Super Bowl 54 Grins and Groans

Another Super Bowl in the books, and I’m sure all the fine citizens from Kansas* are still floating after the Kansas City Chiefs rallied in the 4th quarter to beat the San Francisco 49ers in a pretty entertaining football game.  Interestingly, the ads had a little late-game heroics, too.  The first half was a little flat, but the ads started getting a bit more entertaining right about at halftime.
(* See the President’s tweet.)

Overall, the ads seemed to come from a different source than in years past.  While we’re used to car, beer, snacks and financial services ads, this year the ads seemed to be coming from various (and some new) directions.  It was balanced, but almost none of the ads will have anyone saying “did you see that (brand) ad?”

Here are the ads that made us grin, and alas, some that made us groan.

First, some honorable mentions:

Amazon/Alexa – some funny and interesting musings about “what people did before Alexa?”

Discover Card – a good use of airtime, sandwiching two spots around another, one for “YES” (we take Discover) and one for “NO” (hidden fees.) Shout out to the media team!

Tide – they’re kind of on a roll with the Super Bowl, this time running several spots around the theme “stains can wait.”  Even crossing over with (the now defunct) Bud Light knight.  Smart smart smart.

Porsche – the “theft” of a new electric Porsche turns out to be a “drill,” and turns out to be a wonderfully crafted ad.

Bud Light Seltzer – no snark here, but who knew Post Malone was such a good actor, and surprisingly effective pitchman?

Sodastream – big budget ad around a low-budget gag, but it was very well done.  Any time I make a huge gaffe (and it happens on the reg,) I’m just going to say “I thought it was Mark’s water.”

Doritos – anytime you can get Sam Elliott to do something funny, (and a mustache dance-off with Lil Nas X is friggin’ funny,) you’re winning.  This ad was cute and wholesome and entertaining, and probably the best branding spot of the night.  A lot of people this morning will remember that it all happened on a “cool ranch,” and that’s a victory.

GRINS:

CHEETOS Popcorn – “Can’t Touch This”
A series of situations made infinitely better because the main character “can’t touch” a stack of paperwork, a screaming baby, a couch when the movers need help, and so on.  Cleverly refrained by MC Hammer, it humorously highlights a happy outcome of eating the treat – cheesy fingers.

HYUNDAI SONATA featuring Smart Park – “Smaht Pahk”
Massachusetts natives Rachel Dratch and Chris Evans look on as Massachusetts native John Krasinski tries to park a Hyundai in a tight spot.  When he reveals that the car does it robotically using a new feature they call “Smaht Pahk,” the New England accent jokes prove a perfect explanation.  The ad, also featuring a cameo from Big Papi (David Ortiz) was indeed wicked smaht.

DASHLANE – “password reminders”
This was almost the ad of the night for me.  So funny, so well-executed, and so in tune with what so many of us struggle with every day on nearly every website where we have a password. A really good reminder that advertising, when done simply and smartly, can be very  effective indeed.

WINNER:

JEEP – “Groundhog Day”
By far, the best ad of the evening was Jeep’s sendup of the classic movie featuring Bill Murray reliving his iconic role.  This time, it’s super fun, because he gets to enjoy a new adventure in his new Jeep Gladiator.  (By the way, that is one badass vehicle.). Yes, it relies heavily on having seen the movie.  Yes, it relies on a series of animal gags.  And yes, it worked to great effect.  That it was aired on Groundhog Day makes it even cooler.

GROANS:
Some ads just make you go, “huh?”  And there were plenty of those this year as well. Wal-Mart’s “famous visitors” could have been a grin, except that they’ve executed on this concept already with last year’s “famous vehicles” ad. Hulu probably relied on Tom Brady too much (while he’s universally recognized, he’s not universally liked.) Some ads just relied too heavily on the celebrity aspect (I’m talking to you Coke, P&G, Hard Rock Hotel,) and some were just old gags executed pretty well (Reese’s Take 5.) And for future reference, let’s not sour Super Sunday with political ads, okay?  Maybe save that for The Oscars, when everyone is going to make a statement that evening anyway.

HINT WATER – “pie eating contest”
This ad was smartly conceived, well executed, and makes perfect sense for the brand.  (It’s water with a hint of fruit.) However, something in it was just un-funny and gross.  And the grossness makes you (okay, makes ME) want to avoid the brand.

OLAY – “space for women”
There were several ads that sought to highlight female empowerment this year.  (Note – God Bless America, the national anthem and the halftime show kind of proved that women rock.) But this ad kind of backfired when it made women look, um, less than brilliant.  “There’s tons of space in space” is not brilliant.  Inelegant, I think this was a miss.

PEPSI ZERO – “paint it black”
Another ad featuring two recognizable women (hip-hop/R&B stars H.E.R. and Missy Elliott,) pitching soda for Pepsi Zero.  I guess they used this song because a.) the cans are black and/or b.) the Rolling Stones let them?  Otherwise, what?

AUDI – “let it go”
For years, Audi was ruling the Super Bowl, until 2017’s female empowerment spot grossly missed the mark.  Here again, the ad uses a song that has no context, and seems to be aimed at teenage girls (-ish.)  A real head-scratcher this.

GENESIS – “young luxury”
Can we all just admit that the Chrissy Teigen experiment should be over now? I really like the concept that there’s a “new kind of luxury” that Genesis offers.  That, in itself, is a wonderful encapsulation of the brand’s strategic position.  But the devil is in the details, and Chrissy pointing out partygoers who have had plastic surgery and are hangers-on was probably not the best way to articulate that.  John Legend was kind of an afterthought here. Bummer, too, because the SUV itself looks like a gorgeous vehicle.

So…what did YOU think?

Until next year!

 

 

 

Gillette doubles down. And wins big.

A little over four months ago, I wrote a post about the “toxic masculinity” commercial released by Gillette. You can see that post here.

Now, Gillette is back with another ad, and all I have to say is BRAVO.

Bravo for deciding to CONTINUE to engage in an important national conversation about masculinity, and now about gender issues, and now about inclusivity.

Bravo for focusing on a narrow audience, and demonstrating that there’s room for all kinds of conversations around seemingly simple daily routines.

And bravo for – especially for – not abandoning the position the brand assumed in January. To do so would have been cowering, and cowardly. This takes guts at the highest levels of the brand, and it may very well alienate more people…but it’s an important statement at an important time.

In my previous post, I wrote that the “toxic masculinity” commercial was good, but that it stopped short of being great for various reasons, including:

“I wish this spot also involved gender and sexuality issues – toxic masculinity is especially reprehensible towards non-heterosexual males and the LGBTQ universe in general.”

And

“The real test now for Gillette is where they go from here. If they continue to embody this refreshed perspective, and if all their forthcoming ads are aspirational (where we show men aspiring to be better men, especially with and around their female counterparts,) and they continue to use their brand to inspire action and help shift attitudes, then we can look back and say, “See? This was the moment they became aware of who they were as a brand, and the responsibility they bare as a consequence.”

But if they don’t?

Then the market can have at them – and Gillette will deserve every criticism they will likely suffer, not to mention probably losing market share to a host of upstart razor companies ready to eat their lunch.

No pressure, Gillette. But the world is now watching. And you invited us all to the party.”

You can see the new ad here:

 

What some might be missing here is that this ad is NOT about a transgender’s journey, the “transition” as he calls it. (Although most detractors are focused on this singular point.) In fact, if you didn’t know the back story, you might miss it altogether.  The editing and the dialogue shroud this point just enough that it’s not jumping up and down and calling for attention.

This ad is really about teaching old dogs new tricks. And showing how those old dogs teach their offspring their old tricks. This ad is (quietly) a lot more about Dads than it is about their transgender children.

A man teaching his son to shave is an incredibly important milestone in the father-son relationship. (Irrespective of how that son identifies his own gender.) It signals so much about the passage of time, and ushers in an opportunity for the passing on of experience. [And yes, it’s also the perfect contextualized moment to introduce emotion into a discussion around promoting a specific shaving blade.]

One of the core tenets of advertising is “Show. Don’t tell.” In other words, don’t tell people how to use products. Show them how it works when you do. And similarly, don’t tell people how to be an accepting father. Show them what it might look like if you were.

Is it Gillette’s job to poke their noses into national behavior and tell men to accept their transgender children? No, of course not. But it is always a good policy to show how it can be done. Even in an idealized way. And this ad does that very well indeed.

There is a lot of divisive discourse in America today. As the lyric goes, we seem to be “stuck in a moment, and we can’t get out of it.” But it will pass, and it may even get a scant bit better. And maybe, just maybe, ads like this will be part of that transition. (See what I did there?)

Again, Gillette has us talking about these issues, and more importantly, talking about Gillette. That’s a win.

Bravo.

Super Bowl 53 Grins and Groans

Super Bowl LIII Logo

If you watched the national yawn that was last night’s Super Bowl, you already know there’s not much to talk about. Following an NFL season that set all kinds of records for offensive output, the game was the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history. So yawn. The Maroon 5 halftime show, despite the lead singer removing his drapery-patterned tank top to reveal his monotone-tattooed midriff, was a nice opening act for a medium-sized dance club. Even the guest rappers didn’t elevate the performance. So yawn. Oh, and that team from New England, who apparently bought 90% of the seats in the house, won. Again. Yawn.

But perhaps the biggest yawns came at virtually every commercial break. For the third year in a row, the advertising at the Super Bowl was almost entirely unremarkable. With a few exceptions, the ads were mostly safe, predictable, and worse, platitudinous.

So here are your grins and groans.

A couple of themes emerged throughout the evening, and some of them are troubling. First, we absolutely have to stop equating Martin Luther King, Jr. with anything related to NFL football while the league (and the nation) wrestles with its own ability to formulate a realistic response to the racial inequality that Colin Kaepernick and others have tried so earnestly and intelligently to highlight. (Remember that Ram trucks tried it and failed miserably last year.)

Second, we have to get some context with the celebrities.  It’s great to have big names in your spots, but it really helps if they were relevant in the last, I don’t know, decade or so.  Li’l Jon for Pepsi, Bo Jackson for Sprint, Sarah Michelle Gellar for Olay doing her old horror movie stuff.  It just seemed like I was watching Super Bowl 43 by accident.

And what’s with the robots?  TurboTax, Sprint, and Michelob Ultra all featured robot characters, while Pringles gave a hat tip to Alexa-style AI and Mercedes-Benz touted its new AI in its new A Class.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Honorable mention to Bumble for their inspired and dead-on messaging with Serena Williams. “The world tells you to wait. That waiting is polite. But if I waited to be invited in, I never would have stood out. “ Perfect synopsis of Serena Williams and her meteoric career. And for a platform that is based on women making the first move, this is perfect copywriting.

HULU – Handmaid’s Tale season 3. The ad starts off with the familiar refrain of “It’s morning again in america,” the magical phrase written and narrated by advertising legend Hal Riney, which is an absolute dog whistle for any ad geek. It turned out to be a trick (and a good one) to get you to pay attention for the upcoming season of Handmaid’s Tale.

Stella Artois uses celebrities Sarah Jessica Parker and Jeff Bridges in their iconic roles as Carrie Bradshaw and Jeff “the Dude” Lebowski. They are both known for their particular choices in cocktails, and the ad shows that “changing can do a little good.” The reason I’ve added this in is that the ad also featured a previously-unreleased cameo from another famous beer drinker, “the world’s most interesting man.”

GRINS

Mint Mobile uses their basic positioning (wireless service for $20 a month,) and the typical consumer reaction of “that’s not right” to highlight something that is REALLY not right: “chunky milk.” The ad cuts to a commercial parody of a family enjoying chunky milk, which is gross, and funny, and camp enough to make the point. This is exactly what Super Bowl advertising should be: funny, weird, and super memorable. While I’m not sure about the nerdy fox mascot, I am sure that this spot got my attention.

Bubly is a new flavored sparkling water drink that comes in a variety of flavors. It’s bubbly, and the name is Bubly. And so who better to get to promote it than a guy named Bublé? Perfect. It’s funny. It’s simple.  And it’s smart.  A great deadpan performance by Michael Bublé feigning offense. And the best part? The name of the brand (if you include the Bublé mispronunciation,) is mentioned 11 times, along with several close-ups of the product. It’s Advertising 101 done to the highest order, and is probably the best all-around ad of the night.

My favorite spots of the night, however, came from T-Mobile. They went low-budget (not counting the $20 million+ media buy, of course,) with simple text messaging interchanges. The first spot features an exchange with Cathy. The texter (not sure if it’s a male or female,) simply asks “hey what’s up?” Cathy responds with a miles-long response about her life, and how she’s searching for meaning. If you read it through, it’s an absolutely hysterical rant in a very comedic and non-threatening way. And something we can all relate to.

T-Mobile followed it up with three more spots, including an exchange between a dad and his daughter, where the dad is texting the daughter, but is using his mobile phone like a search engine. Daughter responds “Dad, this isn’t Google!” (My guess is they underwrote some portion of this spot.)

Another features an exchange between a couple trying to figure out what’s for dinner THAT TURNS INTO A CO-PROMOTION WITH TACO BELL. And another between Mike and someone else that turns into a hysterical miscommunication THAT TURNS INTO A CO-PROMOTION WITH LYFT.

Again, this is simple, and funny, and entertaining enough to hold your attention throughout. And since the other wireless carriers were gallivanting off into honoraria of first responders and dredging up Bo Jackson, T-Mobile wins share of mind this year. A huge bounce-back from their letdown of last year.

GROANS

Weather Tech seems to have lost its focus. After coming on the scene a few years back, and making a simple statement about American-made quality, they made the mistake this year of trying to cram two ads into one with their new Pet Comfort products. Just bizarre, and unfocused, and not great advertising.

Bud Light seems to have lost focus also. For some strange reason, several of their ads chose to center on this notion of not including corn syrup in their beer. Which is fine, I guess. Except that several other beers don’t have corn syrup either. (And if you’re on Twitter, you found out in near real time.) And did they really do a Game of Thrones final season tie-in? Just weird. Especially for a brand that always seems to get it right, especially during the Super Bowl.

Speaking of weird beer commercials, Michelob Ultra Pure Gold missed the mark with their attempt to please .0002 percent of the population with an ASMR-inspired spot. ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridien Response, and gives some people a tingly feeling in their scalp and down the back of their necks when they hear certain sounds, like whispering.  So yes. They did a whole spot of whispering. During the Super Bowl. For the 42 people who have ASMR.

This is the third year in a row of wondering where the big spots were going to be. As the other 31 teams in the NFL say, “there’s always next year.”

Is THIS the best an ad can get?

A lot has been made of the new Gillette short film entitled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be.” The spot, which challenges men to take a look at tired masculine clichés, like “boys will be boys,” and mentions #metoo within the first five seconds, depicts several scenes wherein some certain male behaviors have been tolerated almost hypnotically for quite some time.

A group of teens sit on a couch and flip through scenes of female marginalization in situation comedies and reality shows. An executive inappropriately (because he’s pandering,) puts his hand on a woman’s shoulder and starts a phrase, “What I actually think she’s trying to say is…” And so on.

Then, a new narrative starts to form in the video, where men intervene positively in several oft-tolerated situations, including cat-calling, fighting, and bullying. Underneath it all, the voiceover insists that “some is not enough.” And “Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”

On its surface, this is an incredibly powerful social statement. And Gillette should be congratulated for boldly making it.

But as a piece of advertising, it may be overreaching at best, and carelessly ineffective at worst. While I can appreciate what it’s trying to do, the ad loses focus in its earnest to say something share-worthy on social media. (Although, in its defense, it has succeeded in doing at least that.)

The modern American consumer does not always make the loftiest cerebral decisions when trying to discern which brands to buy. Instead, they make simple, often one-word phrase mnemonic connections (that brands typically provide for them,) and choose based on how that singular experience makes them feel.

And for the past 30 years or so, Gillette has “won” consumers on a simple concept: the best a man can get. Strong tagline. A simple and understandable position for consumers. Advertising to support it. Not surprisingly, strong sales followed.

But now, Gillette has waded – rather, they’ve taken a rocket-powered speedboat – into dangerous waters that even their historically strong positioning may not be able to weather.

Here’s why.

It’s too little. And it’s too late. And so it looks like a desperate attempt to re-imagine the “appropriate” response. If there was a Gillette spot genie, these would be my three wishes:

  • I wish this spot was made a year ago, when #metoo was really a national discussion being had by, for, and with women. That it comes out now seems suspect.
  • I wish this spot also involved gender and sexuality issues – toxic masculinity is especially reprehensible towards non-heterosexual males and the LGBTQ universe in general.
  • I wish this spot took on the real issue, which is not just how young boys’ behavior gets formed, but more importantly, how that behavior is reinforced when it gets pardoned at nearly every important juncture of their lives.

In all the reaction I’ve seen, no one has mentioned that other brands, including other P&G brands, have tried this approach before, and to great reception. A zillion accolades (and ad industry awards) were showered on the #likeagirl campaign from Always. And the #realbeauty campaign from Dove was equally lauded.

Why is Gillette getting pounded by the social mediasphere? Probably because it’s disempowering. Probably because it’s by males for males, and about males and male grooming products. And that’s kinda not the point.

Probably because, as a brand, Gillette makes products for men that are purchased as much or more by women on behalf of men, and nowhere in this spot does Gillette equate toxic masculinity to domestic abuse towards women. Swing and a miss.

Now let’s be fair.  Gillette attempted to have an important conversation with American consumers, and they handled it awkwardly.  But that is STILL better than avoiding that conversation at all. And if you can imagine this, things are about to get harder for Gillette from here.

When a brand takes on a position, embodied by a bold tagline, then you have to own it – and that can come at quite a cost. The real test now for Gillette is where they go from here. If they continue to embody this refreshed perspective, and if all their forthcoming ads are aspirational (where we show men aspiring to be better men, especially with and around their female counterparts,) and they continue to use their brand to inspire action and help shift attitudes, then we can look back and say, “See? This was the moment they became aware of who they were as a brand, and the responsibility they bare as a consequence.”

But if they don’t?

Then the market can have at them – and Gillette will deserve every criticism they will likely suffer, not to mention probably losing market share to a host of upstart razor companies ready to eat their lunch.

No pressure, Gillette. But the world is now watching. And you invited us all to the party.

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.