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!

The Law of Commonality

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This morning, I saw two strangers meet on the street. One gentleman looked at the other, and in a language I couldn’t understand, seemed to ask the other: “do you speak this language?” The other replied with what I imagined was “OH HECK YES I DO!” and the two immediately began engaging. They smiled widely, embraced one another, and began to chat away.

They had something in common, and it was that commonality that broke down barriers and transformed these two strangers, for a moment at least, into fast friends.

I believe the same thing is going on with brands and consumers all the time – and I call it the Law of Commonality.

The Law of Commonality states that consumers are constantly striving to belong in some way, and will gravitate to people, communities, and brands with which they perceive a shared affinity or common origin.

Brands are constantly trying to appeal to consumers, based on the wants and needs that consumers present. And since brands are in competition with one another, they strive to reach consumers on a plane that sounds both appealing and differentiated.

You’ve seen and heard this in action a thousand times: “Are you looking for more free time?” “Is your hair thinning?” “If you’re looking for a different kind of family vacation…” All of these opening lines are obviously just a method of weeding out those that might not be interested in what the brand has to offer. But it’s also a method for the brand to implicitly achieve some kind of common ground with a consumer, based on what the brands ALREADY know about what the consumer desires.

On its own, that doesn’t sound too ground-breaking. But we have to remember how consumers are wired. Humans, by nature, are tribal. We look to join communities, and we favor those communities that are based on shared interests and common traits.

And it works equally in the opposite direction:  never do you feel more lonely or more isolated than when you perceive that you DON’T belong.  Ever been the guy wearing the only blue jersey in a stadium full of green ones?  I have.  Yeccch.  That is one looooooong walk back to the car.

This type of innate socializing activity (that occurs unconsciously for the most part,) serves a high level Maslow-ian need for belonging and puts us squarely on the path to that which we desire most:  affirmation (respect by and of others.)

Think about social media and its immense popularity. It’s not our extrovertedness that has transformed social media platforms into multi-billion-dollar behemoth corporations, but rather our need to belong, cloaked in a more socially-acceptable disguise of joining communities based on common interests and affinities.

Further, The Law of Commonality states that consumers are more likely to buy from a brand that they believe has something in common with them and/or their value system than from an equally qualified brand that does not.

If the consumer believes that a specific brand “really gets” who they are, or has “an interest in the same things I do,” that brand is already well ahead of its competition. And there are some pointed examples of brands that have done this very well, and made good on this simple human driver.

Harley-Davidson is one. Here’s a brand that recognizes a certain set of consumers and their deep-seated desire for freedom and exhilaration. The motorcycle is literally and figuratively a vehicle to take them to that special place. But more than that, the brand represents a bond of brotherhood with others who are a lot like you, even though they may look different.

Jeep has accomplished something similar with their unique auto designs, and a common interest in the outdoorsy lifestyle shared by most Wrangler drivers. American Express has achieved a level of common bond by referring to their customers not just as cardholders, but as “members.”

Belonging to the same club, enjoying the same activities, speaking the same language, having gone to the same college, rooting for the same sports team – any of these are more than good enough reason to create some kind of bond between people, and the same is true between brands and consumers.

It’s not the ONLY thing that fuels a purchase of these brands, but it’s certainly a tick mark on the invisible checklist that the consumer is invariably carrying around in his or her mind. And as consumers browse and compare, those tick marks that make us feel (a very important word here,) like we belong to something bigger – indeed a community of like-minded people that we can both respect and be respected by – usually add up to a level of preference and a favored status.

As you plan your marketing and brand initiatives, no matter how large or small, ask yourself how you can achieve commonality with your consumers. You’ll likely create a bond that goes way beyond just the first purchase.