has become increasingly fragmented and personalized over the past decade, as new and alternative platforms grow, but it's just as important to acknowledge that audiences still treasure those "cultural campfire" moments; there are just fewer of them. 

Is the Super Bowl the most powerful commercial moment of the year for brands and advertisers?

The power to create around cultural moments has never been stronger for brands. What makes the Super Bowl unique is that it is a magnet not just for sports fans but a touchstone of attention on the commercials themselves. People are watching with family, watching with friends, watching because they know people in the office will be watching … The game brings together so many different groups of people.

What else makes it unique?

The big game brings together so many different audiences, especially in today's media landscape where everything is so sliced and diced for an audience of one. The Super Bowl is about something larger and more exciting; niche audiences all participating at same time. 

You've worked on the brand, agency and creative sides of content creation. How does this shape your perspective?

The Super Bowl has always been a "high bar" moment—meaning the expectation of creative and strategic concept is high, not just for brands and agencies but for the people sitting at home and watching the spots. It can and should represent the best of our industry, although that isn't always the case.

What makes a Super Bowl spot impactful?

A commercial to reach a specific group is one thing, but for the Super Bowl, the expectation of quality and grandeur is such that you almost have to write for the moment of Super Bowl, as much as you're writing to create an effective piece of communication.

What is the special sauce to creating something great for the game?

Not to oversimplify this, but the special sauce is that it's entertaining. Everyone tunes in hoping the game itself will be an entertaining game. When it's not, we suffer accordingly. But we are also looking to the work that fills the gap to be entertaining, and the successful stuff reflects that.

What does the future of Super Bowl fan engagement look like?

Brands have tried to amplify their moment outside of the game by releasing teasers, to better unpack what they are doing. Today it is not just about having one spot, it is about helping our clients through a comprehensive integrated campaign. The technology that makes an impact on the flat screen is also being used to extend communications campaigns to increasingly immersive experiences, such as social components, virtual and augmented reality. 

Outside of early-release content there is still further opportunity to create a longer-lasting impact. The appetite for Super Bowl related messaging exists in the two-week period from playoffs through the big game. The NFL always takes full advantage of that. I imagine brands will learn to think more like a programmer and work in the same way.

Most memorable Super Bowl moment?

Well, my personal favorite moment outside of the game was Beyoncé's performance. Beyond entertainment, she created a culturally loaded experience.

Where will you be watching the Super Bowl this year?

With a group of friends, the best way.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards and the founding editor of Muse by Clio.

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