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!

 

 

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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.

Super Bowl Advertising on AUTO-Pilot?


For the most part, the super bowl spots this year were, well, less than super. No really big ideas. No breaking of any molds. No we’ll-be-talking-about-this-in-20-years executions. It’s not that they were bad. They just weren’t memorable. And in the world of advertising, if you can’t do memorable, you can’t do anything.

Let’s spare the knocks and gaffes. We all know what those were. (A kid peeing in a pool for a free online tax service? Really?) Instead, I’ll focus on the few standouts in the automotive category and see if we can highlight some themes to remember if and when you ever have the chance to put your brand on the grandest stage of all.

For my money, GM wins the night with their “2012” post-apocalyptic survival spot for Silverado. A Silverado pulls out of the gray rubble of the aftermath with every cliché in tow: a rugged middle-aged man, his trusty dog and, of course, Barry Manilow crooning “Looks Like We Made It.” Even the Transformers (yup, that’s Bumblebee’s head laying on the side of the road,) and the alien ships couldn’t outwit the Mayan foreshadowing. But Silverado did.

And in the gutsiest move of the night, GM takes on the competition by name. The main character meets up with three other Silverado drivers and asks, “Where’s Dave?” A saddened friend reports the dreary news: “Dave didn’t drive the longest-lasting, most dependable truck on the road…Dave drove a Ford.” Home run. Say goodnight Gracie. That’s all she wrote. Best spot of Super Bowl R2D2. Take on the competition by name, and kick ‘em in the ding-ding. Then share a Twinkie.  Wow.

In general, cars made the best showing as a category, but also seemed to demonstrate the weirdest strategies. Audi (with agency Venables + Bell) spent $7 million on the 2-minute “Vampire Party,” which is a neat little spot that goes a LONG way to make a point about their LED headlights, which apparently recreate daylight so well they fry vampires. I love advertising that’s singular and focused and creatively makes a point about a particular feature. So points for telling us SOMETHING about the car. (More than others can say.) But on the Super Bowl? Let’s keep it brand-ey, okay?

Fiat: fantasy about a gorgeous Italian woman with all the soft-porn of latte foam. Chevy: “stunt drivers” thing was kind of done already by Nissan earlier this year. Cadillac: let’s take on BMW on the positioning they’ve owned for more than 25 years. We know the creatives came out to play, but where was the CMO in all of these executions?

Clint Eastwood enlisted to do a tug-at-your-heartstrings-but-watch-out-cuz-I-can-also-kick-your-ass sendup for Chrysler. Okay, this is exactly the kind of thing Americans who are feeling patriotic and puffed up want to hear. And the spot is well done, and turns last year’s coming-out party into an extended affair. All good. But I think we’ve all come to expect more from Wieden + Kennedy than a reboot of the 1984 Hal Riney “Morning in America” classic.

VW also took the let’s-build-on-last-year strategy with “Dog Strikes Back,” a touching anthropomorphic vignette of a dog who’s lost his mojo. The dog can hardly chase a car anymore because he’s gotten too complacent. So he embarks on a disciplined workout regimen, resists the temptation of mom’s table scraps and gets back into fighting shape so he can hustle out the door and chase that flashy new VW Beetle down the road. Really good work from Deutsch. Nice little tag on the end to connect the dots to last year’s “Vader” spot for Passat. Another winner for 2012.

One thumb up to Hyundai for a number of reasons. They’re feeling their oats these days (and they should – their sales are killing,) so they decide to invest in some Super Bowl branding. The “cheetah” spot and the “think fast” spot (both from Innocean) weren’t feats of advertising genius, but they were solid entries into a pretty crowded field of automotive advertising. Compared to Toyota and Lexus, they were smarter. Not as funny as Honda’s “Ferris Bueller” or “Seinfeld,” but probably did more to educate viewers about the brand. And by the way, where was Ford, the company that bragged all year about not needing a bailout?

This article first appeared on Technorati.