Monday, February 2, 2015

What Happened to Super Bowl Ads?

Usually, we like to do a write up of what Super Bowl ads we liked the most and which we liked the least.

Not this year.

Something interesting happened in our morning meeting today. Instead of talking about which Super Bowl commercials we loved, the conversation quickly went to which ones we disliked. Why? Because the growing trend is that there's a lot more we dislike vs. like.

Obviously, there are good years and bad years for Super Bowl ads, but the past three years or so have dominated by the bad with only a few memorable ones emerging as clear greats and favorites. This morning, I tried to think of my favorite Super Bowl ads of the past few years and could only come up with VW's Darth Vader kid spot.

And let's be honest, the other great Super Bowl advertising moment didn't even happen as a result of a commercial, but because of Oreo's awesome social team.

So what happened to the great Super Bowl ads that gave us moments like the Budweiser frogs, the eTrade baby, Heineken's Brad Pitt beer run and Mean Joe Greene? Well, a few things...

It's Halftime in America

Come on, you remember this. It's one of the most grandiose Super Bowl ads of all time. Hang on, I should say, it's one of the most effectively grandiose Super Bowl ads of all time. This spot, obviously plays better with context. Detroit was hugely hit by the financial crisis of '08. A city that prided itself on its auto production was dying, but hey, in 2012, they were starting to come back. As a result, this spot played pretty well. It put Chrysler and the Motor City's name back on the map in a good way. 

But just look at that production value, that message, that delivery...this is why, in 2015, we're still being bogged down with commercials going for the same effect. Only they're not hitting the target. They're missing and only getting the absurd self-seriousness without any of the sentiment. 

Check out Carnival's ad from this year's game: 

This is just gibberish. They're using a dead US president's words to sell cruises. Maybe in 2005, Carnival would've made an ad that was fun, you know, what you want a cruise to be. Instead they saw "Halftime in America" and "God Made a Farmer" and thought, "Yeah, that's a good idea, we'll do that." 

Unfortunately, they're not the only ones. 

4.5 Million Dollars 

That's how much a 30 second spot cost in this year's Super Bowl. What's worse is that we're seeing more and more one minute spots during the big game meaning that some brands spent NINE MILLION DOLLARS to air nonsense at drunk people. 

So obviously, when someone spends $4.5 million to advertise for 30 seconds, the pressure is on. It's a lot of money for any brand to spend and it's the largest platform they'll be able to speak to at any given time. What do you say with that opportunity? Something funny? Something smart? Heartfelt? Support a cause? Send a message? Sometimes a brand freaks out and just spends $18 million to do all of those things. Like Nationwide did this year. They bought one ad featuring Mindy Kaling which was...okay? Not the worst celebrity heavy commercial we've seen at the Super Bowl. 

And then, they tried to have their cake and eat it to in the form of killing a child at the end of a fantasy filled ad: 

This is ill-advised in pretty much every possible way and the only thing worse than the actual spot is that Nationwide thinks they've started some sort of conversation here. No conversation is started during commercial time of a Super Bowl telecast. This kid is a meme now and the only conversation they've started is one that asks, "Does Nationwide know how their own product works?" 

Maybe if they hadn't buckled under the pressure of spending $18 million on ad space, they would've made a better commercial. 

The Water Cooler 

Yeah, I know this sounds super generic, but what most brands are going for with these now is not to make a genuinely good ad as it is to make an ad that people will still be talking about the next day. Unfortunately, brands, more often that not, hit this target (which is why we're still talking about that awful Nationwide ad). However, just because they hit that target, doesn't mean they've made a good ad. Case in point, Fiat's "Blue Pill" spot: 

Get it? Because sex. 

This feels like a commercial designed to be edgy, which is the first way you can screw up making something that's actually pushing the envelope. Here's some chatter in response to this ad:

A Change Coming? 

Maybe I'm being overly optimistic, but I think this year could be the tipping point for a deluge of bad Super Bowl ads. As I write this, "#NationwideAMovie" is trending on Twitter. One of the most popular memes being circulated features that kid's face. Carnival is being taken to the cleaners for using a dead man's voice to sell cruises and Fiat...well, you can read some comments in the above link. 

All of this combined with the overall sentiment that this was a bad, bad year for Super Bowl commercials make me hopeful that brands will get the message in time for next year's game and maybe, once again, just have some fun with what they're doing. 

I mean, they might as well, it's going to cost over $10 million next year. 

For good measure, here's what (in our opinion) was probably the best Super Bowl ad this year (Steve Buscemi saves the day).