Alexa's Body by Lucky Generals

Alexa's Body for Amazon by Lucky Generals

The agencies from over here doing rather well over there

The US is turning to UK agencies to fulfil a creative need

By Ian Darby

It’s fair to say that Coldplay, the most recent British act to bag a coveted half-time slot at the US Super Bowl, failed to attract rave reviews for its 2016 performance. Described as “the void at the center of a riot of exuberance”, the band’s “soppy indie” quietly made way for the fireworks provided by US sensations Bruno Mars and Beyoncé.

In contrast, British agencies creating Super Bowl commercials have won greater praise when competing with American rivals. And it's clear that US-based marketers are more than happy to turn to British agencies to create some of their highest-profile campaigns, even ones as culturally important as Super Bowl spots.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty London created a couple of well-received Axe commercials back in 2013 (‘Lifeguard’) and 2014 (‘Call to Arms’), and adam&eveDDB impressed with its ‘Romance the Rainbow’ Skittles execution in 2017. Standards were raised further by a trio of Amazon Super Bowl ads from Lucky Generals (2018’s ‘Alexa Loses Her Voice’, 2019’s ‘Not Everything Makes the Cut’, and 2021’s ‘Alexa’s Body’) and one from Droga5 London (2020’s ‘Before Alexa’).

Viewed by a TV and streaming audience of 96.4 million this year, there’s no doubt that Super Bowl continues to offer a prominent platform for advertising creativity. Rick Brim, the chief creative officer at adam&eveDDB, says: “Super Bowl, like Christmas here, is an amazing thing to have as much fun with as possible. It provides a shot of positivity into the industry, and you have to treat it as such. It’s the industry’s peacocking moment to show how creative, fun, and relevant we can be.”

What’s it like to get that Super Bowl brief? Danny Brooke-Taylor, the creative founder at Lucky Generals, says: “It’s the highest pedestal. If you’ve grown up in advertising and seen the biggest spots in the world land on that night then being on that stage is really exciting. The dynamic is very different because people are actively leaning in, desperate to be entertained by the biggest brands on the planet. People are saying ‘right, I’ve got my Budweisers, I’ve got my bowl full of Cheetos. Hit me, make me laugh.’ You’re not fighting for their attention, you’re fighting to be the most entertaining, which is the dream job but also the bar is set really high because all brands are competing. It’s our advertising Olympics.”

Despite overseeing the creation of what turned out to be a Super Bowl spot, Brim missed out on the excitement and elation of being handed a brief. His agency’s Skittles ad was a 30-second quirky, comedic tale not typical of a blockbuster Super Bowl film. There’s a reason for this in that the commercial wasn’t initially created for the big night but to run in the brand’s international markets. Brim concedes: “It was a Super Bowl ad by accident. It was a mixed feeling for us because we didn’t have that lovely moment where you think ‘we’ve got a brief, it’s for the Super Bowl’. We just created an ad that we thought was quite funny. There was this moment where we thought ‘is it good enough?’ So there was a sense of relief when we not only got away with it but it was one of those that was spoken about.”

The impact of the Skittles commercial was certainly felt – it was named as the top ad for generating emotional engagement in a facial recognition study from Realeyes, and placed second overall in a BrandIndex study from YouGov. Success on a large scale was later sown by Droga5 London, with the 2020 ‘Before Alexa’ Amazon ad, starring Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi. It was the most-watched Super Bowl commercial of the year, generating 61 million YouTube views in the week after the event, and was nominated for an Emmy in the “Outstanding Commercial Category”, the only shortlisted ad from the UK.

Amazon returned to Lucky Generals to create its 2021 commercial, featuring actor Michael B. Jordan. The ad sparked the highest 24-hour post-game social media traffic of all the year’s Super Bowl commercials with 110.6 million views. It was the latest manifestation of a successful long-term relationship with the global brand that began seven years ago, back in the early days of the agency’s existence, with a visit to the Lucky Generals office from Simon Morris, the now global chief creative officer at Amazon.

Beyond the strong client/agency bond, why did Amazon turn to a London-based agency? Brooke-Taylor says: “The UK industry is really good at insight and understanding, therefore, why something is funny, or interesting, or what buttons we’re going to press.” But, he adds, Amazon’s strong sense of what works culturally in the US has proved vital: “We’ve got a gauge on what we think is entertaining because that’s our job. But we get a load of help from their internal creative teams – we’re able to say ‘here’s our big idea, and the funny stuff’ and they can give us a very quick response on what they think will land culturally in the US at that moment.”

Whatever the category, vital components in Super Bowl success for UK agencies include working with a global advertiser that has a creatively-led marketer within the organisation (as has been the case with Amazon, Mars and Unilever) who is looking for the strong insights that London-based agencies can bring to the table. Brim says of Mars: “As clients get more global it’s also become the trend with the way we’re working. With Mars, the client is based in Nashville and it really doesn’t matter. The majority of our work runs over there and they’ve never once said ‘you don’t get us’, we’ve delivered copy that’s worked incredibly well.”

What about other global opportunities? One of the few universally praised elements of the UK Government’s new “Global Britain” strategy is, in the FT’s view, “making the most of Britain’s soft power — harnessing its creativity in the arts and science.” So will there be big international showcase opportunities for agencies? The Olympics in Japan is looming and sporting events such as football’s Champions League are growing in stature. Brooke-Taylor says: “If a UK agency has a good relationship with a client that gets the value of creativity and the writing then of course we’ve got a chance. But if it’s just for some of that Eurotrash you see during the Champions League then I don’t think that’s our bag as a UK industry.”

Brooke-Taylor, like Brim, sees the creative opportunity presented by Super Bowl as having more in common with Christmas in the UK: “As an audience we’re ready for it, we’re excited by it, so what happens is that it becomes more than a TV ad. You’re part of a conversation straight away so if you land the funnies, or whatever, onscreen you’ll instantly impact social media.”

The Superbowl dynamic that connects TV, audiences, entertainment and social media remains incredibly valuable to advertisers and, unlike Coldplay, UK agencies that hold strong relationships with global brands remain well placed to make future appearances.

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