I remember a time when, back in say the early ‘80s, when America sat down to enjoy the Super Bowl and the commercials with – not a less critical mind – but perhaps a less angry one. Oh, there were comments back in those days, yes, but not the kind of vitriol I see in the audience today. Here, for example, I quote one of the many panelist’s out there who was drinking Hater-ade® by the barrel:
“So our ‘best creative minds’ couldn’t come up with a single innovative or compelling super bowl spot. Madison Ave is the worst.”
Perhaps this anger isn’t new. Personally, I can remember the times I judged the One Show and it seemed in order to be a “cool judge,” you had to be the first one to groan, the first to say – even a bare two seconds into a radio spot – “Oh, puh-lease, next!”
Now don’t get me wrong, authentic criticism has an important place in any intelligent society. I think we should be skeptical. But this anger I feel out there, for commercials? Well, I’ll reserve anger for the ones that fail not on creative measures but on moral ones, the ones that appeal to our lowest common denominators, to the Beavis & Butthead in us. And for my money, there were only a few of those in the mix this year: GoDaddy’s annual national embarrassment, of course; Teleflora’s you-give-me-flowers-and-I-give-you-sex spot.
As for all the rest? Heck, I wish advertisers tried as hard as they do on Super Sunday all year long. Overall, isn’t it fair to say that Super Bowl commercials are generally more interesting than what we see the rest of the year? And if you agree, here’s the interesting thing: Why do most brands save their most entertaining work just for when a billion people are watching? It’s as if they say, “Well, when only a few million people are watching, see, that size of an audience doesn’t matter. We put on our Sunday best only for Super Sunday; the rest of the year we’re gonna bludgeon those schmucks with some seriously boring stuff .”
That’s Eddie Haskell Marketing®. (The link’s for those under 45.)
That said, I believe almost every one of Sunday’s advertisers could’ve dialed up the sell in their spots without hurting the the entertainment value. Perhaps in the scramble to put on a good show, clients and agencies forget they have the opportunity to make a real point about their brands, to say something important, or lasting, or truly different.
Only one advertiser did that this year; the same guys who did it last year. – Chrysler and Weiden + Kennedy. When I posted how much I loved the “Halftime in America” spot, a Twitter follower asked me: “What made Eastwood’s a good spot? Am not being snarky. Value your opinion. It felt precious and tedious to me.” It was a fair question and clearly not from an angry viewer guzzlin” Hater-ade. I wrote this thoughtful viewer with my two cents: first of all, the idea was built on a cultural tension, on a national feeling that American cars have kinda sucked for years and that perhaps we deserve to be second-best. Additionally, I loved how they used the halftime itself as a media buy; partly because it supported their “Halftime in America” concept, partly because it was a cheaper buy. I loved their inspired choice of voiceover – Eastwood. (Thank you for not defaulting to Morgan Freeman.) And finally there was that wonderful copy. Wow. It just doesn’t get better.
There were lots of other good spots Sunday night; good even though some of them used trusty ol’ Super Bowl formulas (whacky + animal + guy humor + etc.etc.). Here’s how the top seven spots stacked up for me.
I’d love to hear your opinion. Well, if you’re all hissy-fit and anger about it, go hang with the trolls on YouTube. But for cryin’ out loud, in the end we’re talkin’ about commercials here, folks.
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CHRYSLER: “It’s halftime, America.” – My fave.
AUDI: “Vampire Party” – Audi’s LED headlights crisp-i-fy all the partying vampires. “Daylight now in a headlight.” Fun to watch and built entirely on a real point of difference, even if it is only an ancillary one. Good stuff.
CHEVY: “The Apocalypse-Proof Silverado” and “Happy Graduate” — Yes, “Apocalypse” was a big budget, but don’t hold that against it. Some of that money went to Barry Manilow’s “Looks Like We Made It,” an inspired choice of music. Note also that sell copy rarely works when spoken by an actor inside of a spot, but because the Sarcas-Matron® was on such a high setting here, it worked for me. (“Dave didn’t drive the longest-lasting most dependable truck on the road.”) Loved the appearance of other random brands like Big Boy and Twinkies, as well as the frog rain from the movie Magnolia. And then the “Happy Grad” spot? The chanting “Best gift ever! Best gift ever!” was a delight. I was particularly impressed with their restraint. They could have gone sooo big with this (i.e., say the graduate’s college band marches through, etc., etc.) but they didn’t. Their other spots were good too, so Chevy gets my vote as best Super Bowl client.
DORITOS: “Dog” – This was Gary Larson’s The Far Side brought to life. And I think it’s cool how crowd-sourcing can end up with stuff like this. (I’m assuming it was in fact done by a “non-professional,” right?)
FIAT Abarth: “You never forget the first time you see one.” – Not many may agree with me on this one, but I loved it. Loved how it was sexy without being sleazy.
CARS.COM: “Confidence Head” – Your basic Whacky-Super-Bowl approach, but it works because it spells out what the product does and, more importantly, the feeling it gives users – confidence — plus it’s funny all the way through. Guy reminds me of Will Smith; has that same comic touch.