Why Do So Many Lose When The Advertising Stakes Are So High?

I’ve dried the tears from watching last night’s Super Bowl Roman Numeral Something Game, and now I’ll grab a tissue and discuss the commercials that aired in it.

I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow for all 51 spots. That would be too depressing.

But I will say most advertisers pissed their money away. That’s a shame considering thirty seconds fetched a cool five million clams.

Where to begin this analysis? How about the basics–– why advertise in the first place?

The easy answer is to get your product better known. Great, no event brings more eyeballs huddled to screens than the Super Bowl. So, all an advertiser has to do is perform.

Few did. Super Bowl advertising has become the Super Bowl of advertising and every sponsor looks to outdo everyone else. In an effort to do so, many rely on celebrities, stunts (like live commercials!), bold statements, gags, animals, famous music, babies, patriotism, cynicism, etc.

Unfortunately, most of it is not in service of the product that is supposed to be the star of the show. It’s just borrowed interest intended to get buzz for buzz sake.

Which would work if every other sponsor did boring product-centric spots–– but they don’t. It’s spectacle after spectacle after hoopla spectacle.

It’s exhausting. It’s boring.

One of my pick hits of the night was a spot for AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD. Open on a football on the field. A voiceover explains football season will soon be over. A bat wrapped in barbed wire comes violently into frame and deflates the football. The announcer says but a new season of THE WALKING DEAD is coming. Short, sweet, simple, true, relevant.

If you’re a fan of WD, you know that bat is Lucille, badass Negen’s trusted companion for discipline. If you don’t know WD, you may have had your curiosity piqued and wish to tune in and see what’s up with a barbed wire-wrapped bat.

In advertising, this is considered a score.

This spot was probably the cheapest production budget of any that aired last night, but it was rooted in truth and relevance to the product. Something few other spots achieved.

They weren’t all misses. The Kia spot with Melissa McCarthy was a fun ride with a simple message–– Kia has an easy way to care for the environment. The commercial was entertaining and delivered.

The Skittles spot was fun enough. Hardly in the top tier of Skittles commercials, but a worthy entry into the category of showing extreme passion for the candies.

I liked the Terry Bradshaw Tide spot. The commercial was clever and made the simple point that Tide gets stains out. Plus, there was a kicker fifteen-second spot later to refuel its fires. A worthy entry into the ridiculous-lengths-someone-goes-to-for-the-product-benefit category.

The Turbo Tax Humpty Dumpty spot was creepy in an I-can’t-look-away way. I loved the voices and acting. Weird, but sticky and good.

While I loved the technique of the Honda spot, the message seemed irrelevant to the product. Yes, famous people were nerdy and no one in high school knows how they’ll end up, but I don’t think the general public thinks of Honda as the nerd in the back of the class who has suddenly made good.

Do they?

As for all the quasi-political statements, well, they were brave but foolish. I think the nation today is so polarized, so caustic, that the efforts were noble in the abstract and dangerous in practice. Sure, you’ll get buzz for being edgy, but you’re also getting put through the buzzsaw with many people for touching the third rail of politics in the Twenty-First Century.

And, by the way, were any of these messages relevant to the brand message or why someone should buy it?

If you haven’t seen the official popularity scorecard, here it is.

All-in-all, not a great night for Atlanta Falcons fans, or advertising fans.

Where’s the damn Kleenex?!