You know the old joke: I’m only here for the funny Super Bowl commercials! You’re bound to hear it somewhere between the pizza boxes and veggie trays every Super Bowl Sunday. As a video production nerd, even I admit to getting more excited over the ads than the game sometimes. This year, though, something unexpected happened. Everyone started crying. Between bouts of armored men smashing into each other and laughing at famous people doing funny accents, everyone started crying. And they wouldn’t stop talking about that one Super Bowl ad.
If you haven’t seen Google’s Super Bowl 2020 commercial yet, let me first apologize because I’m about to show it to you. It’s titled “Loretta” and it’s going to hit hard if you’ve ever had a grandparent. Or, for that matter, if you’ve ever just seen an elderly man at any point in your life. It’s that good.
The Super Bowl party I was at erupted when this commercial aired. There were some sobs and runny noses. Someone jokingly suggested we just mute the TV. Google was applauded and criticized simultaneously. I got up under the guise of grabbing a beer, but really just felt like I needed to walk it off for a minute. As I watched the conversation swirl around the ad that night and then spill out into social media over the following days, I started to look at how Google’s Super Bowl ad made such a big splash for so many people.
How did Google pull off the most impactful ad of the year? Here are the key elements that I think made Google’s Loretta ad the 2020 Super Bowl Ad Champion.
I probably didn’t need to point this one out to you. This ad goes for the heartstrings. What’s important is the approach. Essentially the commercial says: “Google services help organize your life, so you never lose your favorite memories.” Boiled down, that’s the only goal. But rather than hiring a former NFL quarterback to say that line, they show us Grandpop typing in a search on Google: “how to not forget.” From there we see all of the pictures and lovely moments from their lives. They don’t really tell us outright that Loretta has passed on, but it doesn’t take long for the sentimentality of it all to sink in.
The reason it sinks in so quickly is because I think we’ve all been here before. There is a small but pivotal moment when those letters are typed out. Not only because it defines the premise, but because you’ve seen a parent or grandparent ask Google something like this. It’s a bit awkwardly worded. The letters come up slowly, typed one at a time. It’s important that we understand Grandpop is real, so that we can imagine him as our own. He is real, by the way, and is credited simply as Grandpop in the ad. Remember when Apple had the silhouettes of dancing people in their commercials? They did that in part so you could easily imagine yourself dancing around with the cool new MP3 player. Google’s used the same tactic here. If you’ve ever lost a grandparent you know what it’s like to relive those memories, and how important those memories are.
However big the buzz might be surrounding a commercial, they’re meant to sell products at their core. Google stays entirely in the product during this commercial. We easily could have had Grandpop doing an interview, but the subtle approach here makes it more impactful. They’re letting us discover all these pieces of his story and life, feeling that tug at our hearts. We’re rooting for him to remember every little detail. It just so happens Google can handle that for you as illustrated by the back and forth interactions between Grandpop and the product.
There’s a lot to be said about keeping it simple. Some might see Loretta as too simple, even. If you’re not paying attention and invested in the story, it looks like a boring ad. Watch it back on mute, and nearly all the emotion evaporates. They’re smart though, and Google knows that people are going to be paying a bit more attention to commercials than usual during the Super Bowl, so they use that to their advantage. It’s so simple and straightforward that it actually stands out among the big, flashy ads that took massive crews and even more massive budgets. They buck the traditional goofy, sensational ad and work against the grain, ultimately standing out as the year’s most talked about Super Bowl ad.
With what essentially amounts to a voice over and a slide show, Google was able to dominate the word of mouth that so many companies are vying for with their multi-million-dollar Super Bowl ad buys. They didn’t need all the bells and whistles, because what they had was an authentic, universal and touching story to highlight. Google respected the content enough to let it speak for itself and had the forethought to go back to basics in order to let that story shine. Bringing their insights into your commercial video production might not break the internet quite like Google did this month, but it’s guaranteed to start some conversations surrounding your brand.