Mediocrity Wins Big


super bowl commercials

As a marketer for several decades, I was deeply disappointed by the ads these last few Super Bowls. This is a time to dust off the talent and go for the gusto, so understandably spectacular fails and wins are expected.

There were few of either, and have been. The clear winners this year, in my opinion, are Audi and Oreo.

Audi

Audi gets it by following tried and true risks: humor, universality, underdog wins, but they also get it because they focused on the brand and reaching a new audience. Audi was facing a crisis several years ago, but has been singularly focused on reigniting the allure of their brand with new audiences. It’s been paying off. Consistent strategy combined with great concepting, creative and copywriting has engrained the brand into our minds and has been winning our hearts. They hit it with a universal theme (several, actually), fantasy outcomes, and risk taking. A strong product with hard work behind it. Kudos for being a stand out and reaching EVERY SINGLE PERSON who viewed that ad.

Oreo

Oreo gets no points for their commercial. It was fine, amusing at best, but trite overall. But they win, HUGE. They single-handedly restored the value of an AOR (Agency of Record) in one tweet.

The ad was spot on perfect. Timely, relevant, humor, and on brand. The agency statement was top notch. 360i (the agency responsible for the tweet) showed class and style by commending their client for being there, having the trust relationship, and setting up the command center. They ANTICPATED SOMETHING happening, anything, and were ready for it. You don’t get that for project work, you get that with trust and with a relationship.

They promoted unity of the brand and the agency, demonstrating a team. I have no idea if they were the agency that developed the commercial, but it doesn’t matter, 360i (and I will continue to say their name, they deserve the press) came out on top on all levels.

That being said, it would have been a slightly less impactful discussion had they NOT had a commercial during the game. It would have been a discussion of “beating the system”, social media winning and overpowering, etc. But they did have an ad, and their investment was worth every penny.

Best Buy

I don’t like Best Buy as a brand. I LOVE Amy Poehler. They bought street cred with her, BUT … they did an amazing job with the ad. Yes, I do realize I am disagreeing with the nice folks over at Forbes, but I don’t care. I disagree with them entirely! They got distracted and didn’t realize they were being taught, and shown that online retailers CANNOT answer questions the way the nice folks at Best Buy can in person.

Anyway, Best Buy didn’t rely on her celebrity and her insane popularity to make their commercial. (Unlike Rav4 which took a hugely popular star and made utter nonesense out of an ad, but of course with interesting, unrelated creative work that confused their message and their brand). Woven in throughout the fast-paced Best Buy ad was every bit of their on-point messaging for what they offer, how they sell, what they do, and they never varied, even with a clear approach to “trick them” off their game by the star. AND, they didn’t just rely on her, the actor they had to play the sales rep deserves an award for his performance. One of the BEST straight man characters EVER! Well done.

http://www.bestbuy.com/site/Entertainment-Offers/Best-Buy-Video/pcmcat249300050019.c?id=pcmcat249300050019

The others ….

Mercedes

HATED it. No, not exactly. It was a beautifully created story that demonstrated the talents of the agency that produced it and guts of brand for taking a chance. Normally respectable things. BUT …

  • They also told every single existing customer that they sold their soul for a car.
  • They “out of nowhere” began targeting a new audience on the world stage.
  • They targeted an audience that probably isn’t their customer and is likely thinking of Audi.
  • They overloaded on the celebrity bandwagon.
  • They showed a car that won’t be available for 7 more months at best, targeted to a consumer that is impatient, and delivering the product AFTER the prime season for the age.
  • New Orleans overdone, especially when one realizes that the rest of the world sees New Orleans in February in Purple and Green for Mardi Gras, not satan and voodoo.
  • Ad cannot be extracted from the location, which was tied to the event.
  • FAIL. MAJOR FAIL.

Lincoln

They did a nice job, tied in the New Orleans theme well, but they cannot pull the New Orleans tie in out without changing the commercial too much (beat of a different drummer.) It was a nice start in the direction of pulling the brand into the younger generation. An interesting note to realize though is they may not have to. The senior population is the largest growing population and typically has more disposable income. Therefore they can retain their existing audience by refining the tastes and designs to be “younger” appearing, without compromising their brand.

A good effort, and may turn out to be a very strong enduring play.

Dodge Ram

Oh hell no. At first it was a nice, feel good touch. But the fails continued to deliver.

  • Many tweets about targeting only the “fly over states”. Resonated only with the middle states. I could be wrong about this, but it had no play for me, but then I’m not their audience regardless.
  • The lure of the “It’s Morning in America” ad from the Reagan years was obvious, but the truth came out and it was a “stolen” ad.
  • The Paul Harvey narrative was not new, and had been used previously in ads and promotions, aside from it’s original airing.
  • The concept was also plaigerized from a charitable piece created by Farms.com See the video here. (note that Dodge will now be donating to that charity!)
  • $4M for a stolen idea designed to fake something from another era. Pretty shameful overall.

Jeep

Nope. I’ll say it since others are too chicken to. I won’t support Jeep because it makes me more patriotic and somehow decent because they said nice things about our military. They sold out and the military families should be OUTRAGED that their lives, souls were played on to make a dollar.

No, Jeep didn’t do what Chrysler did last year for Detroit in “It’s Halftime in America”. THAT was patriotic because the company represents the city, and the area. They are invested and a symbol of, and a cause/victim of the situation there. They OWED the city that. Showing Jeep supporting military by picking them up at the airport is a cheap shot and verging on emotional blackmail.

Speaking of emotional blackmail ….

Budweiser Clysdales. Yes it was touching, yes it was amazing, yes it was wonderful, yes it will be remember, yes it was perfect. BUT … it’s a hallmark of the game. Bud has created a niche for itself by making itself part of our creative and commercial psyche. We EXPECT a great horse ad, which reinforced the brand, from them. And they deliver every time. It almost makes us forget the creepy Bud Black Ads the same way we almost forget the creepy Bud Frogs and other weird stuff they do. It’s a feel good ad that makes us all stop and think about them for a moment, smile, think warm thoughts about a brand, and then go on with our daily lives much as we do after getting a holiday card from an old friend who has slipped into oblivion, returning annually for an “oh yeah, I remember” moment.

Final Thoughts

It was sad to notice no ads from traditional winner Monster.com, but then it’s been a rough couple years for all of us, so it’s understandable why neither Monster nor Careerbuilder had plays this year. (Although two of the best ever from Monster include the “Middle Management” and the “Deer Ass” ones). Still, my ALL TIME favorite is Darth Passat from a couple years ago.

I was speaking to someone today who noted that he always tells colleagues that the mark of a good agency rests solely with their creative director. This is true, to a degree. There was no shortage of creativity and insane production value and talent on display during these commercials, even for the ones I’ve panned. Talent is out there, and it continues to get better.

BUT (I’m saying that a lot in this post) … creativity for the sake of creativity is the same as buying “street cred” with a celebrity. If you don’t have the message, you don’t have value. If you don’t have a strategy, you shouldn’t play the game.

There were others who for their forays into racism, stereotyping, lack of taste, portrayal of bullying or negligent behavior do not deserve to live beyond their flash in the pan. There were very very bad ads in production quality and message that teams of people and brands spent an inordinate amount of money to tie themselves to. They should be rewarded with a lack of mention for their bad behavior, including soft drinks, cars and candies, among others.

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