Congratulations (choke!) to the (cough!) Kansas City Chiefs on another (gag!) well-earned Super Bowl victory. Sorry, but when you’re a fan of another team, it hurts to give props to anyone else. #GoBills.
Aside from the football, there was, of course, the advertising. And it was anything BUT super this year. Really just a strange mix of blah ideas, very few risks taken, heavy on celebrities, light on diversity and originality. So here goes.
While there was not much to celebrate, there were a few ads that stood out this year. Like the game, it was pretty slow going in the first half, and then revved up after the halftime show. While we’re at halftime, I don’t know enough about Rihanna’s music to say if it was good or bad, but I was pretty impressed with the floating stages, the drone shots, and the visual intrigue that was created. Also, she basically put on a 15-minute commercial for her fashion and beauty brands Fenty and Savage X Fenty, while announcing her pregnancy to the world. Good on her. At least SOMEBODY got the idea about marketing during the Super Bowl.
I’ll give it up to Ben Affleck, shilling for Dunkin’ at the drive thru. JLo ordering him to “bring me a glazed” was pretty funny. ETrade brings the babies back again this year, but at least it was funny, with a few killer lines and lots of cute kids being AI’d into silly dialogue.
In a meta spot for T-Mobile, Bradley Cooper and his mom couldn’t finish the commercial, but still managed to get some important feature points across about the Price Lock guarantee. And Michelob Ultra revived Caddyshack (twice, actually) with Brian Cox, Serena Williams and Tony Romo standing in for Ted Knight, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. Probably completely lost on anyone born after 1975, but still, beer and golf play well together.
Adam Driver was tongue-in-cheek enough to deliver a pretty solid message for Squarespace, repeating the core premise “a website that makes websites.” And Super Bowl 57 was heavy on 90’s nostalgia with Diddy doing a sort of it’s-not-a-jingle commercial for Uber Eats. Oh, and Jennifer Coolidge is just plain funny. Her over-the-top antics for E.L.F. cosmetics, using the “sticky” gag was delicious!
And while we’re talking about celebrities being a little self-effacing, props to Sarah McLachlan for spoofing herself in a beer ad for Busch Light, where she – almost – launches into one of her “save the pets” PSAs, only to find out it’s the “wrong shelter, Sarah…also, that’s a wolf.” Funny. And I have to say, John Travolta reviving “Summer Nights” with Zach Braff and Donald Faison for T-Mobile in-home wifi was well-executed and had some really funny lines, (and a nice three-part harmony!) including feature points like “it’s just fifty bucks.” Mr. Peanut also allowed himself to get “roasted” by Jeff Ross and others in a smart turn of phrase. And Dave Grohl (who is a great comedic pitchman) celebrated all the exports of Canada in a cheeky spot (and a nice not-so-serious approach) for Crown Royal. A refreshing detour from typical spirits ads.
Three honorable mentions:
Nick Jonas for Dexcom, a diabetes monitoring device and corresponding app, was remarkably well-done and should be an indication that they’re targeting a younger demographic. After all, that target is more likely to embrace lifesaving tech without a second thought, and more likely to know who this kid is. And having a JoBro deliver the message actually makes it seem fairly cool. Smart!
The Pop Corners spot, which was executed wonderfully by Aaron Paul, Bryan Cranston and Raymond Cruz (known colloquially as Jesse, Mr. White and Tuco,) of Breaking Bad fame, was hilarious and well-played, especially by Cruz doing his over-the-top hyper-excited drug dealer shouting “SEVEN!” for the amount of flavors he wants. Be careful; the joke is a little lost if you don’t get the references, but if you do, it’s gold.
Tubi used a few sneaky tactics to get our attention. The best was the eerie spot of giant rabbits kidnapping humans and tossing them into “rabbit holes” of content. Pretty out there, and pretty good. We all use the term “I went down a rabbit hole” when we talk about binging, and this was a smart callback to that vernacular. But their “and now back to the game” cutoff, where we thought we were going back to Super Bowl coverage (with Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen) and then got duped into another spot was masterful. It helps that Tubi is a Fox-owned streaming service. They would win the under-the-radar advertiser of the year for sure.
THREE CLEAR WINNERS:
KIA – “Binky Dad”
Kia goes big on a situation that virtually every dad can relate to. They turn it into a determination story, with a hero, a challenge, (not to mention the Bill Conti “Rocky” theme song in the background,) and lots of excitement along the way. This is good advertising: just slightly over the top, but with enough truth and substance at the heart of it that it’s totally believable, even if exaggerated. The SUV has all the capability it needs to turn off road, jump through a concrete water main pipe, and generally haul ass in the service of “getting the baby’s binky.” Cue the poor-dad-you-got-it-wrong-anyway joke at the end, and you have a very satisfying, super entertaining and moderately informative Super Bowl commercial.
DORITOS – “Triangle”
Pop/rap star Jack Harlow seeks something “different” in this spot for Doritos. He ditches rap, and instead takes up playing the triangle, which sets off a national phenomenon. People go crazy for triangles, Harlow starts giving triangle lessons, and he hopes to win triangle player of the year, until he’s usurped by Elton John. Over the top, funny, and sneaky on point: Doritos are, of course, triangle-shaped snack chips. Although the brand is widely known, it’s a return to a simple “what makes you different” focus. That’s good strategy, and it turned out to be very good advertising.
WORKDAY – “Rock Stars”
Corporate types like to call each other “rock stars.” In this spot, some actual rock stars take offense, and provide background to remind Workday, the corporate Finance and HR software platform, that just using it to your advantage does NOT make you an actual rock star. Joan Jett, Billy Idol, Gary Clark Jr, and a hilarious turn by Ozzy Osbourne (“Hi, I’m Oswald,”) make this a glitzy, big, funny, and SUPER memorable spot. I often talk about performance, and how important an element that is in good commercial-making. Paul Stanley plays it perfectly – a little miffed faux-seriousness and a well-delivered comedic performance by him in particular. Best spot of the night, and it wasn’t even close.
Sorry to say it, but this Super Bowl was full of groans. Most of it was just boring, or unremarkable, including all the movie promos. Anna Faris in a tired Garden of Eden trope for Avocados from Mexico…hard to follow, which just didn’t make you want to buy or investigate the product in any way. Some gaming company (LimitBreak) did another QR code trick in the first pod, which is the definition of “too soon” after last year’s semi-groundbreaking approach from Coinbase (which crashed their servers, btw.)
Generally, most of the spots just relied too heavily on celebrity to (hopefully) make an impression. Most were misses, like Hellmann’s (Jon Hamm, Brie Larson and a creepy Pete Davidson,) Skechers (Snoop Dogg, Martha Stewart and a funny Tony Romo,) and Paul Rudd as Ant-Man for a non-alcoholic Heineken beer.
The most egregious celebrity-filled spot was the DraftKings “name” spot, where Kevin Hart and others work through a script that was written JUST for the celebrities in the spot. This is a celebrity ad for celebrity ad’s sake kind of approach. Hart says “I’m not an under-taker” just as WWE star Undertaker appears. Or “that’s ludicrous,” when rapper Ludacris appears. Or worse yet, “I’m watching you like a hawk” as skateboarder Tony Hawk tries to get into the party. Just not great advertising, and expensive too!
GM and Netflix teamed up in one of two co-branded spots Netflix did on the night. (The other was a decent pitch for their upcoming “Full Swing” reality show about professional golfers with Michelob Ultra that reprised the Caddyshack theme.) In this spot, Will Ferrell (whose comic genius was utterly wasted in this spot) drives around in an all-electric truck through various scenes of popular Netflix shows. Each line of the script is crafted around popular Netflix shows, but if you a.) don’t have Netflix or b.) don’t watch those particular shows, you’re out of the jokes completely. It’s confusing at best, and self-congratulatory at worst.
WeatherTech continues their participation in the Super Bowl, although most of us wish they wouldn’t. The ad starts out with promise, with various people telling WeatherTech “you can’t do that” when they want to build a factory in the US, and hire bright talent in the US. But it veers off into more patting of their own backs. The ad says “ha! See? We did it, and we’re successful, so there!” There’s nothing of value there for the consumer to hear. Nothing about translating those higher costs and more expensive employees into great quality products, or shorter shipping times, or that you can find the products at stores where you live. Nah, just “we’re awesome. Go America.” Sadly, some people will say it was a great commercial for that exact reason. Ugh.
Pepsi Zero Sugar wins the ignominious award for worst spots of the Super Bowl. There were two of them, actually, which makes it doubly disappointing. Here’s the setup: Ben Stiller and Steve Martin do some acting in various comic and dramatic situations, and talk about the “craft” of acting, and how you never know what’s real and what’s acting. Okay, we’re listening. But then, they take a sip of Pepsi Zero Sugar and exclaim “wow – that’s delicious!” (And this is where it goes awry.) Then they turn to the camera and ask, “or was I acting?” Now, in their defense, the setup is built to deliver the next line “only way to find out is to try it for yourself.” So you could argue there’s a strong call to action to go out and try the product. That’s fair. But let’s remember that the mind is the marketplace when it comes to advertising, and even the mere suggestion that an actor is faking it creates too much doubt. We are all willing to suspend our disbelief when we see commercials, but you never want the consumer wondering if the actor was indeed acting. If you think the pitchman was bullshitting you, and then he admits he might be, I don’t know…that just doesn’t seem like a strong selling idea to me. The better angle would have been to go over the top, and try and plead for the audience’s understanding by saying “no, really…I’m NOT acting right now…this stuff is GREAT!” They got too cute, and I think it cost them.
Until next year…yay advertising!