Super Bowl Ads Disappoint

Conditions were far from perfect for this ad critic. I was in a crowded, noisy room watching the big game. Very tough to hear, as people were drinking, eating and talking as if it were a party (which it was) and not my private viewing room. I had also thought about bringing a notebook to write down impressions of the ads but decided against it. See my previous comment about it being a party.

But these are the precise circumstances in which most people view Super Bowl ads. There’s noise and distraction. That’s why Super Bowl ads need to break through, capture your attention in the first few seconds, rivet your attention to the screen and get you straining to decipher each word of dialogue as it’s spoken. If there’s a product message there, all the better, but we understand by now that Super Bowl ads exist for attention more than persuasion.

Last year, I wrote Come for the Game, Stay for the Ads.  This year, it was the other way around. What a game! Like many others, I am fond of saying that my favorite team is the Giants (fill in your team here) and my second favorite team is whoever is playing the Patriots. It couldn’t have gone any better. An exciting game with big plays and lots of surprises, the biggest of which being that the evil empire could not channel the dark side of the force for their usual come from behind victory.

As for the ads – not a very good day. It was a tremendously disappointing effort from companies shelling out ridiculous amounts of money to brandish their egos.

Most ads were serviceable, kind of good enough to be on the Super Bowl, but not really. Sort of clever, but ultimately, disposable.

Only three spots really grabbed me. The Alexa ad was the game winner. Even in my worn-down, fatigued state brought on a food coma, a tense game and too many commercial breaks, the ad made me sit up and take notice when it ran deep in the second half. It was funny, unexpected and memorable. It told a story – and may have even nudged viewers toward a deeper appreciation of the service. It was an excellent use of celebrities, and I appreciated how they, and Amazon, did not take themselves too seriously.

The Doritos/Mountain Dew was just a great execution, overwhelming the senses with a visual style and music you felt in your gut. This is what a Super Bowl ad should be – something impossible to ignore. Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman rocked. And you get the point – the chips are hot, the drink is cool. Nice.

The mystery of the day was how one brand got it so right AND so wrong. One of the game’s first ads was a bunch of Vikings, all singing along to “We Will Rock You,” crossing the ocean – with their Dodge Ram Truck – to go to the big game. Just outside of Minneapolis, they see that their team isn’t playing, so they turn around and go home. Again, the brand created its own world, told an unexpected story and executed beautifully. From Vikings I got “tough,” which is what they’re selling.

Later in the game, they ran a spot that, along with others at the party, I actually booed out loud when it ended. In disbelief, I also asked fellow party-goers, “Isn’t that ad for the same car as in the Vikings ad?” No one said yes. That’s a problem in and of itself.

Regardless, I am a huge proponent for companies to stand for something bigger than their products, to exist for a higher purpose and market to a brand ideal. But they need to be sincere. As it is often hard to judge a company’s true sincerity – the Italians who own Dodge could very well be big American civil rights activists – executions need to, at the very least, come off as sincere.

The Ram Trucks “Built to Serve” ad was cliché ridden and superficial. Built to serve what? Americans, I suppose, and by extension, America. This could have been an old Budweiser ad – the jingoistic, faux-patriotic approach the brand has wisely abandoned. Most of all, it just felt wrong to use Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice to sell trucks. Boo.

One more note. The Tide spots seem to be getting rave reviews, but they left me feeling flat. First – P&G paying homage to their other brands and historical ads (Mr. Clean, Old Spice, e.g.) was kind of cheesy. Do they expect that we all treasure these wonderful cultural icons they’ve created? But the real reason I was unmoved was that these were commercials for Tide. This may be totally subjective and personal, but I just don’t care about packaged goods products anymore. It’s just detergent! The Costco brand gets my clothes clean too.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Once upon a time the “prestige” brands to work on in advertising were all package goods. Not anymore. And it’s probably not just me that thinks this way. Brand name packaged goods continue to lose sales as store brands, local and niche products expand.

Tide is a big brand and a great brand. But is it a Super Bowl brand? Not for me.

My most striking observation is how the ads avoided anything remotely controversial or political. There was another insincere, flag-waving, faux patriotic ad from Weather Tech. But with all that’s going on in our country now – the lies, the scandals, the polarization, the drama every week and every day brings – it seemed to me that the environment was ripe for a “1984”-like ad from a brand with a singular vision for the future.  I was wrong. Like most of our politicians, companies seem to want to weather this storm by playing it safe.

Perhaps that, more than anything explains the mediocrity of Super Bowl LII ads.

  • Andrew landorf
    Posted at 08:48h, 06 February Reply

    Hey Jeff.

    I like your insights, but what about the ad for the NFL? Odell dancing with Eli. Best ad by far.


  • Nancy Dewane
    Posted at 11:27h, 06 February Reply

    I would like to suggest a different take on the Tide ads. Based on the reactions of my millennial children, I would say that Tide was extremely successful. I am guessing P&G was just trying to get their name out there, to be more top of mind, especially among the millennial audience. My kids recognized each of the ads that Tide was “setting up”. (Note: they did not know, and probably would not have cared, that some of those spots were P&G spots). What they did get was that they were “set up” for something that was “expected” but that turned very creatively into something “unexpected” – a Tide ad. For many of ads after the first or second Tide ad, one of them would say “Is this another Tide ad?” They probably said the brand name as many times yesterday as they have in their whole life! So next time they have to do laundry, it is probably more likely that Tide will be a brand they think about. I think that would be very successful.

    Related to the comment about Eli and Odell – – the teasers throughout the game were tiresome. The dance at the end was impressive and entertaining and unexpected. But too many people have a pretty strong dislike for Eli, so that probably tempered their reactions quite a bit.

  • Susie Lansing
    Posted at 17:38h, 06 February Reply

    Jeff, Great review. Brilliantly written…of course. Thanks!

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