Super Bowl LI Grins and Groans

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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!

 

 

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