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!

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Super Bowl 2013: Grins and Groans

Super Bowl 47 is in the books, and with it, so is another chapter in advertising history. Football fans got what they wanted – a very exciting game that came right down to the end, with strategy, comebacks and even a second half blackout to make it interesting.

Advertising fans, not so much. The advertising was generally blah. No real game-changers this year. Just a lot of bland messages delivered in neat packages. Not including a ZILLION CBS promos, there were nearly 70 commercial airings between the National Anthem and the final play of the game. So here are my GRINS and GROANS for Super Bowl 2013.

SINGLE GRINS:

M&M’s doing a funny riff on Meatloaf’s “I Would do Anything for Love”;
Oreo’s “Library” whisper-romp;
GoDaddy’s “don’t wait to register”;
Sodastream’s “bottle savers”;

DOUBLE GRIN:
I loved the Tide “Miracle Montana” spot. Well thought, well executed, and well played by the wife character (who happens to be a Ravens fan, duh) in the spot. Smartly executed. Would have loved to have seen it in the first half, though.

BIGGEST GRIN:
Has to go to Audi for its “prom” spot*. It was one of the very few spots that drew the viewer in with a real narrative tone and you couldn’t help but rooting for the main character. In the spot, we learn of a young man who is clearly depressed about having to go to the prom by himself. But Dad intervenes, throws him the keys to the new Audi, and the kid starts to feel his oats. He races a limo off the line at a traffic light; he parks in the principal’s spot at school, and he walks right up to the prom queen and plants the I’ve-loved-you-since-6th-grade kiss on her. But he pays for all that courage. The final scene: same boy, driving home, black eye: Best. Prom. Ever. The spot ends with the tagline “Bravery. It’s what defines us.” See it here:


* BUT WAIT. There’s an asterisk. Here’s a note on why Audi’s minute-long love story is not a perfect message, especially considering the mostly male 20-something audience. While I appreciate the courage it takes to finally let your feelings be known to the girl of your dreams, it does NOT excuse the behavior of this boy. Kissing a girl without her permission is simply NOT okay, (even if she secretly liked it.) I love seeing a hero, especially in advertising. But NOT at the expense of a young woman’s privacy and dignity. So it makes sense that he gets socked in the eye. But societal norms, or better judgment, or an ad agency that should have known better, should have PREVENTED that scene from happening, instead of him being punished by a jealous prom king boyfriend. If this spot were politically correct, he would have gone stag to the prom, exchanged some nervous glances with the prom queen, and then perhaps they could have met at the punch bowl for a MUTUAL confession of their affections. I would much rather see him drive home with her phone number scribbled on a napkin…the promise of a future rather than the finality of a blaze of glory. The promise is what most of us can relate to. The hope. The hope against hope. The what’s-next-in-this-crazy-story anticipation. And heck, I’d rather do all that waiting in a nice Audi. Too bad – they went Hollywood and did a less-than-perfect spot. But, gosh, it was still really, really good advertising – using storytelling wisely.

And now the GROANS.

The WTF GROAN: I just don’t even get it.
Ram’s “Paul Harvey/Farmer” spot. Wow, what a wonderful sentiment. Wow, what a terrible waste of money for a car marketer.

SLOW GROANS
Taco Bell’s “retirees’; a long way to go and too far-fetched for fast food
Beck’s Sapphire “singing fish”; NOT the bom-diggity it was intended to be
Mercedes “devil”; just seemed like a waste of talent, all those teases and airtime.

BIGGEST GROAN
GoDaddy’s “kiss” spot. Besides being gross, it (again) decided to denigrate women in the process of making a point about style and substance. UGH! At least throw us a curve ball and make Bar Rafaeli the IT girl. Jeez!

What did YOU think of the Super Bowl spots? I’d love to hear!

This article first appeared on Technorati.