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!

 

 

Super Bowl 50 Grins and Groans

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Well, the Super Bowl had its “golden” anniversary last night, and, by all accounts, the anniversary was about the ONLY golden thing of the evening.  The game was a bit of a mess, dominated by Denver’s defense, with a lot of fits, starts, sacks and turnovers.

But the advertising that showed up was a little dull, too.  Which is sad, because last year’s big game didn’t live up to 2014.  Alas, we’re on a downward trend.

A couple of notable items:

Scantily clad women were kindly asked to stay OUT of the advertising this year. Weird.

There were very few surprises, but the ones that were held back were certainly worth the wait.

A couple of newcomers likely won’t be back. They’ll be lucky if they’re in business.

It was basically the “Celebrity Bowl” of advertising this year. A few of the standouts (read more below) were Christopher Walken, Helen Mirren, Drake, Ryan Reynolds.

And say farewell to the Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” party.  This was the 10th and final year of that enormously successful campaign.

The ads that made me grin:

Snickers – “Seven Year Itch” with Willem Dafoe
They continue to nail this campaign with the “you’re not you when you’re hungry” meme year in and year out.  And this year’s offering, a takeoff on the Seven Year Itch scene with Marilyn Monroe, was so well done and so well executed and so well performed, it made me grin twice.  (I still think it may be slightly off target, unless Snickers is now being marketed to Boomers??  But still, this spot kills.)

Mtn Dew Kickstart – “PuppyMonkeyBaby”
While a lot of people just scratched their heads at this, it’s actually very funny, and simplistic enough to be strategically on point.  “Three awesome things combined,” says the ad, referring to Mountain Dew, juice and caffeine.  So they combined three awesome things into one triple-cute mascot:  puppy, monkey, baby.  Makes perfect sense!

Quicken Loans’ Rocket Mortgage – “What Were We Thinking?”
This was most certainly a reach, and some may argue an over-reach.  But it was also so helplessly optimistic, it was hard not to like.  Plus, when introducing a new product, what better way to get people to remember it than by comparing it to, say, the Internet?  Well done.

 

Double Grins:

Bai Antioxidant – “Horse Whisperer”
This was a spot that wasn’t leaked earlier, and it’s super funny, super on target, and super performed, and so super unexpected!  What a great risk to take – I think they pulled it off!

Doritos – “Ultrasound”
The “ultrasound” commercial was funny.  In a gross, male, immature way, but funny.  And that’s EXACTLY what Doritos advertising is about.  It’s not supposed to be haughty, it’s supposed to position the chips as so insanely delicious that people will do anything to get them…including jettisoning from the womb.  Also remember that this ad was submitted by an “amateur” into the “Crash the Super Bowl” sweepstakes.

Hyundai – “Ryanville”
How far can you go to promote one tiny little (optional) feature on a car?  Well, in this spot, they went all the way to Ryanville, and nailed it.  Not only do they make a good case for the auto-braking-pedestrian-detection feature, they do it with a nice flip-of-the-gender-script, and have the gals ogling the guys.  Well, it’s one guy, but apparently, this one guy is all girls need.

Audi – “Starman”
Audi has basically been killing it for the last three years with their sweepingly cinematic spots.  But this one manages to do something that the last couple haven’t done:  connect (finally) more completely to their target audience.  It’s a piece of fiction, and a momentary suspension of disbelief, but we are more than willing to go on the journey to the past and back to present within a span of seconds.  Really well done.  And wow – they had Bowie.

But my biggest grin came when I saw this spot from Kia called “Walken Closet”
Could anyone else have delivered such a compelling performance?  “It’s like the world’s most exciting pair of socks….BUT – it’s a midsize sedan!” Funny, and drives home a core point about standing out of the “beige-ness” of midsize sedans.  (I know what you’re thinking.  “But Kia IS a midsize sedan!”  True, but the average car buyer in that category doesn’t consider Kia as a car with any excitement, or performance, or as Walken so eloquently puts it:  “pizzazzzzzzah.”  The mere fact of CONSIDERING Kia, as opposed to the “safe” choices in this category, like Honda, Nissan or Toyota, is what makes this a leap out of the “beige.”  Good stuff.)

 

Honorable mentions:
Prius’ “The Chase”
Two brand (and beautiful) spots from Jeep
Texting PSA for domestic abuse
Drake for T-Mobile

As usual, there were some groans this year.

Groans:

Persil Pro Clean – It’s always risky to come into the Super Bowl as a first-time advertiser, and Persil didn’t really do enough of a job of distinguishing themselves.  It was a clean and well-produced spot, but there wasn’t much there to grab onto.

OIC-  this spot, entitled “envy,” shows a man wishing he could go to the bathroom, and envying all these others that can.  Again, a well-produced, well-executed spot, but because it wasn’t for one particular brand, but rather, more of a PSA to get you to a doctor to talk about OIC, it just lost any connective tissue.  The spot is “made on behalf of those living with chronic pain and struggling with OIC.”  Which is everybody, sorta.  And nobody.  Sorta.  Just think what they could have done with the roughly 8 or 9 million bucks this spot cost to get this message to the right people in the right places at the right time.  Smells like a consortium buy to me.

My least favorite:  SoFi. 
Listen, no matter what anyone tells you, you never, EVER, EVER say mean things to your consumer.  Not even anything that can be misunderstood as mean.  Well, there’s nothing misunderstood in this spot, except why it was made in the first place.

This commercial starts its first eight seconds of life like this:  “Jim is great.  Sara is not great at all.  This guy – NEVER been great.  (then the camera pans down to a cute baby in a stroller…) No.”  So inside of eight seconds, we’ve identified that three out of four random people, including a baby in a stroller, are not great.  And since they’ve set up the construct that there are basically two kinds of people in the world (great and not great,) we’re all nervously wondering if we’re great.  I probably don’t need to tell you this is NOT what you want your consumer doing when you’re trying to get them to like you.

The ad goes on to say that SoFi gives great loans to great people.  (And leaves the rest out in the cold, I might add.)  And then…are you sitting down?…the ad invites you to visit SoFi TO FIND OUT IF YOU’RE GREAT!  (I bet a zillion people did that.) I know you can’t believe this, but it actually. Gets. Worse.  The final line of the voiceover, after saying “find out if you’re great at SoFi.com,” says “you’re probably not.”

Hey, here’s an idea.  Fuck you, SoFi.

Until next year, keep grinning!

Super Bowl 49 – Grins and Groans

If you’re a football fan, you liked this game. A slow burn, with twists and turns, and a dramatic finish. Good stuff. (Unless you’re a Seahawks fan, then, not so much.)

If you’re an advertising fan, you got pretty much a reflection of the game: a kind of slow and steady stream of ads, none of which made you say “wow,” and a few headscratchers late.

Mostly, we were left with questions:
Where were the really big ideas?

Where was Chrysler? (there was only the one Fiat spot and it was pretty funny) – but after Dylan, Eastwood and Eminem, they had set the bar pretty high, and not seeing them in the game was weird.

And seriously: what was Nationwide thinking???

A few themes this year that were notable:

Dads – three advertisers embraced dads this year: Dove, Nissan and Toyota. (And we’re not sure why, exactly.)

Puppies – Bud’s follow-up to “Puppy Love” from last year, and GoDaddy’s “controveersial” spot that never made it to the air (and it should have, since their “replacement” spot was meh.)

Celebrities poking fun at themselves:

Kardashian for T-Mobile was really good and funny and actually made good advertising.

Brosnan for Kia was very well done and a big grinner for me.

Pete Rose for Skechers was actually cute, and he was a good sport to take on that sensitive subject matter with such air.

The Esurance spots with Lindsay Lohan and Bryan Cranston proving that “sorta” is not good enough were pretty good.

And Liam Neeson absolutely KILLED IT in his I’m- a-badass-and-I’m-coming-for-you brogue for Clash of Clans.

The ads that made me grin:

Fiat and the little blue pill:

Mercedes Benz fable

Coke

Double Grins:

BMW i3 with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel

This spot was funny, had great performances, and made an excellent point: big ideas take a little getting used to.  Smart, and very non-typical auto advertising.

Snickers Brady Bunch

Snickers took their “you’re not you when you’re hungry” to a great new place, by going to a great old place.  Well done!

Doritos – When Pigs Fly

This wasn’t my favorite of the Doritos “crash the Super Bowl” ads, but it was still entertaining, light-hearted, and well-executed.

But my biggest grin came early in the game when I saw this spot from Turbo Tax:

Man this was just flat out good. High cinematic value in the production of the spot, and high concept in rewriting history around a simple (and relatively benign) benefit of “free filing.”

Of course, we all know it’s free to file your federal return. But you still have to pay for the software of course, and for state taxes, you’ll still shell out that pesky little 29.95 or so. Bah, details. They made a great ad!

As usual, there were some groans this year.  And one flat headscratcher.

Groans:

Cure.com insurance (pair of 15’s) – bad jokes, worse production.

Jumlia – credit to coming into the game as a first time advertiser, but it was forgettable – an animatic for toenail fungus. They could have made like a billion or so targeted impressions online, and still had a couple million bucks left over to buy a whole bunch of spots during the professional bowling championships later in the year, when toenail fungus really flairs up. (Duh.)

Squarespace with Jeff Bridges – just weird. Any ad that’s going to make you go to a URL to figure out what it’s all about is just a waste of the airtime. Who’s going to leave the game for that? And for Jeff Bridges acting creepy? No thank you.

But the biggest WTF this year was Nationwide Insurance’s “make safe happen.” I can’t even believe they chose THIS strategy, and chose THIS buy. Didn’t anybody over there THINK about what the typical super bowl viewing environment is? You’re talking beer, wings, chips, salsa. You’re trash-talking about your team. And wait, now we’re thinking about our potentially dead children? No, no, no. NO! Kids and puppies in advertising are great…but you don’t KILL them in your spots. Jeez! You’d think somebody over there knew the basic rules.

Outside of the Turbo Tax spot, there was no real altitude attained this year in terms of high concept approaches. A few bright spots, and a few duds. Oh, and Nationwide killing our children to make a very serious point at a really shitty time. And that’s STILL not as bad as that one really bad decision to pass at the 1-yard line by the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator late in the game.

Until next year, keep grinning!

Super Bowl 2014: Grins and Groans

First off, condolences to the Denver Broncos organization and their fans. That’s what we call a rough day at the office. And for those of you who are fans of Super Bowl advertising, it was kind of a rough night on the couch. Again.

Last year, we had a few “wows” interrupted by a lot of mediocre. Sadly, that trend continued through 2014. And at $133,000 per SECOND, that can mean some rough Mondays for some advertising executives.

SINGLE GRINS:
Radio Shack – good for them for poking fun at themselves as they make their re-rebrand statement. (Remember “The Shack” attempt from a few years back?) Best tweet of the night I read said something like “Radio Shack had to close 10 of their 12 stores to pay for that spot.” At least they’re trying.

Heinz – after sitting on the sidelines (yes, all puns intended,) for 16 years, Heinz returns with a feel-good spot to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it…” Solid, simple, reminder advertising. The right message for a brand that already owns the category.

Wonderful Pistachios – for a brand that is trying to make hay in a highly commoditized category, Wonderful Pistachios made a strong statement for themselves with two :15s wrapped around the H&M David Beckham spot. They did a great job of getting out of the way, and letting Colbert be Colbert. Especially poking fun at themselves about a “lack of branding.” Really fun, really light, and memorably goofy.

DOUBLE GRINS:
T-Mobile’s Tim Tebow spots were absolutely hilarious, and I thought the most on-target/on-focus advertising of the night. Perfect symmetry between his situation (a national figure without a contract) and their basic brand position (mobile network service with no contract necessary.) He’s a good sport (yep, another pun) for poking fun at himself, the ads had high production and camp value, and I think this was a touchdown. (Ugh, that was shameless.)

Doritos brought high value humor to a crop of commercials that were otherwise meh. Add the fact that the spots were created by contest entrants, and you add a level of intrigue. Congratulations to Ryan Thomas Anderson for the winning entry and the $1 million prize. A second level of kudos to Doritos for matching good advertising with strong social activation, and (you may have missed this) an absolutely cool in-stadium activation: recordSetter got 30 people to don orange ponchos to create “the world’s largest human Dorito.” Pretty effing cool.

BIGGEST GRIN:
Chrysler 200 with Bob Dylan
So this was one of the (very few) spots that was not leaked or teased prior to the game, and it really paid off. Chrysler has embraced Detroit/Americana as a stand-in for the brand, and they have wrapped a powerful message around it. (Remember Clint Eastwood’s “halftime in America” ad? And the Paul Harvey “God made a farmer ad from last year for Dodge?” Yeah, same idea.)

They encapsulate this idea in the statement “Detroit made cars. And cars made America.” Overly patriotic? Sure. A tad pandering? Maybe. But powerful advertising? You bet your ass.

The best part is the finale of the 2:00 triumph, (delivered incredibly by a surprisingly articulate and pointed Bob Dylan,) with this: “Let Germany brew your beer. Let Switzerland make your watches. Let Asia assemble your phones.” Dramatic pause. Cut to Dylan in a pool hall talking directly into camera. “We. Will build. Your car.” Touchdown. Two point conversion. Game over. (Yeah. I went there.)

And now for the GROANS.

WTF GROAN:
Maserati introduces its new Ghibli sedan to America with an overly produced spot about “unleashing monsters” or something. Sure, I get that you can make a “big splash” with a Super Bowl ad…but wasn’t there ANYONE in the room saying “this might not be the best media buy?” And who named “Ghibli?”  If you’re going to introduce a “more approachable” brand extension (the Ghibli starts around $67,000) to an otherwise unattainable line, shouldn’t the spot be more, um, approachable?

SLOW GROANS:
Kia takes a target demographic couple on a spin through the Matrix with Laurence Fishburne in full Morpheus mode. Um, what? Or, rather, why?

Bud Light – Now here’s an instance where the social media leadup was better than the ads themselves. Bud Light’s three and a half minute brand film around the “up for whatever theme” was great. The two spots that got edited out of it…a little disjointed.

Beats Music Service introduces its “we’re better than Pandora” intuitive music service. Sounds like a cool idea. They made a nice spot, riffing on the Goldilocks folktale. Except they chose Ellen DeGeneres. Hmmm…is SHE the target? (Highly doubtful.) Is she RIGHT as being appealing to what we would imagine the target to be? (Still no.) So…why Ellen?

BIGGEST GROAN:
AUDI just completely missed the mark this year with “Doberhuahua.” After such an incredible showing last year with their “prom” spot, they go for the dopey CGI-laden humor trick of a Doberman cross-bred with a Chihuahua. They took their potshots at sappiness with knocks at kennel shows and Sarah McLachlan, and tried to wrap this around the idea that “compromise is scary.” It is. Especially in advertising.

End notes: Other hits and misses…
GoDaddy tried to capitalize on the “real time marketing” concept with a spot where a woman (Gwen) quits her job on live television. Interesting. And better than that gross makeout spot they ran last year. Wheeeew!

H&M’s ad with David Beckham was the first to be truly interactive…for a limited few. Turns out, if you have a Samsung SmartTV, you could have ordered product live through your television. Great strategy for the 327 people who actually own that tv.

Volkswagen’s “Wings” ad starts out as a really smart quality claim. Dad tells daughter that every time a Volkswagen hits 100,000 miles, a Volkswagen engineer gets his wings. Cut to German factory, where white-lab-coat-wearing engineers start sprouting wings. Funny concept, well executed. Major problem with this spot: NO FEMALE ENGINEERS. Not a one. Except that young lady in the elevator who slaps the other engineer. Wrong message to send to the world’s young girls, Volkswagen.

Until next year – keep grinning!

This article first appeared on Technorati.

What were YOUR favorite spots? Post in the comments below.