The big game has come and gone. Lovers of football sure got a treat: drama, fanfare and color. But lovers of advertising were sadly left out in the cold.
It’s a bit of deja vu from 2014: As a whole, the level was decidedly mediocre. It was no worse on average than the past two years. But…there were hardly any standouts, those soaring home runs which capture the imagination and elevate the profession. It makes you yearn for the magic that was captured in Chrysler’s “It’s Halftime in America”, the solemn grace of Ram Truck’s “The Farmer”, or even the pop culture hipness of Samsung’s “The Next Big Thing.”
What were some of the overall takeaways of the night?
- Movie and TV is big business – Amazing to see how many trailers for movies or TV shows.
- Has the pre-buzz reached its peak? – Seems to me like everyone pre-released their ads early, and…nobody cared that much. It’s like everything else these days in our fast-moving media world. Two years ago some people leaked their ad early, and it got huge buzz. Last year, more did it, and even greater buzz. This year, this tactic feels like it may have jumped the shark. Why? Probably because people enjoy being a part of a pop culture “insider” event, but once it gets big and folks come to realize they’re just being blatantly marketed to, they get turned off.
- Did I mention this was supposed to be a party? – Like in real life, it’s so important to be able to gauge the temperature of the room. I was surprised by the amount of somber ads in what is normally a very festive event. The approach is both gutsy and risky in search of breakthrough: for some it worked nicely (eg: Always “Like a Girl”), for others it was a bit of Hindenburg moment…though still far preferable, in my book, to indifferent mediocrity.
- Long-form rules – What was once the exception now feels like the rule. The level of scale an emotion in most of these just asks for 60 seconds.
- Call to action exhaustion – Was it me or were there far fewer “call to action gimmicks” than in years past? I’m referring to ads that ask you to vote for how the ad ends, or tweet in support of this or that, etc. Perhaps they didn’t work as well last year? Or is it just that people don’t need to be told anymore what to do in order to get more info?
- Going for it and failing – You can’t fault the level of ambition. More than previous years there were efforts that clearly aimed for greatness, but for some reason or other just failed to make the landing. An example is Nissan “With Dad” or Carnival’s “Come Back to the Sea.” As they say, A for effort…
- Men good, domestic violence bad – The NFL has lived through a well-deserved PR crisis based on a series of spousal abuse incidents among its players. Was it a coincidence that much of the messaging was explicitly anti-abuse and/or painting men in a positive light?
My Top 5 ads of the night, in order of their appearance:
1. Reebok “Be More Human”
I love everything about this ad. It’s beautifully shot, and has lovely, soaring copy. By fully embracing those on the fringes of exercise (those crazy crossfitters, mudrunners, etc.) the ad humanizes them, it makes them (and their approach to exercise) more approachable and even desirable. For Reebok, a once-dominant brand since swept aside by Nike and Adidas, it is a powerful statement that says “watch this space.”
2. BMW i3
A great story, well told. The ad uses all the trappings of a big Super Bowl ad: celebrities, pop culture references, humor…all in the service of a very crisp message (“Big ideas take a little getting used to”) that then connect seamlessly to the car that is being introduced. Car advertising is really tough – here they hooked you in so well that when it comes time to make the sale, it sticks. Nicely done.
3. Always “Like a Girl”
In a year packed with ads in the PSA mold, this was the best one. It’s innovative and surprising, and yet it rings true. It’s the type of ad that generates conversation in your living room immediately after it has passed, and that’s hard to do. Of the top 5, this one is the one where the linkage to the brand is least clearly defined, which is a shame – but nonetheless it has an unusual staying power.
4. Clash of Clans “Revenge”
See, this is how you use a big celebrity during the Super Bowl. It’s not just about plugging in famous people. It’s about plugging in famous people in an unexpected situation, having them say something that is interesting (his monologue is hilarious) timely (his “Taken” movies have become part of pop culture) and relevant (the motif of revenge connects the story to the game.) They even luxuriated in a little twist at the end (“it’s Liam”) that wraps it all up in a smile. Fantastic.
5. Budweiser “Brewed the Hard Way”
Not much subtlety about this one, but it’s really, really well executed. The beer category version of Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit,” it’s a good 60 seconds of a classic brand thumbing its nose at newcomers and short-term fads. Tons of confident brand essence, lovely “product porn” and quite a bit of irreverent fun thrown in. Give me more! It makes me want to go buy a six-pack, and I prefer this one million times over nonsensical stories of puppies.
There were a few others that stuck out a bit, even when falling well short of greatness:(click on name to view the video)
- MountainDew “Kickstart” – Such ridiculous moves that they managed to make a fun ad out of a nothing idea.
- Mercedes-Benz “Fable” – Car advertising is tough. This one is redeemed by a really cool looking car, and special effects to match. Made it passable, and that’s saying a lot for the category.
- Kia Sorrento “The Perfect Getaway” – Another good use of celebrity star power. Lets Brosnan play to his strengths, with a little tongue-in-cheek humor and plenty of car beauty shots. A solid effort.
- Fiat 500 “Blue Pill” – Grand in scale, cheeky, and a very appropriate Euro vibe all communicating a crisp message in an engaging manner. As simple as that.
- Doritos “Middle Seat” – Thousands of user-generated ideas yield and this was the best one? Guess that’s why ad agencies exist. But, hey, it was good for a laugh, and for Dorito’s that’s not a bad outcome.
- Turbotax “Boston Tea Party” – a big, fun production that gets the brand benefit across with a smile.
- Victoria’s Secret – Not over the top, just focusing on beautiful women and beautiful lingerie. It’s so hard to not ruin something so simple. Here they avoid disaster…by keeping it simple.
- Snicker’s “The Brady Bunch” – It’s like a joke that you already know the punchline for but you laugh anyway. In this case, thanks mostly to the inspired casting.
- Mophie “All powerless” – A grand, apocalyptic, special effects extravaganza. It’s what Super Bowl production budgets were made for! I’m a fan.
- NoMore.org – Really jarring and not in the Super Bowl’s festive spirit…but really, really well made.