How many events have TV specials about the commercials shown during the programs? Only the Super Bowl, the biggest stage for a sometimes-great football game, but always the biggest stage for America’s and the world’s most interesting commercials.
The Mad Men era may be dead and gone as digital continues to gain swag, but creatives can find some of that old Madison Avenue spirit roaming the sidelines.
The Super Bowl remains advertising's biggest mass-market showcase – and one of the last remaining ones in an age of personalized ads targeted to individual interests based on data collected by Facebook, Google and other tech mammoths. Digital ads are expected to make up nearly 60 percent of ad spending by 2020, according to eMarketer, up from about 50 percent in 2018.
Yet a 30-second Super Bowl ad can cost more than $5 million. More than 100 million people in the U.S. are expected to tune in to the game on CBS. Advertisers can’t stay away from those kind of numbers.
SimpliSafe's creative director, Wade Devers, said the home-security company is advertising during the Super Bowl for the first time because the game has "a unique audience" primed to be interested in watching the ads.
And over the years, many have been memorable.
Who can forget Mean Joe Greene drinking a Coke offered by a small boy? Apple’s mind-blowing 1984? The many Doritos ads (some made by amateurs)?
And who doesn’t want to forget the GoDaddy’s awful ‘Smart Meets Sexy’ or Groupon’s club-footed ‘Tibet,’ which sullied a great actor, Tim Hutton, in the process. We remember them, but who wants to?
Opinions differ on some of the more socially conscious ads, such as Dodge’s commercial from a few years back that used a Martin Luther King Jr. speech as a backdrop. Do we want to be preached at by an advertiser or be entertained?
“One of the major Super Bowl ad trends we expect to see this year is more diversity, not only in front of the camera but behind,” said Jillian Gibbs, the founder and CEO of Denver-area marketing consultancy APR. “Last year over 50 percent of the ads included representation of gender and people of color. But advertisers can and should do better. Out of 46 directors, only four were female.”
Toyota will be representing that trend with a Super Bowl ad that features Antoinette "Toni" Harris, the first female football player offered a college football scholarship who does not play a specialist position.
The narrator of the ad is Jim Nantz, who will call Sunday's game for CBS.
The 60-second ad shows draws a comparison between Harris and Toyota’s revised RAV4. I saw it at Texas Christian University last week and it’s pretty effective.
Gibbs also said to look for a continued trend of humorous ads, which accounted for 49 percent of last year’s ads, and heavy use of celebrities, who were used in 58 percent of last year’s ads.
That seems to be the case. This year we’re going to see Sarah Michelle Gellar in a horror movie parody for Olay and we’ll see Jeff Bridges and Sarah Jessica Parker reviving ‘The Dude’ and Carrie Bradshaw, respectively.
Bridges and Parker will be promoting a plea from Stella Artois to buy the beer to raise money to combat water shortages around the world. The "Pour It Forward" campaign is an initiative between the beer brand and Water.org, co-founded by actor Matt Damon, in another celebrity tie-in. Parker starred as the fashionable Bradshaw on the hit television series Sex and the City. Bridges is known as the nonchalant, knit-sweater-wearing character "The Dude" from the cult classic film The Big Lebowski.
In the commercial, the two separately order the beer instead of their favorite drink and end up sitting next to each other. Bradshaw prefers a Cosmopolitan cocktail, while The Dude's usual is a White Russian cocktail.
Those are hardly the only celebrities taking a commercial break. Back in the office, for instance, Steve Carrell hawks Pepsi.
There has been a retreat from more overtly political ads that were seen during the 2017 Super Bowl from such companies as 84 Lumber and Airbnb .
Andrew Yanez, managing partner at Fort Worth’s PytchBlack, has watched several of the available commercials prior to the broadcast and says the big spending on celebrity talent won’t always pay off.
“The Stella Artois pilsner pilfered the Dos Equis tactic of not always drinking beer with Gen X icons the Dude and Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City,” said Yanez.
The ad hits two demographics, men and women, in the same spot, with a socially conscious appeal to buy. Yanez doesn’t think it will pay dividends.
“This is a big budget spend with celeb talent, big waste,” he says.
While Yanez thinks that ad fails to connect with its target market, Olay may have killed it with an ad that plays on Geller’s appeal and horror movie oeuvre, as well as the brand’s new line – Killer Skin.
“The Killer Skin and Jason hockey mask was/is entertaining,” he said. “Let’s see if Olay can hit both demos, men and women, better than Stella Artois.
Yanez sees a win for the spot aimed at millennials.
There is an ad that somehow combines classic American junk and/or stoner food Pringles with a device similar to Amazon’s high-tech Alexa. The ad, dubbed “Sad Device,” features two young men making chip flavor combinations with Pringles. After one makes a “spicy nacho stack,” the other asks, “How many Pringles stack combinations are there?” This question prompts a response from the Alexa-like device on the table. “318,000,” the personal assistant explains. “Sadly, I’ll never know the joy of tasting any, for I have no hands to stack with, no mouth to taste with, no soul to feel with.”
“Not sure who the ad was for but in this championship ad throw down, the Pringles won out,” said Yanez. “Who knew they had so many flavors of overly salty snacks I could pair together to make a Sour Cream and Onion Barbecue delight?”
I thought it was kind of a funny commercial, though not as funny as the Wichita Falls woman who was recently banned from a local Walmart after she spent several hours driving an electric shopping cart around the store's parking lot while drinking wine from a Pringles can. Now that’s an endorsement – and a commercial I would watch. 2020 Pringles?
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.