How the Super Bowl became the pinnacle of creative advertising (with a layer of augmented reality)

Mar 9, 2022 - min read min read

We are still a long way from the mass adoption of extended reality (XR)—which is the collective name for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). But among tech giants, the battle is raging for what they see as the next big computing platform. The corona crisis has only added fuel to the fire. That is why, every month, I serve you with an overview of the most important, notable events and changes in the XR landscape.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Suuuuperrrrbooooowwlllll

What sport do they actually play there? Does anyone remember? Or is it really about the half-time, the ludicrous commercial and ditto acts? The Super Bowl has become the high mass of creative advertising. Maybe that’s due to the astronomical budgets involved. After all, if you spend six million euros for 30 seconds of airtime, you need it to be worth your while. Hence, you don’t invite the neighbours’ cute kid to star in your ad. No, you ask Snoop Dogg. For example.

Meta—The Company Formerly Known As Facebook—even went so far as to buy a full minute of airtime. That’s over 12 million euros for one ad, airing just once. That’s bonkers, especially for a rather pedestrian ad. What I think is interesting, though, is not how much money they splurged on all this, but the subject they chose. Get this: during the most-watched sports event in the US, the audience was gobbling up a commercial showing VR goggles.

Quite the contrast with our tiny kingdom: the average Belgian hasn’t really heard about VR, doesn’t know what the glasses do, and has even less of a clue what this technology could entail. I’m being kind when I say we Belgians have a ways to go. Or, if you want the sugar-coated take on things: there’s much room for improvement.

Not a great month in the metaverse

Remember when Instagram went offline for a couple of hours in October? Twitter and Reddit brimmed with panicky threads and just for a moment the world appeared to come to a dramatic end. When the Foo Fighters' VR concert completely flunked on the Horizon Venues app this month, it was no different. 

I get it, though. The band was set to perform ten songs they don’t play very often. The plan was to host a forty-minute pre-recorded show that fans could experience. They’d watch it on a giant screen, but the vantage point would be that of a first-class ticket holder. It would feel live, courtesy of their avatar. Complete immersion. As if they were there. However, to be privy to all that novel entertainment, one had to get in, first. Because of connection issues at Venues, everything went south. Not funny, except for the 10,000 lucky ones who did squeeze in. The organisation couldn’t cope with more—it hadn’t calculated Dave Grohl & co. would harness that much interest, let alone attendees. Embarrassing.

It wasn’t a great month for Zuckerberg, either. Event troubles aside, Meta’s shares are quietly falling. It’s not all bad, though: Horizon Worlds, Meta's metaverse gamble, has meanwhile grown to a user base of 300,000 monthly subscribers—an elegant tenfold increase in just three months. Not bad, but can Meta maintain this growth? They certainly think so, judging by their plans to go mobile:

“While the deepest and most immersive experiences will be in virtual reality, you’ll be able to access the worlds from your Facebook or Instagram apps as well, and probably more over time.” — Mark Zuckerberg, CEO at Meta

If Meta pulls this off, it will be in the crosshairs of their biggest competitor in the field: Rec Room, which currently boasts 37 million users across all platforms. A bit early to place bets on who’ll win. First, let’s wait and see how much bandwidth Meta will provide for their next metaverse gig.

XR - VR = AR!

Let’s not lose track of what this article’s about, though: XR aka Extended Reality, which spans both Virtual and Augmented Reality. Fortunately, the Super Bowl had a lot to offer in that department too. An overview:

Snap and Verizon joined forces to make augmented ads possible for all their customers during the Super Bowl. Think Doritos, Nissan, Draftkings and Uber Eats. Snap and Verizon expanded the Super Bowl’s available advertising space by draping an augmented layer over the event. A clever application of the metaverse, of the seamless transition between virtual and physical, and of this new world that’s duplicating itself in the digital realm. Good news: this layering didn’t quite cost 6,5 million. 

Everybody loves pizza! And yet Pizza Hut still has to advertise, although you can't call the experience (pardon the lingo) they offered during the Super Bowl an advertisement. What they did was invite viewers to a living room dance session with iconic football players Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Of course, there was the option to capture your moves and brag with them on social media afterwards. What’s that got to do with pizza? No idea. But it was mighty well executed.

In other news, the Super Bowl offered a whole new kind of reality: Dogmented Reality. Car brand KIA teamed up with the Pet Finder Foundation and launched an app just before the kick-off. The "Robo Dogmented Reality" AR application runs on 8th Wall and casts a way-too-cute doggie bang in the middle of your living room, wanting to be petted. A 2022 version of the Tamagotchi, if you will. One for which you didn’t even have to install an app—you’d just point your camera at the Dogmented QR code and there you go, a little furry friend. What’s a dog have to do with a KIA car? He was there to draw attention to KIA's 'Accelerate the good programme', which finds dogs a better home.

As if it wasn’t way too cool that Mary J. Blige, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg catered the half-time show, Pepsico gave every viewer the option to stand right on stage with them. Virtually, that is. What’s that got to do with cola? I don’t really care, I was hanging out on stage with Snoooooooooooooop.

Two more for the road

  1. Disney, the masters of make-believe, have hired a Chief Metaverse. Soon, your offspring will be singing along with Elsa atop an iceberg, or lifting little Simba in the air while all the animals bow down to them. In a memo to the entire company, Chief Executive Bob Chapek wrote that the metaverse is “the next great storytelling frontier to be explored”.

  2. “Beam me up, Scotty!” just got real. is an app that lets you record video messages, upload them and then display your hologram right in the receiver’s living room, bathroom, any room. Deep fakes have never been this easy. But they’ve never been this fun, either! The app allows everyone to experiment with AR, record videos or even silly dances and appear out of nothing right on your lover’s desk. WhatsApp suddenly feels very boring.

As with any technological development, the metaverse is making its way through different phases. Some applications feel rather gimmicky, others seem boring and super technical. But added up, all these experiments will redefine consumer branding over the next five years. Care to join in?