Super Bowl ads 2015 – the Adboardingpass review!

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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?

  1. Movie and TV is big business – Amazing to see how many trailers for movies or TV shows.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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…
  7. 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)

  1. MountainDew “Kickstart” – Such ridiculous moves that they managed to make a fun ad out of a nothing idea.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Turbotax “Boston Tea Party” – a big, fun production that gets the brand benefit across with a smile.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Mophie “All powerless” – A grand, apocalyptic, special effects extravaganza. It’s what Super Bowl production budgets were made for! I’m a fan.
  10. NoMore.org – Really jarring and not in the Super Bowl’s festive spirit…but really, really well made.
That’s it. Not bad, but really not great. Next up, the Oscars?

Super Bowl ads 2013 – the Adboardingpass review! (part 3 of 3)

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CaptureEvery one of the ads. If it was awesome, it’s here. If it sucked, it’s also here.

Click here for part 1 and here for part 2

We’ve come to part 3. Our hope is that some ads will reach the greatness levels of last year, because so far…we have fallen well short.

35. Gildan T Shirts – Getaway

I liked this one. It made me smile, it was visually interesting, it had a good buildup to the joke, and the t-shirt was the catalyst of the action, and the key prop in the punchline. Nicely done. Alas the key flaw here was branding, which came in too late and too weakly. In fairness I don’t know how they could have gotten it in early in a way that was credible, but it’s a problem. Imagine this ad from Fruit of the Loom and it would be a great Super Bowl ad. But since this ad comes from…what was the name again?? Exactly. – Coach Class Cabin

36. Wonderful Pistachios – PSY Get Crackin’

Uff. You see, when you try to ride the wave of pop-culture, timing is everything. Release this ad 4 months ago on some big-stage viewing event, and you’re the genius. Today…it’s starting to feel very tired, very sell-out. Yes, it’s entertaining, yes it’s pretty cool to see PSY humping the pistachio with wild abandon, yes it makes you smile. It’s tongue-in-cheek, unabashedly so, and that has its charm. Not enough to make it great, probably enough to make it ok in this context. I’m upgrading with much skepticism based on assured recall, but more than anything I do it because it looks like we’re over-booked on Coach. – Business Class Cabin

37. Lincoln – Once Upon a Tweet

No. I tell you what does work here – the car looks pretty cool. That actually means a lot, and catches my interest. The rest? Garbage. A whole ad made about some tweets, with the hope that you’ll go check out the back-story. It’s nonsense. Marketing people and agencies talking to each other in a circular hell of social media clichés. They and maybe their family members will be the only ones that will wish to “continue this conversation”, which is so completely uninteresting to real consumers, and completely unconnected to the product (this could have been done for literally any product). Really, really bad. And it’s a shame, because they have a cool looking car – Baggage Cargo Hold

38. Speedstick – Unattended Laundry

This ad is a monument to predictability, a love song to cliché, and a celebration of happy mediocrity. Really nothing there. I get it, the product benefit and all, but the mundane scenario and dialogue are just too much to overcome. And by the way, after underwhelming me so much with your non-entertainment, don’t even ask me for a tweet. Not going to happen. – Coach Class Cabin

39. Beck’s Sapphire – No Diggity

Context matters, and after so many bad ads in a row, I kind of like this one quite a bit! I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but the components were there. Cool looking bottle, respectable brand for a premium message, funky mood, funky tune, crazy fish…Call me crazy, but it was ok. Not Super Bowl topping ok, not I-will-remember-this-brand ok, but a decent enough 30 seconds. – Coach Class Cabin

40. RAM Trucks – Farmer

Ok, then, finally! This is a “statement” ad. They took a risk of going overboard (but they took the risk!), and with much more grace and distinctiveness than the Jeep ad, I think they nailed it, and delivered a beautiful, lasting statement that could really help re-define this brand if they choose to pursue it. Beautifully written, did you notice the cadence, the ebbs and flows of the words? During portions I didn’t even understand what was being said, as it was too fast and I’m not familiar with the terminology – but it didn’t matter. Beautifully shot. Solemn yet hopeful. Nostalgic yet forward-looking. Targeted yet universal (this is for the farmer in all of us). An ad with a point of view. An ad beautifully crafted. An ad that touches the emotions. And you know what – it wasn’t branded until the very end but it still works for Dodge, because the link is very credible and easy to accept, and also people repay their enjoyment by acknowledging the maker. Really, really good. Hats off. – First Class Cabin

41. KIA – Space Babies

It’s interesting that this follows the RAM truck ad. Here we’ve got a really interesting story, told in a pretty fantastic manner. The Babylandia segment is both interesting, somewhat funny, cute, and really well produced – it’s like a Hollywood movie. But alas, they don’t land the plane and link it to KIA! I know they tried it (by having the voice activated radio play the song on command..) but nobody is going to notice that after having such a vivid image in their head a few seconds ago. And because there is no credible link between the story of Babylandia and KIA, none is registered, and no one will remember who this ad was for – while they’ll remember the baby piglets just fine. They had a strong hand and played it really badly. – Coach Class Cabin

42. Tide – Miracle Stain

A mixed-bag effort here (successfully jumping over a hurdle, failing at another and not even attempting yet a third )that I nonetheless enjoyed. And enjoyment is that key and initial hurdle. Without it people won’t notice you, won’t remember you, and your ad will pass like a ship in the night. I thought the miracle Montana stain idea was kooky, yet also somewhat believable and definitely relevant. It worked for me, and I enjoyed how they drew it out into an over-the-top narrative. Alas I think they failed to connect it enough to Tide – the connective “joke” was too small for the buildup that preceded it, and it just didn’t stick. Thus, it’s probably best they didn’t even attempt to touch you emotionally, because it’s likely they would have failed. Could have been more, but it was a nice, solid effort. – Business Class Cabin

43. Sodastream – Effect

One must give credit here because this is a brand that seemingly out of nowhere arrives at the big advertising stage and tries to make a big statement with a well-produced ad and a decent enough idea behind it in “if you love the bubbles, set them free”. And yet, I fear they just don’t nail the landing. It’s interesting to watch, especially the part about the exploding bottles. But it’s difficult to connect the dots fully in your head – how do you liberate the bubbles if indeed what you are doing is making carbonated drinks at home? Isn’t it just a different way to do the same thing? And, as ingrained as Coke and co. are in our lives, do we really think their product is so easy to “manufacture” by alternative means? And…why should I bother? You get my drift. There’s something there, and it could even be revolutionary – but when it takes a 20 slide Powerpoint to sell you on it, it’s not simple enough. I’d say these guys had a solid 30 seconds, did an honest best, but didn’t surpass the extremely high benchmark they set for themselves. – Coach Class Cabin

44. Mercedes-Benz – Soul

Ah, yes. I love this ad. Exquisitely produced, and oozing opulence (superb casting, epic soundtrack…nothing came cheap, all of it worthwhile). But in the end, it only truly works because a)there’s a great product truth (value for money) conveyed through a clever twist, b)there’s a great looking product front and center throughout, and c)the story is entertaining to watch, once you start you can’t take your eyes off the screen. The money is justified by the idea…the idea is amplified with the money. That’s how you make a good Superbowl ad. A well deserved selection as our Ad of the Day back on February 1. – First Class Cabin.

45. Samsung – The Next Big Thing

This ad is almost cheating. I mean, you some of the top comedic film talent of today (plus a LeBron cameo!), and you just tell them to have fun and improvise. Probably shot hours of film and then edited it down to a long-form ad. If you had described this to me I would have predicted a disaster, or at best a funny 2 minutes with no benefit to the product itself. And I would have been wrong. Against big odds I think they just crushed it. Funny, engaging, and with the product and brand credibly woven into the narrative. It’s the kind of extravagant, over-the-top concept comes to life with money is no object (Samsung smells blood in the water and they want to redouble their efforts vs Apple), and talented creative people are allowed to do their thing while everyone else gets out of the way. It’s really quite simple to describe, but so hard to pull off: Something to catch your attention (celebrities), an interesting story (their passive-aggressive dialogue), and the product credibly integrated in a manner that is important to the story. Loved this, my hats off for the courage involved in bringing pulling it off successfully. – First Class Cabin

46. Pepsi Next – Party

Poor Pepsi. They’re that guy that tries so damn hard. You want them to do well, to reward the effort. But in the end, it’s just…ok. Take this ad for example. The idea (parents returning early during a party) has been done to death, but they try to execute it well, and even aim high with some nice touches (the guy pouring the gallon of milk over his head is out-there enough to be funny, as is the random “baaa” of a sheep when the music dies out). But it’s hard for this idea to escape the gravitational pull of a brand, and a product (60% less? is that supposed to be a lot when Coke promises the same benefit with 0 calories?) that is just…not…ready to win the big game. Nice enough, that’s about it. – Coach Class Cabin

And there you have it folks – All 46 ads, not counting movie trailers. Looks they saved the good stuff for the end of the game, I wonder if it was on purpose? Check back tomorrow for closing thoughts and our top 5!

Super Bowl ads 2013 – the Adboardingpass review! (part 2 of 3)

super_bowl_2013 lrEvery one of the ads. If it was awesome, it’s here. If it sucked, it’s also here.

If you missed part 1, click here

What will part 2 have in store? Hopefully some better ads, the Baggage Cargo hold is getting crowded, while there is plenty of room in First Class…

21. Subway – A Story 15 Years in the Making

This ad is about a celebration, but somehow there’s something here that’s oddly…a little sad. Perhaps it’s the mental image of this poor guy Jared as some sort of human guinea-pig in a 15-year experiment, forced to eat low-fat Subway sandwiches every day to see if he can become a “claim” in a TV campaign.  It’s all a little off-putting. Don’t tell me the lone quick shot of him blowing out some candles doesn’t seem mildly pathetic, like they took him out of his cage briefly to blow a candle placed on top of a…6 inch ham, lettuce and tomato, no mayo or mustard please. There has to be more to life than that. And, sorry but I think even fast food lovers quake at the thought at eating at the same joint for 15 years. Wrong strategy Subway, that’s why the rest of the ad (celebrities, movie trailer-like setup) is completely forgettable. – Baggage Cargo Hold

22. Budweiser – Brotherhood

Bud has been running these Clydesdale ads for forever, and it has been about that long since they were any good. So I was all set to go to hate on this ad! But, despite my best efforts, it kind of got to me. The clearest lesson here is the importance of music. At times it’s almost as easy as cheating. I’ve heard it said that it can be 80% of the effect, and that applies here. You could put a monster truck highlight reel to the tune of Stevie Nicks singing “Changes”, and I would find it emotional. So there’s that. But I give them full credit. The story was cheesy, but heartwarming. The strong hook (music), the storytelling, the branding (Clydesdale), the emotional touch (the reunion)…it makes for a solid one-time effort, suitable for this big stage Super Bowl screening. The only thing I found truly lame is the gratuitous social media nonsense shoe-horned into the end. Way to bring down the emotion and turn things really pedestrian, guys! (sigh). – Business Class Cabin

23. Taco Bell – Viva Young

It’s a little weird to see grannie doing all of these things, and the mind remembers it even worse than what was shown (were they doing lines of coke at one point or am I just remembering it that way?) But, this ad will be both noticed and remembered, and that’s a critical breakthrough on this big stage. And despite the shock factor of octogenarian tattoos, do you know what the true touch of genius in this ad is? The music. Having Fun perform “We are Young” is not just cool, it’s genius. It’s what elevates this ad two notches right from second 3. Kudos to those who tinker, and are not satisfied with a smash hit that fits just right, kudos to those who figure it should be sung (in a so-bad-it’s-brilliant performance) by the same band. That’s creativity. Alas, buried away deep somewhere among all this madness is Taco Bell and the food.  This brand hasn’t earned the right to make a “manifesto” film with barely a mention of product…so this is a demerit – but nonetheless a distinguished effort. – Business Class Cabin

24. Sketchers – Man vs Cheetah

Meh. Not bad, but not great, which means it’s entirely forgettable unless you happen to love nature documentaries about cheetahs. This is an idea that doesn’t feel fresh, I don’t know for sure but it feels like something that would have been done before 100 times. The special effects are pretty pedestrian, and the humor is not consistent. On the plus side, you have a credible product benefit showcased in an interesting manner. Not bad. But overall, this one will pass like a ship in the night, even more so than the bad ads that people will talk about for being so terrible. – Coach Class Cabin

25. Lincoln – Phoenix

The car category is really tough, especially if you want to make an ad about an actual car (and not some grander statement like Chrysler did last year, for example). So I have mucho respect for those who toil away at this under such tough odds. Basically, you either have a cool looking car, or you (most often) don’t. If you don’t, you can either make the windy road ad and be forgotten instantly, or do something really creative and take a gamble. Either way, tough gig. Now, if you have a cool-looking car, you can do whatever you want. Worst case scenario you’ll be mildly interesting, best case scenario you’ll awaken desire. Here Lincoln has a car that looks pretty decent, so I expect people took note for about 30 seconds. The jazz drummer and all the rest was background noise, but that big sun roof? That was pretty cool. Either way, halfway through the following commercial you will have forgotten about this one. – Coach Class Cabin

26. Jeep – Whole Again

Wow. For starters I’ll say that in these big “cultural manifesto” type ads, timing is key. Last year the Chrysler ad blew everyone away (myself included) because the US was in the midst of a painful-yet-hopeful sense of having hit rock bottom. It was a message superbly calibrated to its time. This year, GM goes back to that same patriotic/emotional well, but I feel the country moved on. Things have continued to slowly improve, there is a little more optimism, a little more room for a lighter message. And…yet…goddammit this ad broke me. I tried to resist the overt and flagrant attempt to manipulate my emotions! They threw the kitchen sink at me: the concentrated Americana imagery, the emotive Oprah narration, the soaring Hans-Zimmer styled score, the always-powerful “family-reunion-after-long-separation” theme, the naked patriotism, etc. Everything but puppies. And…in the end…they got me! First 30 seconds I was in full hipster-cynic mode. By second 60 my defenses were down. By 1:20 I felt a lump. By 1:40 I felt a tear. No expense was spared here, and it worked…I guess. Attention-grabbing, statement-making, tastefully-branded, emotionally-filled. So there’s that. Powerful, and ultimately somewhat effective…but I do feel quite used and manhandled by this ad, to be honest. (and I predict the non-US readers at Adboardingpass will kind of hate this ad). – Business Class Cabin

27. Century 21 – Wedding

I had to watch this twice because I couldn’t believe how awful this ad was, how utterly void of any redeeming quality it is. I’m not going to waste too many words on this one, because there’s nothing to say. But I am genuinely mystified about how an ad this bad gets made, especially for such a big showcase. I mean, I work in advertising, I understand the process, and I fail to see how something this bad can make it from start to finish. I’ve seen so many great ideas fall along the way, which consumers will never see. Yet this sophomoric mediocrity is a Super Bowl ad? I can’t believe a proper agency and marketing team were involved, I’ve got to assume that Century 21 is owned by a reclusive and eccentric billionaire that wrote and directed this on their own.Baggage Cargo Hold

28. Blackberry 10 – Can’t Do

Ummm, no, wrong. If you think about it a bit, sure, it makes sense. But in the fast flow of the commercial break, this is a comprehension mess. The whole time you’re trying to figure out how the action matches up with a feature of the phone…so it’s a wasted opportunity to figure out at the end that none of this has anything to do with the phone. Poor strategy, poor creative idea, decent enough execution, semi-decent visual entertainment of no lasting benefit to the brand that sponsored it. It all amounts to a completely mediocre (and thus forgettable) mess. – Coach Class Cabin

29. E-Trade – Save it

Wow. This campaign idea was once cute, different and interesting. That time has long, long since passed. What a mess this is. Atrocious (10th-grader-on-a-Mac) execution, a muddled message, painfully unfunny story. A mess. I haven’t read the reviews, but if this ends up being a popular ad, it will speak poorly for the American viewing public. – Baggage Cargo Hold

30. Subway – FebruANY

See, advertising doesn’t have to be a technically sophisticated thing. This is a completely lame ad that ends up actually working, despite itself. The spontaneous blooper-style clips humanize the celebrities and make them relatable. And the concept of Februany is kind of ridiculous, but the tongue-twister IS the joke here, and it relates well to the product and the offer. Not Super Bowl caliber in terms of ambition (this could run any week, any day, any time), but an honest effort, at least. – Coach Class Cabin

31. Bud Light – Lucky Chair

I hated the previous ad in this series (No. 15). This one is a bit of a jumbled mess, but it had enough elements to make it a passable experience. Why jumbled? Stevie Wonder appearing at the end seemed to come out of nowhere, and the whole lucky-chair-actually-cursed thing forced you to retroactively remember the whole commercial. Way too complicated for a Bud Light ad. Here’s where I thought they were going: a humorous, beautifully shot narrative about the extent guys will go to take their lucky chair with them to a game. Warm, real, relatable, simple. That would have been enough, and then it got all crazy with Stevie, the hot girl, voodoo, etc (this is one case where they would have been better served by having 1/5 the budget. Their need to make this “big” made them lose focus).  – Coach Class Cabin

32. Axe Apollo – Bodyguard

This ad wants to be great: great brand strategy, funny premise, sexy shots, tongue-in-cheek, surprise twist, etc. So let me tell you why it doesn’t work: it has such an aching desire to be “social”, to be bigger than just an ad, to “continue the conversation”…that in the end it doesn’t seal the narrative deal. It doesn’t really deliver the joke! And that is a crime. Memo to the industry, it’s ok to save the last 5% of an ad to lead elsewhere, as long as we’re happy by the ad and the next place sounds interesting. But if you reserve the last 30%, leave us completely hanging, and expect us to go find the closer elsewhere…it’s too much. Nobody cares enough to go to the web and read up on your super clever Astronaut scheme, even if you’re Axe. We wanted to see the hot girl do something with the guy on the beach, forget your astronaut! Wasted potential. Sigh.Coach Class Cabin

33. MiO Fit – Change

I’m starting to despair. This ad is entirely mediocre, relying almost exclusively on your love (or not) for Tracy Morgan and his style of rambling. I happen to like it, but much like the Best Buy ad with Amy Poehler (No. 7) it is 95% Tracy Morgan, not-enough-percent product. The linkage comes too late, and without a compelling, persuasive reason (Sports drinks are too boring? Says who? Since when? If that’s your whole strategy, oh boy…). I enjoyed your Tracy so thank you for the entertainment. Because of it, I’m going to be a bit generous and give you an upgrade, because as an ad for an actual product, this is a fail.Coach Class Cabin

34. Kia Forte – Hotbots

An ad with nice enough execution can keep your attention. Here the set design, the crisp sci-fi lighting, and the hotbot are all first-rate, and make you lean forward. Sadly there was no real idea behind it, no story, the ad wasn’t sufficiently branded, it didn’t touch you in any meaningful way (it wasn’t even funny) it was just…ok. Empty calories, basically. Made for an amusing 30 seconds or so, a good background as you dipped into the salsa and grabbed another beer. But will you remember that it was for Kia Forte, or even for Kia? No you won’t. Maybe you’ll remember that it was for a blue car. Not enough. As I said earlier, those in the automotive industry have it real hard when it comes to advertisingCoach Class Cabin

 

Click here for part 3!