I make it a habit to study the commercials for the Super Bowl, picking out ones that worked and ones that didn’t. It was interesting watching the commercials this year. I thought they started off relatively weak, then got stronger as the game went on. At halftime, I wrote the following: “Is it sad that one of the best commercials I’ve seen was a local commercial – for Strong Memorial Hospital?” I was not particularly impressed with most of the commercials that had aired up until halftime. They got better in the second half.
So, in the “Best Commercials”…
Dear God, T-Mobile. It wasn’t one commercial; it was several. Three that stood out, to be more precise. (We’ll ignore the Justin Bieber commercial, because it’s easy to ignore.)
Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg. Whoever thought up this commercial was likely using purple cushy throw pillows, greenery, pot, and a can of bisque. It was absolutely hilarious, with a combination that I don’t think any sane and sober person could have come up with. Well done.
The two that were sort of a play on “Fifty Shades of Gray”, with the pain of penalties for going over data limits (if you’re into that sort of thing)… wow. They grabbed the audience’s attention, and illustrated an advantage the company had over its competition while making fun of it at the same time. You literally could not turn away during the commercials, they were that strong.
T-Mobile, you had the strongest overall showing of the night. You win the internet.
Mr. Clean, “Cleaner of your Dreams”
Speaking of grabbing the audience’s attention… Dayamn, this was an awesome commercial. The language of seduction is a universal one; it was hilarious watching this woman and Mr. Clean clean the house with movements that were decidedly unwholesome. The tagline – “You gotta love a man who cleans” just clinched it. This had me laughing all the way through it; well done!
NFL, “Super Bowl Baby Legends”.
This definitely wins the award for most adorable. Babies dressed as Von Miller, Joe Namath, Bill Belichick (the serious face on that kid was awesome)… ending with a baby walking off, Vince Lombardi-style, with a fedora and trenchcoat. All to the sounds of Chicago’s “You’re The Inspiration”. This was beautiful.
And now, for the last in “Best Commercials”… in this case, I need to talk about four commercials with political overtones, and why two succeeded, and two did not. The four commercials ventured into dangerous territory. Only two got out, and I only put one in the top commercials of the night.
One of the best commercials of the night… … Anheuser-Busch, “Born the Hard Way”.
Anheuser-Busch’s commercial worked beautifully because it was subtle in its message, didn’t overtly preach, never lied or exaggerated to the public, and didn’t forget that, ultimately, you’re supposed to sell the damn product. It basically shows the route that Adolphus Busch took to St. Louis, to meeting with Eberhard Anheuser and creating the beer we know today. There was opposition, some bigotry, but also friendship and success.
Again, it was subtle. The immigration message didn’t preach, didn’t overwhelm, didn’t crowd out the product or the story. It showed positive aspects as well, the welcoming, the friendship. And, ultimately, it both introduced and showcased the product, with a drink shared. It reminded me a great deal of another (non-Super Bowl LI) commercial I approve of, Bacardi’s “Untamable since 1862” commercial, which similarly showed the history and difficulties that company went through.
In short, Anheuser-Busch? Well done. Well done, indeed.
Now, why two other commercials didn’t work. Basically, controversial political messages in commercials succeed if they don’t crowd out the product, don’t preach, and don’t outright lie or exaggerate. If any of these occurs… well, frankly, when that happens, the company involved is making an overt choice to try to court those on one side of the controversy, and alienate those on the other side. In other words, they’re preaching to the converted, and pushing away anyone not. Which, frankly, is the opposite of what you want to do in advertising.
Audi’s commercial about gender inequality could have worked, if the scriptwriters had thought more carefully about what they were saying. It was frustrating to watch, to be honest. The commercial’s path was about like one of the other soapbox derby racers showcased in the commercial: it went through obstacle after obstacle, then spun out near the end.
Let me explain where things went wrong – other than crowding out the product. Audi’s commercial basically failed because it lied and insulted the public.
The first couple of statements – that her grandfather was worth more than her grandmother, that her father was worth more than her mother – were not going over the line; I thought they were troubling, but not unacceptable. If you understand what marriage is supposed to be, it’s definitely troubling, but it’s not going too far. Then Audi’s commercial came up with this gem of a statement.
“Do I tell her that, despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets?”
Audi crossed a line with this statement. It’s clear what they’re trying to say. But by saying “less than EVERY man”, that takes the statement into exaggeration to the point of falsehood. And, frankly, the statement itself devalued and insulted both men and women. In a commercial that had to be perfect to get it right, that misstep – that attempt to exaggerate to gain additional effect – completely ruined it.
Afterwards, I replayed the commercial, and muted that one statement. It came out to be a far, far better commercial. I think a more carefully-crafted, nuanced statement there would have done wonders – and would have presented their argument without alienation.
So very close, Audi. But you went too far.
84 Lumber’s commercial with regard to immigration was remarkably tone-deaf. The commercial would not be shown in its entirety – Fox rejected it as too controversial – but, with what was shown, two problems occurred. One, the political message drowned out the product. What was the product, anyway? Was there even a product? The closest I could tell was that 84 Lumber was looking for people to work for their company. And two, the commercial failed some important areas with regard to the message. It was fairly obvious what the child was gathering – red, white, and blue material for an impromptu flag. One of the problems that immigration opponents have had with immigration rallies being held is that, all too often, Mexican flags were flying instead of American ones. (The full version of the commercial, with an imposing wall, was even worse.) In other words, in very important aspects, the commercial was not a reflection of reality, and it backfired. Moreover, to those who oppose illegal immigration, they could watch the video and count, “Okay, in how many ways are they breaking the law?” And, frankly, if you’re attempting to spend upwards of $10 million to lecture the American populace, good luck. Political parties have spent far more than that, and news organizations annually spend far more than that, and haven’t had a lot of luck.
The problem is this. It’s easy to pick a side of an argument and, in the echo chamber that is our lives, think that that is the only ‘legitimate’ view, that anyone who disagrees is somehow defective. The problem with both of these issues is that it is never as simple as black and white, good or bad. Is undocumented immigration a good thing? Ask the undocumented immigrant; ask the American who’s been out of work for months while businesses exploit immigration labor. (Which reminds me… just out of curiosity, how much does 84 Lumber rely on immigration labor? Fun question…) Is equal pay for both genders a good thing? Yes, but there are all sorts of issues with measuring ‘equal’ pay. Do you go by age? Education? Years of experience? Do you factor time off to raise children into account? How do you measure equality? More to the point, how do you enforce equality? It’s much like measuring fairness in any taxation plan: usually, “fairness” is defined by a person as whatever gets them the most money while making someone else pay.
Ultimately, that may have been the problem with the Audi and 84 Lumber commercials. It failed reality checks, and went with extreme straw-man arguments. Because of this, both commercials pushed people away, rather than bring them in. Maybe Audi and 84 Lumber thought that the attention was worth the possibility of pushing potential customers away. That said, that’s a difficult gamble to take. Anheuser-Busch succeeded in delivering their message; with a little more care, Audi could have as well. 84 Lumber… I’m still not sure they had a product they were interested in selling.
As for the fourth in this group… the more I examine it, the more I appreciate it. I’ve heard that the Melissa McCarthy commercial for Kia was political. If so, it’s a beautifully subtle one, and it’s hard to say in which direction it’s pointed. To wit: a conservative would look at the commercial and go, “This is such an incredible portrait of the absurdity of the SJWs,” while supporters of the movements presented would be grateful for the exposure. It’s such an incredible fine line, and Kia played it beautifully.
So. Other commercials, other thoughts.
The second Humpty Dumpty commercial (TurboTax) was better than the first, but it really, REALLY didn’t work.
The Persil ad was a good one; I remember saying at that point, having seen the T-Mobile Snoop Dogg commercial and the Persil commercial back-to-back: “The more you know about science, the more you appreciate the Persil ad. And, apparently, the more you know about weed, the more you appreciate the T-Mobile ad.”
And in other laundry detergents… Tide, with Bradshaw-on-the-loose, was a funny commercial. The horrible and evil part of me wondered, “If they could have gotten OJ Simpson on a work-release to shoot this commercial…”
Sprint… I’ve never seen a company take a disadvantage and try to make it an advantage like Sprint has. And the whole fake-death thing… no. Just no.
The Honda commercial with the yearbooks was pretty cool.
The Wendy’s commercial… if it weren’t for Foreigner, it would have stunk, but the song actually made the commercial work.
The Skittles commercial was one of the best commercials of the first half. I wouldn’t rate it in the top five commercials of the night, but it was quite funny.
Christopher Walken narrating Justin Timberlake for Bai works for the same reason Johnny Cash singing Nine Inch Nails works: Gravitas where you least expect it. Bai absolutely killed it with the commercial.
That said, gravitas isn’t everything. Just ask Morgan Freeman and Turkish Airlines.
Somewhere in the middle on gravitas was John Malkovich for Squarespace. Good commercial, and funny.
The most annoying commercial – and easily the worst commercial of the night of those that actually tried to be a commercial – was Pizza Hut. George Takei, I love you, man, but that was a painfully lame commercial.
It’s interesting watching promos of The Handmaid’s Tale with people who are unfamiliar with the work. All I’ll say is… yikes.
Most of the movies, with two exceptions, made me want to avoid the film. Good visuals, but no plot. The two exceptions… Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and Ghost in the Shell. Guardians is likely to not have much of a plot either, but at least the characters will be fun – which is what the commercial conveyed. Ghost in the Shell… the best way to put it is that it didn’t make me want to avoid the film, but didn’t make me want to watch it either. I’ve seen the anime the movie is based on, and the commercial was trying to evoke that anime for those who’ve seen it.
As for the other Anheuser-Busch commercials… Busch beer was a miss, and the Ghost Spuds commercial was okay, but not great.
Buffalo Wild Wings… As with the Spuds McKenzie commercial, sometimes context helps. It was hilarious, but only if you were familiar with an earlier set of BWW commercials.
Buick? Meh, for the most part, though I would like to point out one thing the Cam Newton pass reminded me of. I went to the same middle and high school as the children of Cowboys quarterback Danny White – not the same grade, but we attended at roughly the same time. One bit of information that went around the school: If you end up visiting their house, do not ask him to throw a pass to you. NFL quarterbacks throw with velocity. If you’re a barely-teenager, it’s going to hurt.
So, that’s my thoughts on the Super Bowl commercials. There’s at least one more part to this – talk about the Hall of Fame voting. I will likely give some thoughts on the game itself as well, now that I’ve had some distance.