The Law of Environment

If you watched Super Bowl advertising this year, you saw a lot of big-budget, celebrity-filled laugh-fests during the broadcast. From Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman in a hip-hop lip sync battle for Doritos and Mountain Dew to Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. hilariously re-imagining “Dirty Dancing” as a touchdown celebration, there were some big hits during the ad breaks.

And you also saw some fumbles and outright clunkers. (Not to name names, but we’re talking to you Ram Trucks.)

Take a look at this Budweiser “Stand By You” commercial.

On the surface, this was an excellent commercial. There’s a strong narrative flow, very good performances, and a cinematic feel to how it’s filmed.

But this commercial was mis-run during the Super Bowl, precisely because it failed to maximize The Law of Environment, which I state here as:

Consumers are either open or closed – indeed available or not available – to your advertising message depending largely on the environment in which they find themselves when that message is presented.

Environment, as it’s used here, includes four important ingredients, which you can remember as the T-A-M-E scale:

Timing: What time of day or night is it? How long does the message last?  Does the viewer/reader have ample time to process the message in detail, or just in broad strokes, and general images?

Atmosphere: Is the viewer alone or with company? Is it loud or quiet? Is it indoors or outdoors? Up close or far away? If there is one, what size is the screen? What else is happening while the advertising appears?

Medium: Is the message itself in motion? Is it on a screen, on a surface, or delivered via audio? Does it use words, or just images? Can you hear sound? Is it interactive?

Emotion: How much emotion – and which one(s) – is included/embedded in the message?

If we review the Budweiser commercial against these qualifiers, we see that it demands the viewer to spend some attentive, even quiet, time with the spot to take it all in. The viewer can perceive the seriousness, and the smoldering heroics of the lead character. It’s perfect for a full-size screen to get a sense of scale and distance, and there is a swell of emotion, in the “going outside of oneself” or “doing good by doing for others” sense of service.

And while that’s all very positive, you can see how it’s a mismatch for the Super Bowl environment, based on the atmosphere.

To generalize, the “average” Super Bowl environment finds the consumer in a living room with a group of friends or family, with conversations going on, and it’s largely a social event with a lively atmosphere. When this ad comes on, it may immediately be perceived as “too serious” or “too quiet” or even too much of an intellectual investment. So it fails to connect. And that’s a shame, because it happens to be very good advertising.

Understanding your consumer is of course critical to advertising success. But when you go beyond demographics and psychographics to an understanding of these critical advertising receptivity parameters, you can “TAME” the environment to maximize your message’s efficiency, no matter where or when it runs.

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Super Bowl 52 Grins and Groans

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What an interesting paradox. In a game that saw dozens of records set, including an explosive offensive output by both teams, the advertising this year was entirely meh. (Following a big meh-burger last year.)  We thought we’d see some surprises. We didn’t.

We got a few laughs, a few headscratchers, and we saw a few commercials that just didn’t make much sense. Here are this year’s grins and groans. And if you want a spoiler, here it is: TIDE won the Super Bowl, and no one else even came close.

Honorable mentions to:

Jeep: their Jurassic-Park-themed spot with Jeff Goldblum was pretty good, and their “manifesto” spot was especially good. [Take note kids: this “manifesto” spot is what they mean when they say “show, don’t tell.”]

Australia Tourism: did a nice job of disguising an ad for tourism in a weeks-long fake promotion for a new fake Dundee movie preview. With Chris Hemsworth in his native accent. A win-win for the Aussies.

Also of note:
Amazon’s Alexa  “replacements” ad;
Hyundai’s tug at the heartstrings with personal “thank yous;”
Keegan Michael Key “translating” for Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans.

GRINS:

E-Trade was a delightful surprise with their riff on the Harry Belafonte song, “Day-O.” In it, they poke fun (in magnificent ways,) with the simple fact that “over 1/3 of Americans have no retirement savings. This is getting old.” A sad truth, a smart position, a deft turn of phrase, and refreshingly good advertising for a singular concept: their retirement account offering. And best couplet of the night: “just got a job as a lifeguard in Savannah / I’m dropping sick beats, they call me DJ Nana.”

NFL teased at “touchdown celebrations to come” with a hilarious and well-acted (for football players) riff on a “Dirty Dancing” moment. Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants rehearse a future touchdown celebration with a completely choreographed dance number that, um, climaxes with Eli lifting Odell high in the air. It’s quite a moment, and a smart way for the NFL to capitalize on an organic movement that seemed to peak this past season.

Sprint pokes massive fun at their competitor (Verizon,) by showing that you can “learn” to choose Sprint, based on the sheer facts. Evelyn, an AI robot, asks her scientist/creator why he’s still on Verizon. Doc doesn’t have an answer, and Evelyn, along with all the other robots, including prototypes and spare parts, begin laughing at the doc’s expense. He’s embarrassed, and in the next scene, we see him in a Sprint store, explaining that his “co-workers” were making fun of him. It’s a long way to go, but it’s done smartly.

Hands-down, the winner of the Super Bowl was Tide. First, they do a spectacular job of staying on their core message, which hasn’t changed in decades. (Kids scoring at home – they stay true to a simple and defensible competitive position: that Tide is best on removing stains, and gets clothes cleaner. Period. Stop.)

Second, and perhaps more importantly, they shatter the concept of what “advertising” is. Instead of making a new ad for their detergent, they go into other ads – including recent and famous and iconic Super Bowl ads – and with the addition of a simple phrase, turn them all into “a Tide ad.” We’re talking cars, fashion, beer, technology, consumer packaged goods. The Old Spice guy! A Clydesdale! OMG! Brilliant!

At various lengths, and without warning, Tide continued to delight and surprise, and by halftime, I was on the edge of my seat hoping for more. So well-conceived. So simple. So stinkin’ smart. And absolutely crushed by actor David Harbour. No contest here. Well done, Procter & Gamble, and way to out-do yourselves from a winner last year. (While the spots appeared at different times throughout the game, see all of them linked together in the clip below.)

GROANS:

On a night when you have to “go big or go home,” I was surprised at how many advertisers played it safe. Let’s also note that while we’re in the opening frames of the #metoo moment and the #timesup movement, that there were ZERO ads that featured the subjugation of women in any way. But weirdly, there were nearly the same number that featured women in ANY way.

Seriously. A quick shot of Cindy Crawford, and generally odd choices in Iggy Azalea and Tiffany Haddish were about your entire feature of female actors this year. Can you say “disproportionate response?”

Compare that to the preponderance of men in the ads last night:

Danny DeVito
Steven Tyler
Chris Pratt
David Harbour
Eli and OBJ and several New York Giants
Keegan Michael Key
Dr. Oz
Peter Dinklage
Morgan Freeman
Dwayne Johnson
Jeff Goldblum
Bill Hader
Keanu Reeves
Chris Hemsworth
Danny McBride
Peyton Manning
Matt Damon
(And that’s off the top of my head.)

So, an overall groan for a generally poor response to the cultural climate. Instead of just bringing an umbrella to deal with how it is outside, the advertising industry collectively decided to shut the doors, draw the shades, and hibernate until who-knows-when. I look forward to a time when brands can deal with this shit like grownups.

In general, almost ALL the car advertising was a collective groan. (Just like last year.) Hyundai tried something unconventional, which I like. And Kia’s ad featuring Steven Tyler was at least entertaining. But Toyota was all over the place with their mixed-messages-hidden-in-you-can’t-go-wrong-with-Olympics-promotion spots. Mercedes-Benz seemed to be content with running a speedster feature spot that could have (and perhaps should have) run in June. A far cry from their Tortoise-and-Hare fairy tale positioning spot from a few years ago, eh?

Where was Audi, who has killed it (except for last year) over the last several years in the Super Bowl? Where are the truck spots for Chevy or Ford? Where was the boldness of “It’s halftime in America,” or “Imported from Detroit” for Chrysler? And where were all these Fiat spots we were promised?

But Ram (my biggest GROAN of the night,) spent a bunch of money to run multiple spots that didn’t seem to hold together very well. First, an “oops-the-Vikings-aren’t-in-the-Super-Bowl” spot was just confusing. And later, the brand was waaaaay over-reaching with their MLK spot. [Attention advertisers: if you’re going to use any quotes (or in this case, recordings,) of the late great Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., do NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT use them to sell a bloody car. In fact, maybe don’t use them at all, mmkay? ESPECIALLY when one section of this important sermon actually goes on to undress advertisers as “gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion.”]

Turbo Tax. I don’t get it. You’ve got H&R Block throwing major shade at you with direct shots, and you can pretty much crush them by highlighting your core position (simplified online filing.) Instead, you go in a completely different direction with monsters under beds and ghosts in attics. This concept of bringing “monsters and other scary things” to life, including the dark shadows, is strategically on point, (people are terrified of doing taxes, so show other terrifying things…) but really seemed to fall flat in the execution phase.

T-Mobile just missed the mark (and essentially the year) for their “change starts now” manifesto about equality. I appreciate trying to make broad statements, but in a category that’s cluttered and centered on features and price promotions, you have a chance to distinguish yourself in so many ways. But pivoting to the “we are all equal” high ground seems like an odd choice, and just made for clunky advertising.  This is especially glaring, given that their advertising was SO good last year.

Overall, a blah year for ad geeks, and for laugh-seekers. And that’s two years in a row, now.  We’ve got to see something brighter next year, no?  Until then, congratulations to Eagles Nation on your first Super Bowl!

Audi goes vroom at the Emmys.

If you watched the 2017 Emmy Awards this past weekend on CBS, you got a real sense of what the Television Academy was interested in this year. (And apparently, it wasn’t ratings.) But you also got some interesting advertising from Audi.

Audi ran three spots (multiple times) throughout the evening under the theme of “celebrating performance.”  Take a look:
Cheers

Star Trek

Mary Tyler Moore

In the spots, three Audis (the 2018 SQ5 SUV, the 2018 TT RS coupe and the 2018 R8 sports car, which starts at $164,900,) accompany a small orchestra playing classic TV theme songs. Pretty good idea, considering that the Emmy audience is likely made up of people who love television, so the spots create immediate context.

Here’s the text that Audi posted on YouTube along with the “Cheers” spot:

Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. Other times you wanna use three Audi vehicles to perform TV theme songs. This is one of three pieces performed by the Audi Orchestra on Emmys night 2017. A demonstration of Audi’s unrivaled technology in honor of some of TV’s greatest shows. Orchestra members include the R8, SQ5, and TT RS. All songs are performed in the key of quattro.

Progress is celebrating performance.

Hmmm. The Audi Orchestra. Television theme songs being played by vroom-vroom-vroom-ing. Can you identify the value that brings to the average consumer? Neither can I.

Let’s start with what’s good about these spots. First, they’re beautifully executed, beautifully filmed. We get a nice motion cam beauty shot of the rear-mount V10 engine on the R8, some cool in-and-outs on the high-speed-spinning rims, and gorgeous pullouts of the soundstage. Really nice. Venables, Bell and Partners have done some incredibly impressive work for Audi over the last several years, including their Super Bowl spots, which have been sweeping cinematic victories.

Oh, and they show the new cars. That’s always a good thing.

But that’s about it. From a strategic perspective, these spots would get rejected in advertising school for several reasons:

1. They’re self-congratulatory. While it’s important to tout your features, it’s best to do it in a way that helps consumers understand what those features do FOR THEM. Not for some contextualized television experiment.

2. They’re wading into positioning territory that’s blurry. Remember, when a consumer shops a category, the position of all players in the category matter. BMW, whether Audi likes it or not, owns the concept of “performance” in the mind of the consumer. Trying to wrestle that free is dangerous at least, and a colossal waste of money at worst.

3. There’s no VALUE created for the consumer. Ok, great. A limited production vehicle that starts at $165,000 goes “vroom.” What else does it come with?

Look, I’m not saying you can’t do daring, or beautiful, or interesting, or arty work in advertising. You totally can. Even if it doesn’t necessarily sell. (Sorry, Uncle David.) But if it doesn’t differentiate the brand in some meaningful (to the consumer) way? Don’t bother. At the end of the day, any car can go “vroom.” Even my mom’s Nissan Altima does that. And for about $135,000 less than your shiny orchestra piece.

The real test of any advertising is to discern whether or not you come away with any sense of VALUE. Even your basic tire dealer spot that runs on the local cable network in anytown USA is going to leave you with a basic idea like “oh, cool. I buy three tires and get the fourth one free.” That’s value. Or if it’s not an offer-based spot, you might say, “oh, cool, that little thingy there keeps my food fresh for an extra two hours.” That’s feature-based value. But I watch these spots over and over, and can’t imagine anyone saying, “oh, cool. I can vroom-vroom around town to the tune of ‘You Really Got Me’ with these really nice import cars.”

At least we have Audi’s Super Bowl spots to look forward to.

Five Reasons for a Delta/AT&T cobrand

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If you’re a business traveler who spends any appreciable time traveling, you understand the typical challenges: commercial transportation, even in its most streamlined forms, can be a lot of work. Especially if you’ve got a lot of work to do while you travel.

Some commercial carriers now offer wi-fi as a feature of their offerings. In particular, Delta Airlines touts that they proudly offer wi-fi on all flights (with a few restrictions based on the aircraft used on certain legs.)

Unfortunately, the wi-fi offered is painfully slow and doesn’t perform in any manner even remotely resembling acceptable. In some cases, the wi-fi isn’t available at all. This is especially infuriating on longer flights – like New York to Seattle, for instance – when you hope to strike several items from your to-do list, and make those hours productive.

We understand why Delta would offer wi-fi (through a fulfillment partner Gogo Inflight) services. It’s a great way to differentiate from competitors, and it gives the brand another feature to promote to consumers. And not just about targeting business travelers – even today’s average non-business traveler is in need of good wi-fi.

But when Delta can’t deliver on even the most basic version of that promise, they are losing esteem in the minds of their consumers, (this one included,) and thereby damaging their brand in the process.

This is a perfect market condition for a cobranding opportunity. If Delta dumps Gogo and partners with AT&T to deliver on an important and desirable brand feature, everybody wins. Let’s explore how.

Here’s loosely how it works: AT&T wires up all Delta flights with soon-to-be-ubiquitous 5G broadband wireless (serious network capability that’s actually really fast even when everyone is connected,) and now that they own it, AT&T can even deploy their DirecTV service into the flights where there are screens on the seats.  Great way to preview the new network, and better way to innovate (since you’d have to be creative with how to get good-sized beacons into typically tight spaces with the rest of the avionics configuration) on the installation.

What might happen in such an arrangement? The answers are five good reasons Delta and AT&T should cobrand:

  1. Consumers would enjoy a far better, far more productive online experience while flying Delta. If you’ve ever had to deal with slow or spotty wi-fi, you know how frustrating it can be. Smooth and fast connectivity that allows business people to connect to emails or shared docs and enables kids to stream movies would simply make for a stronger overall experience while flying Delta.
  2. Those consumers would form positive brand impressions about both Delta and AT&T. Smooth flights with lots of productive connectivity and streamed entertainment options that are delivered without incident looks good on both brands. This is especially true for AT&T, who is in a near-constant dogfight with Verizon for perceptual wireless network preference.
  3. Delta gets to deliver a category differentiating benefit at no carried or additional operational costs. Without assuming massive operational dollars to implement this arrangement, Delta would leapfrog its competitors with this feature. Sure, JetBlue has in-flight entertainment (ironically delivered by DirecTV,) and sometimes wi-fi, but a fully thought-out super high speed network for everyone to share would help the brand stand apart from its national rivals like United and American in a meaningful – consumers actually desire this feature – and powerful way.
  4. Although AT&T would assume the operational costs of outfitting every Delta jet with their hardware, the brand would receive (basically) free exposure to Delta’s 180 million yearly passengers. Yup I said 180 million. That’s a lot of top-of-the-funnel preference for nearly all of AT&T’s business units built around the network. If they want to beat Verizon’s brains in, getting in front of 180 million passengers and basically making their travel day is a really fine way to start. How about leveraging that exposure with juicy offers to switch to AT&T wireless for your mobile phone service, or similar offers for Sunday Ticket and other DirecTV enticements?  Did I mention 180 million passengers per year?
  5. Both brands would enjoy the benefits of individualized responsibility. Under this arrangement, Delta would only be responsible to its consumers for on-time flight performance and in-cabin service, and NOT the quality or uptime of its wi-fi. When it’s co-branded with a reputable and well-known name, Delta can actually get away with saying the wi-fi is “AT&T’s problem.” With Gogo, (a smaller player with far less brand visibility,) the average passenger assumes it’s Delta’s wi-fi. Conversely, AT&T gets to take all the credit for great wi-fi and entertainment and none of the guff for flight performance or on-time arrivals. A win/win indeed.

While we’re matchmaking, I might also propose that Amtrak and Verizon enter into the same type of arrangement. Have you ever tried to connect using AmtrakConnect? As they say in the business, “oy.”

Now that the business end is settled, all we need is a good tagline. Any ideas?

Pepsi’s Oopsies

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Pepsi is having a bit of a rough week. On Monday, the brand released a full 2:40 second version of an ad featuring Kendall Jenner. It planned to roll out a 60-second version worldwide in TV and several other cuts for digital activations. By mid day Wednesday, the brand pulled the ad and the buys altogether.

How could 36 little hours do so much? Well, let’s look at both sides of this.

Here’s the spot:

Okay. Let’s look at what you could consider as the bright sides of this ad.

  • It’s timely and topical.
    Protests and civic engagement have indeed become a part of our social fabric, here and abroad.
  • It’s multicultural, and gender equal.
    Never a bad thing.
  • It ultimately has a kind of positive aspirational tonality.
    An otherwise peaceful demonstration is rendered even more peaceful (I guess) with music, smiling, and the culminating action when the young woman (and all that the metaphor entails,) hands the police officer a can of Pepsi.
  • It puts the brand at the center of the action.
    That’s always a good idea.
  • It puts the brand in the center of the consumers it targets.
    Y
    outhful people – totally on strategy.
  • It would likely have appealed to many people around the world.
    There are millions of people who wouldn’t look beyond the surface of this, and would likely have seen it as a “nice little movie” that makes Pepsi look “relevant” or even “concerned” about what’s happening in the world.

That’s a lot of upside.

Now, to be fair, let’s look at the many down sides.

First, this is just a terrible piece of advertising. While all of us who practice in this business (and/or teach it,) can agree that it’s important to tell a story in your ads, we should probably mention that it’s important to tell a GOOD story. This ad tells a weird and disjointed set of stories that a.) don’t relate to one another very clearly and 2. ) don’t make a whole lot of sense. It sounds kind of like a bad bar joke: “An Asian cellist, a middle Eastern photographer and a socialite model walk into a protest…”

And, as far as plot, are we to believe that this otherwise unconcerned model on a photo shoot suddenly gets interested in the cause of the protest, (because Asian cellist hipster gives her a head bob,) and then joins it, only to be at the forefront of the central action in a matter of seconds? That’s kinda hard to believe, right?  It’s okay to stretch the truth in advertising – but it should be rooted in something that’s at least mildly feasible.

Second, the ad clearly co-opts the past several years of protest memories and tries to leverage them to its own gain. When Twitter blew up over this ad, most of the reaction was centered around the #blacklivesmatter theme, since that is our most open and infected social wound, and is (sadly) almost constantly in the news along with coverage of ensuing protests.

Pepsi decides to double down on the poorly conceived concept, and in the culminating scene, the star of the spot (Ms. Jenner) hands a police officer a can of Pepsi. Which seems and looks an awful lot like the very real and very terrifying moment when Ieshia Evans was arrested by officers in riot gear on the streets of Baton Rouge last July.

kendall_jenneriesha_evans

Third, this ad is derivative on multiple levels. Hundreds of tweets mentioned the similarity of the spot to the first half of this Chemical Brothers video, which uses the protest scene as a vehicle for conveying chaos, passion, violence and yes, cola commercialism. But in that video, the commercialism is sort of mocked and shamed for its essence – a protestor later smashes a TV screen showing the “commercial” being parodied in the video.

chemical_brothers_video_still

Remember the 1971 groundbreaking commercial, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke?” That, too, was multicultural, gender equal, timely and topical (it was sort of the middle innings of the hippie generation, but extracted a message of peace and “perfect harmony”,) and showed a cola brand at the center of the action. But without the need for the hyperrealism or cheap celebrity. Sure, it was a bit of commercial melodrama, but it was an ambitious and original idea, had a commissioned jingle we can all still sing in tune and – to provide context and even a little cover – it was more than 45 years ago.  Pepsi has had a long time to learn how to do this.

Fourth. The Kardashianification of America continues. Can we get past these people already?

But here’s the odd truth. Despite all the shortfalls of this ad, my guess is that there would have been millions of people who would have reacted positively to it. Because a lot of people don’t want to contemplate the harsh realities of life, and the provenances of the day’s socio-visual references. This ad would have simply gone down as schmaltz liquor for millennials, and half of them would have loved it.

Instead, we live in a world where Twitter is judge, jury and ad critic.  The ad never got to see the light of day.  And, in a discussion with my students last evening, another important point came up:  where was the agency of record in all of this?  This ad was created by Creators League Studio, an in-house content development team at Pepsi.  Perhaps they should have collaborated with their agency cohorts for some racial/cultural/how-to-do-an-ad-that-won’t-get-piled-on perspective?  Where was the grownup in the room? Where was the let’s-look-past-Pepsi perspective?

I fully understand and recognize that Pepsi is competing in a crowded marketplace, answering to shareholders, and trying to stay on the crest of every commercial wave. But ultimately, brands have a responsibility to the tens of millions of people who will be exposed to their messages. If you personify a protest as a social event that somehow gets “better” because and when a Kardashian joins it, then you’ve immediately devalued what a protest actually is: an often dangerous and sometimes necessary means of engagement and disruption and communication activation. A protest is a very real, very intense reality. To reduce it to a convenient advertising convention is just asking for trouble.

This is especially true when the protests in recent memory have ended in actual death for so many actual activists. Can you hear the souls of the departed from the Arab Spring crying out, “if only I had a Pepsi?” No. Very much no.

Okay. Off the soapbox. To make this a valuable teaching moment, let me just say this. If a company hands you the keys to their brand and a big fat budget, yes, tell a story. But tell a good one, with good characters, action and development.  And yes, celebrate the brand.  Heck, exaggerate the brand.  You can still do rom-com and sitcom and even cheesy melodrama. But remember who and what you are as a brand, and more importantly, what you are not.  And for fuck’s sake, TEST IT BEFORE YOU DROP IT.

Actually, Twitter won the 2016 Election.

twitter_politicsI know what you’re thinking. How can Twitter win anything, with its paltry 317 million users and its lame sub-$15 stock price? Compared to the giants like Facebook (1.87 billion users,) WhatsApp (1 billion,) and WeChat (846 million,) you could fit Twitter in the garage of their respective CEOs’ second mansions. Heck, even Instagram – the Etch-a-Sketch of social media platforms – has 600 million users. (Source: statista.)

So on what metric, exactly, could Twitter be outperforming all these titans of social chatter?

In a word, politics.

Trump tweets. Pence tweets. Anthony Weiner tweeted his ass off (and other parts.) And the world reads Merkel tweets. And Putin tweets. And May Tweets. And the usually-epic JK Rowling tweets.

Politics has reinvigorated the in-the-moment DNA of Twitter in a way that perhaps no other sector could. And perhaps no other social media platform could so readily respond to the challenge.

Part of it is the “gotcha” nature of American politics in particular. We’re all taken back to hear one party or one candidate say something that’s very damning in nature, and then double-shocked to hear those words come back to bite them on the ass when someone digs out a tweet from six or twelve months ago. Consider this telling headline from Mashable about Mike Pence as a classic case in point: “This old Mike Pence tweet on Hillary Clinton emails is coming back to haunt him.”

In it, we learn that Vice President Mike Pence used his personal email address (yes, still using AOL,) for official business while governor of Indiana.

The facts are what they are, and I have no intention of arguing whether it’s better, worse, or same as when the former Secretary of State did the same thing. But what’s interesting is where the hearings are taking place: not on television. Not in newspapers. Not on Facebook.  But on Twitter.

Pence’s boss is no stranger to the daily-death-by-Twitter phenomenon. Trump’s tweets are so varied and so erratic that CNN has a live website tracking every one of his tweets.

And because he’s President, every tweet becomes part of the official record of his tenure. In case you’re scoring at home, they could become evidence of any number of things in the event of any criminal investigations that may arise. (And, you know, they may arise.)  And based on certain tweets regarding certain former US presidents conducting unauthorized wiretapping, investigations are already en route, and with a motorcade, to be sure.

No other social media platform, no matter how cool, or how many fun filters it offers, could offer such a perfect distribution channel for the gotcha fodder: nasty things said, declarative things said, and all that darn fact-checking.  Why is that?

A few possibilities include the content-capping.  140 characters are just enough to say something really pithy.  Or really dopey.  Also, the in-the-moment-ness of Twitter makes it a “now” social media platform, whereas Facebook or Pinterest, as examples, are excellent “linger with it later” platforms.  And of course, the fact that Tweets.  Stay.  Alive.  Forever.  (Sorry, Snapchat.)

You don’t need to go far to see how the Twitter-back-and-forth-and-back-again is playing out. But pay careful attention to how only one platform is invited into this A-list party, while all the others huddle outside trying to sweet-talk the bouncer with their pleas of “have you seen how many registered users I have?”

Facebook, please.

In marketing terms, Twitter has a highly defensible point of differentiation, and it should seriously consider exploiting it for its own gains. How that manifests is yet to be seen, but if I were the agency of record, I would seriously be trying to strike while the iron is hot and while 45 is tweeting away.

Super Bowl LI Grins and Groans

super_bowl_51_logo

Well, this year’s Super Bowl was more super on the field than it was on the airwaves.  History was made on the field: the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history; the first ever to go into overtime, and crowning a 5-time Super Bowl winner (and 4-time MVP) in Tom Brady.  My heart goes out to Falcons nation…that had to be a rough second half to endure.

Speaking of rough to endure, this year’s advertising was not the entertainment bonanza many hoped it might be.  There was a notable lack of verve, and since advertising is often reflective of the voice of American culture, it’s likely that this year’s ad-blah-ness is reflective of the current unease in the nation and the recent geopolitical dance card of current events.  Immigration issues and matters of race and religious and gender tolerance hang over our daily headlines – it’s no surprise these same themes found their way into our ad-vertainment.  Telling.  But kind of a bummer if you’re an ad junkie.

Thankfully, there were some moments that were enjoyable.  Here, my Super Bowl 51 Grins and Groans:

Honorable Mentions

Hyundai – created a commercial in real-time during the beginning of the game with service men and women stationed overseas, and then edited it and aired it before the trophy presentation.  Led by noted film director Peter Berg.  Poignant and kind and an interesting approach.

Febreze – took a frank and funny look at Super Bowl parties (when everyone runs to the bathroom at halftime,) and made a simple point about the truth: “sometimes halftime stinks.” Simple, smart, and most definitely on strategy.

Snickers – made headlines mostly because the spot was carried live, a first in Super Bowl history.  The spot featured actor Adam Driver “messing up” the commercial because he was hungry.  A strong execution – there were prop gags and some good performances, but I don’t think this was the blockbuster they hoped it would be. (A colleague pointed out that most people probably did not KNOW it was live.)

GRINS

Bai Antioxidant Infusion Drinks

This was one of the brands that absolutely stole the show last year with the insanely funny “horse whisperer” ad.  They’re back this year, with less laughs, but enough smarts to put Christopher Walken in their commercial (who killed last year for Kia, by the way.)  In it, he stages a dramatic reading of the N’Sync hit “Bye, Bye, Bye,” which, of course, is a homophone for “Bai, Bai, Bai.”  Camera pulls out wide to reveal Justin Timberlake in a red velvet jacket.  You can almost see the outtakes where they bust out laughing.  Just silly, and light, and funny.  And by the way, if you’re scoring at home, they got the product name in the spot approximately nine times.  (Spoken and sung.)

Budweiser

This spot got a lot of buzz before the game because of its uncanny timeliness with the recent executive order on immigration whose news gripped (and divided) the nation.  However, it’s likely that the spot was in the can for months, and that this was simply a happy timing accident.  However, the commercial is strong:  cinematic, inspirational, and a simple declaration of the humble beginnings of what is now arguably the MOST American brand of all American brands. It shows a young Adolphus Busch risking life and limb to come to America to pursue his dream of making a German-style lager in the new world.  He happens upon Eberhard Anheuser, and the rest, of course, is history.

Mr. Clean

Smart, funny, and well-executed.  Sara, who seems a little bored and uninspired, cooks dinner and spills some sauce on the countertop.  Suddenly a super-buff animated Mr.Clean appears (refreshed for the modern era in a tight white t-shirt and a few more flattering physical features,) and starts to turn Sara on by how well he cleans, and how damn good he looks doing it.  When her frumpy husband snaps her out of her suburban fantasy, she’s super turned on and attacks him with affection.  The theme line wraps it up perfectly:  “You gotta love a man who cleans.”

Tide

Really well-executed commercial that smashes together some simple product demonstration stuff with some modern social media jargon and wraps it up in the ultimate goofball, Terry Bradshaw.  Made to look like a “real” Super Bowl cutaway, it turns into a goofy aside as we follow Terry outside the stadium to find help for the barbecue sauce stain on his shirt, while he’s “trending” on social media.  He does find help, hilariously, in the person of Jeffrey Tambor. This is a “how our product works” spot wrapped up in a contextualized narrative using a relevant (and believable) character.  Tide’s been on a roll with these spots, and it’s primarily because they’ve kept their strategic focus so hyper-centered on a core element:  removing stains.

BIGGEST GRIN:  T-Mobile

To me, T-Mobile WON the ad bowl, hands down.  They ran four separate executions, and only teased one (the Justin Bieber integrated “unlimited moves” execution,) before the game.  Another execution features the unlikely (and pretty hilarious) pairing of Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg, as she provides options for what Snoop might be trying to compare unlimited data to.  He says, “You might say it’s all that and a bag of…” and she launches into a dozen Martha Stewart-isms (“purple cushy throw pillows?” “herb-roasted lamb chops?”)  It’s cute.  And again, hyper-focused on their core proposition:  unlimited data.

But the spots that really stole the night were the pair of “50 Shades of Gray”-inspired sendups featuring killer performances by Kristen Schaal, that feature “naughty” behavior centered around getting “punished” for exceeding data limits. It’s advertising gold, partly because of Schaal’s astounding comedic performances, partly because it absolutely shreds Verizon in the process, and mostly because it (again) hammers home the core strategic focus.

The first spot sets up the spoof with the gigantic super:  “Wireless pain is fine.  If you’re into that sort of thing.”  It’s full of comedic gems, including the jab “wait til you see how confusing the bill is.”

Then, in the follow-up, she takes the action to a Verizon customer service agent.  She mentions that she’s gone  over her monthly data usage, and as the representative tries to pull up her information, she asks, seductively, “what are you gonna do to me?”  He’s confused.  She’s in the moment.  And it’s simply great advertising.

 

AND NOW FOR THE GROANS.

Google Home

A spot that does a nice job of showing the product in action across diverse audiences, but in kind of a weird way.  It’s set to the tune of “Take me Home, Country Roads,” the John Denver classic.  But you’re not quite sure why.  There’s no connective tissue there.  *Unless some of it was filmed in West Virginia?  With a mountain momma?  Sorry, but this was a miss.

84 Lumber

Everyone LOVED this spot.  It was sweeping, and cinematic, and timely, and poignant.  But it was rejected in its entirety, and people had to go online to see the end.  That itself is a bit indulgent, but when the site crashed, it became maddening.  As it turns out (SPOILER ALERT) the mom and the daughter enter through the “great doorway” and “get in.”  What’s wrong with this spot is a.) it was intended as a recruiting effort for 84 Lumber employees and b.) it will make exactly half the people in this country want to shop there and exactly the other half want to boycott it.  I hope for their sake they have stores near where that first half lives.

Turbo Tax

The Humpty-Dumpty-themed spot, which attempts to show how easy it is to get mobile customer service (I guess,) was, well, weird.  He’s all cracked up, he’s bleeding yolk, and it just kept seeming like jokes for jokes’ sake.

SoFi

Here’s a brand that did SO bad last year, I was surprised to see them back at it again this year, (I haven’t done the research, but I’d guess it’s a new agency,) with a low-budget spot focused on student debt.  At first they praise themselves for how much they lent last year, which sounds like a payoff line (because it is,) then they go on to say what the average student debt is, which sounds more like a setup line (because it is.)  Just kind of out of order and unremarkable for the $5,000,000 investment.

BIGGEST GROAN:  ALL the automotive ads (except one.)

Generally, we look to the Super Bowl for great automotive advertising – in just the last few years, we’ve seen some exceptional entries from Audi (remember “Prom” and last year’s “Starman?”) and Chrysler (where they launched the “Imported from Detroit”) and so many others.  Gosh, Christopher Walken for Kia last year was an epic victory.

But this year, the auto ads were flat at worst and over-reaching at best.  Kia was closest with their Melissa McCarthy spot, because it was light, and funny, and at least tried to feature the car’s core benefit as an “eco-warrior.”

Alfa Romeo purchased three separate spots to the tune of $20 million, and hardly distinguished themselves at all in the process.  The “Riding Dragons” spot reads more like a brand film to be used internally to motivate salespeople.  Listen to all the “we, we, we,” and “us, us, us.” The others were a bit better, but equally befuddling.

Honda went long with celebrities in their “yearbook” spot, but over-reached on the “dreaming” theme.  Buick got close with the “Cam Newton” spot, because it was cute, and it reinforced their “hey, is that a Buick?” theme, but it didn’t do much for the brand overall, in my opinion.  Audi’s female-focused spot was beautiful, and a wonderful sentiment, but oddly out of place as a Super Bowl spot.  Lexus was also kind of a weird spot:  just some beauty shots of the car and some freestyle dancer dude dancing sideways on the wall and the car.  Which would be super cool if Apple hadn’t just done it last month for their Air Pods.

Super Bowl advertising is – by definition – supposed to be big and brash and even bawdy.  We expect lots of laughs, maybe a little lewdness and a heavy dose of celebrities.  But sadly, we got issues and platforms and statements.  Funny how suddenly, we’re wishing for busty blondes in bikinis and talking babies, eh?  Until next year!