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!

Marketers: Get in the game!

Whether you’re a mega-global-brand-giant or a small regional player trying to get noticed, marketing can be a complex enterprise, indeed. So many factors to consider. So many competitors. Choosing the right channels. The nuances in the target segments. What are the right objectives? Which daypart? Oooh! And our social feeds need to be updated, too. Yikes!

All of these complexities pre-suppose that marketers of all shapes and sizes are active in the consumer (or b-to-b) arena, each taking their shots at the proverbial goal – often missing, and occasionally scoring a heart-stopping buzzer beater. But the unspoken truth is that very often, and in some cases with alarming number, marketers are simply sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the right time to “get in” in the hopes of maximizing their scoring opportunities. (Alright, I’ll quit it with the sports lexicon, but you get the idea.)

Why in the world would a marketer choose to NOT market?  What we see in many cases is the symptom of “analysis paralysis.” You’re bunched up with budgets, message, partners, coordinating schedules with holidays or industry-important trade shows. You’re waiting for approvals or certifications. In the meantime, other marketers in the category are gaining ground simply by being visible.

One familiar refrain: “we can’t afford to do marketing right now, so we’re waiting it out.” The simple truth is this: you cannot afford to NOT be marketing. It’s become more critical now than ever before, since we live in an “always-on” socially connected world. In your absence, your competitors are making impressions, driving conversations, making conversions and building engagement. Sure, sometimes it’s on a small scale, and sometimes they may misstep. But the consumer segment you’re all after is being “trained” that your competitor is a brand that’s ready to be engaged with. Your brand, even if it’s empirically “better” in some respects, is invisible in the meantime, and therefore not considered at all as a player in the category. Now that’s costly.

Another recurring pattern is that marketers are tentative, afraid to go out with a “less-than-perfect” iteration of their materials: the website isn’t quite there, or the first cut of the spot was a little rough and could use some cleaning up.

While we all strive to get it as right as possible every time, you’re perfectly allowed to make a misstep here and there in terms of presentation. Not every performer has his or her best night every night of the tour, and not every marketer is going to nail it on every impression. As long as your misstep is not of the “off-brand” or “off-message” variety, you’ll be fine. Every major brand started modestly, and built off their small successes to improve their messaging and put a more shiny coat on their advertising.

So get off the bench, lace up your briefcase, and get out there with your marketing! Who knows? You might even score a few points with your audience.

Here’s a quick checklist:

  1. Do you have a product or service that can be sold to a consumer [or intermediary] right now?
  2. Do you have a brand promise associated with that product or service that can be turned into a compelling marketing message?
  3. Is that brand differentiated from competitors in your category?

Then YAY! You’re ready to go! You can basically start marketing immediately. How much, or how aggressively, is up to you.

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!

Advertising: starring social media

I’m sure you’ve noticed this, but the phenomenon of digital interactivity – and especially via social media – has become a pervasive theme in modern television advertising.  Everywhere you look, brands of all kinds are using dramatic setups in their spots that either include, focus on or ultimately lead to some kind of digital interactivity.

To clarify, this is not just listing all the places you can find the brand on social media with a tag at the end of the spots.  This is regarding the growing number of spots being ABOUT social media, and about our digital lives, and how the brands are woven into our modern lifestyles.

Survey Monkey, typically regarded as a b-to-b entity, has gone out with an appeal to the consumer audience, and claims that their platform can be used “for all kinds of things, including event planning.”  What I love about this spot is the way it’s contextualized (and well-directed, as the story bookends the extended spot) around the “original” survey model.  Molly leaves a note in little Johnny’s locker, handwritten with crayon:  Do you like me?  With two options:  Yes.  No.  Classic.

Now, obviously, it makes sense for any type of online platform to use the digital life as the basis for the creative.  Google has done this marvelously before in their search spots, and more recently in a spot for their Nexus 7 product, where they use the theme of “search” as the basis for interacting with their electronic gadget.  It’s good – and they touch the humanity button perfectly with good casting and a few carefully planned tugs at the heartstrings.

Samsung’s Galaxy S4, (whose advertising still confounds me, since they’re just marketing around features instead of trying to find differentiating benefits, but that’s another post,) has a new spot featuring a traveling baseball team.  A bored infielder is using the video capture on the device to film his sleepyhead travel companion.  As the nod-er-off-er’s head bounces, the video is captured, and the buddy starts to tool on the loop.

And that’s what’s interesting – the ad isn’t about the quality of the video the device provides, the number of megapixels on the device, or even the dopey “tap to share” feature on the device, but rather on the video loop that this kid will create with the device.  (A primary-grade-level feature on any smartphone today.)  Ostensibly, the owner of the Galaxy S4 in this case is merely considering what a great Vine upload this would be, or at the very least how many likes that GIF will get on Tumblr.  THAT’s the unspoken focus of this spot, and it marginalizes the brand in some ways, because you can do that with ANY bloody phone.

In another category altogether, Wendy’s has taken up the social-media-as-the-end-to-the-means with its latest spot for its chicken flatbread sandwich.  In the old days, we would have just created a situation-comedy style setup with the big laugh at the end and then a 6-second panning beauty shot of the sandwich.  Today, the dialogue and setup is totally based on social media:  male character walks in and starts the dialogue with “hey…you saw my post on this great bakery…” and then ends with him posting a pic of redheaded “Wendy” to Twitter. [They also tagged the spot with a hashtag #twEATfor1k.]

And it goes beyond fast food into several other categories.  One new car commercial (for Honda) touts its “the car reads your emails for you” feature, and positions it as a safety benefit.  Smart.  But stop and think about that for a moment:  the brand recognizes the need for us to stay connected to our digital lives, and has built in an e-mail reading feature into their vehicles, and is now running spots promoting that.  That goes way beyond MP3 players and partnering with Pandora for entertainment purposes.

Surveys.  Search.  Social media posts.  All taking a lead role in spots for big brands.  Going even further, many brands now are using crowdsourced images and videos as the visual basis for their ads. It’s an interesting paradox, or at least a healthy turnabout:  for years, brands have hoped to be discussed and passively promoted through social media and across the digital landscape.  Now, social media and the digital life are being actively promoted via brand advertising.

Why, Hightail?

The very popular file sharing service, formerly known as YouSendIt, has now changed their name to Hightail.  No, keep reading…I’m serious.

This is what their homepage takeover message looks like:

hightail_takeover

So the obvious question is…why?  And let me qualify that question with some color.

Why, if you’re a file sharing service, a service that allows YOU to take a large file and SEND IT to someone else (for free on the basic plan, I might add) change your name from YouSendIt to, well, anything else?

Why, if you’ve invested all this time and money for nine years in the back end cloud storage virtualized pool infrastructure, and invested in acquisitions and technological upgrades, and invested in marketing and advertising, would you change your name from YouSendIt to, well, anything else?

Why, even if you’re announcing broadening your offering from file sharing into digital file collaboration services, would you change your name from YouSendIt to, well, anything else?

Why, when there’s nine years of brand equity built up, when you’ve outlasted some pretty high profile would-be competitors, (including the flailing DropBox,) when you’ve gotten 4 out of 5 stars from PC Magazine, when you’re finally turning a profit on the premium services, when you’ve become the generic term for Internet file sharing services (literally, people verb-ize file sharing as “I’ll YouSendIt to you later,”) would you change your name from YouSendIt to, well, anything else?

It could be a number of things.  It could be new CEO Brand Garlinghouse (formerly of Yahoo!) putting his fingerprint on the company he’s been appointed to run.

It could be that YouSendIt doesn’t sound sexy or silly enough, and they wanted to sound more like Yahoo!, or Hulu, or Etsy or whatever.

YouSendIt could have done a lot of things to refresh – which they’ve done with Hightail.  New, HTML5-coded website.  New features.  New look and feel.  Heck, they could have updated the logo.

And the folks at Hightail know the name thing is an issue.  It merits above-the-fold position on their homepage with a message that says “watch this short video to learn why we changed our name.”  Yes.  Let’s:

Okay, but still, the new name thing confounds me.  In the video, you hear some of the talking heads saying things like “the name YouSendIt constrained us in terms of our vision.”  [Tell THAT to Google.]  And “we don’t want a name that holds us back.”  And my favorite “we finally have a second chance to make a first impression.”  And that’s the quote that really stands out for me.

Because here’s the dirty little secret about branding that nobody teaches you in b-school.  You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.  You only get one chance to make one impression to one prospect at a time.  And in my opinion, Hightail doesn’t make a bad impression.  It does something far worse.  It makes no impression at all.  It confuses rather than clarifies.

Don’t get me wrong.  I get “hightail” as a verb.  “I’ll hightail it over to you.”  Or “you hightail it over to me.”  But we’re not talking about meetings here.  [Really, “I’ll hightail it over to you” means “I’ll be right there.”  Not “I’ll get you that large file right away.”  So there’s even a semantics issue. Ugh.] Plus, it’s such a hipster-cum-corporate-acceptable piece of jargon. I wonder if they’re now headquartered in Dumbo?

From a pure brand perspective, the truth is that YouSendIt was a GREAT name for a brand.  It was functional.  It was short and sweet.  But mostly, and bestly (?) it conveyed a promise (You.  Send.  It. ) which, after all, is the heavy lifting of a brand.

Let’s watch and see what happens together.

Pardon Me, May I Borrow Some Equity?

From a marketing perspective, Audi is having a strong first half of 2013. They started with this spectacular Super Bowl Spot, which I also covered in my Super Bowl Advertising Roundup.

As you can see, this spot is really strong advertising, very well executed, and by most accounts, very well received. Kudos to the team at Venables Bell & Partners for 60 seconds of fine storytelling, excellently produced.

What I really admire is the borrowed equity. Audi uses the (classic) high school prom and all its teenage-I-don’t-really-fit-in-and-I’m-secretly-in-love-with-that-girl angst as the thrust agent to propel the underlying storyline. There’s so much being said, without actually being said, that provides backdrop and motivation to the spot. In virtually any other scenario, you’d have to spend a lot of valuable airtime to establish that emotional context. Borrow some “prom” equity, and it’s built in. Smart.

Now, Audi releases another gem, a viral video called “The Challenge.” It’s a two minute and 44 second short featuring Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy. For the four of you who can’t make that connection, they both share the role of Spock from the Star Trek fiction series, and this video is released just weeks before the next installment of the blockbuster film franchise “Into Darkness” is released nationwide. [Interestingly, and clearly not coincidentally, Audi is NOT the “official auto partner” of Star Trek. It’s Mazda. And they’ve gotta be pissed over there in Anaheim.] Take a look.

Again, aside from the fact that this is a really good piece of content, with a couple of really good laughs around the old man vs young turk struggle, it’s the Trekkie/Nimoy references buried in the action, the Star-Trek-ism of it all that fuels the comedic undertone. It’s geeky, and quirky, and you’re almost waiting for Sheldon from “Big Bang Theory” to make a cameo. By the way, did you notice that shameless kick in the crotch that Audi levels on Mercedes-Benz? OUCH.

In the short, there are plenty of jokes, and Nimoy even reprises his old Bilbo Baggins vocalizing as part of it. It’s camp. It’s fun. It’s for FANS. It’s content dissemination that’s approaching four million views as of this writing. Yeah. FOUR MILLION.

In both cases, Audi was smart and crafty enough to pull some strong messaging together and dress it up with sexy shots of the latest A7 vehicle. But they go a step further and deliver those messages to consumers in powerful emotional packages that ALREADY have trust and memory and gravity built in. It is indeed “fascinating,” and I, for one, can’t wait to see what they do the rest of this year.

Live long and prosper.

[This article first appeared on Technorati.]