Co.Design

My Thoughts On the 2010 Superbowl Ads

I was unimpressed with most/all of the advertising during last night's Superbowl — and I know I am not alone.  There are, of course, several different lines of attack I could level against the brand and advertising community: 

- The ads lacked creativity or originality — isn't that the very thing the brand and advertising community pride themselves on most?

- The ads weren't funny — and even if they were funny, was that the best (or only) way to attract attention and deliver a message to the audience?

- Most ads were clearly anti-women — is it really necessary to cut down a whole segment of our society, and the viewing audience, to sell your product?

- There was very little TV-to-online/mobile connection made — don't you understand how people are watching television today, or the ways we get/share information about products and services?

But I don't want to add to the pile of criticism that the brand and advertising community is certain to be digging out from underneath this morning.  I want to try to help.   I have made my share of mistakes when putting together campaigns for my clients and I know that constructive, focused feedback always helps me improve for next time.

So, with that:

Dear Brand and Advertising community:

I watch the Superbowl every year — without exception.  I have for as long as I can remember.  I tune in mostly for the game.  But you should know that the ads are important to my viewing experience as well.  I am interested in the ads for professional reasons — I work as a communications strategist, helping organizations (including majorbrands) find ways to reach, educate, engage, and ultimately mobilizeaudiences. I also study how people get/share information in today's society and write, speak, and teach about marketing and how to change behavior through media.  I am also interested in the ads for personal reasons — I want to hear about new products, get help figuring out which choices to make when I go to the store, and similar.  Needless to say, from a professional standpoint the Superbowl offers wonderful information about what brands are doing to reach and motivate audiences, and whether or not its working. And on a personal level, I can use the advertising I see during the Superbowl to make some important choices about what companies I want to support, and what products I am going to buy.

It might be helpful if I told you a little bit about myself:

I am a white male, 32-years old, living in New York City.  I am married. I have a two-year old son, Henry. My wife, Karen, and I are expecting our second child in April.  I am college educated.  I am employed. I am Jewish — but what you would call a 'high holiday Jew' (meaning I know the customs, celebrate the big events, enjoy being part of the community, but you would not consider me religious, or particularly faithful).  I am a big sports fan — I attend games, I watch sports on TV, I buy and wear clothing to support my favorite teams (the Seattle Mariners, Seattle Seahawks, New York Knicks, Michigan Wolverines, etc).  I .  I consume a significant amount of media — dozens of newspapers and magazines, hours of television and radio (broadcast and podcast), and I spent roughly 18 hours each day connectd to the internet in some way, shape or form. I have an iPhone.  I use both mac and pc.  I blog, tweet and use Facebook daily — and I am an active member of a host of different communities and groups, online and offline.  I donate to charity.  I shop online and offline.  I love going to the grocery store.  I listen to (and purchase) music.  I watch movies (on demand, and in theaters).  I travel, a lot, both for work and for personal reasons.  I own a car (a GMC Acadia) - but rarely drive it anymore because we live in NYC. I shop online.

Let me put it this way: I am your target audience.  You don't think so?  Look at my demographics.  Take a moment to understand how much information I consume, and share, on a daily basis.  Consider how many people I connect with, and how diverse a group of people that represents.  I may be just one person, but I both reflect a pretty broad audience of people who you need to pay attention to if you want to be successful — and I talk with, and reach, a pretty broad audience of people you need to pay attention to if you want to be successful.

So, what did I think about the Superbowl?  I was thrilled with the game.  I was underwhelmed by your ads.  Let me explain:

Bud Light: Seriously - do you think I am that dumb? I don't drink Bud Light - or beer at all - so I recognize that you don't really care what I think about your ads.  I don't drink beer because I don't like the taste, and if I am going to drink I want to enjoy the experience.  Even if I did drink beer, I wouldn't drink Bud Light because, regardless of taste, you have built a brand that I don't want to be a part of.  The men in your ads are stupid, or do stupid things.  Whether I am sober or drunk, I sure hope that isn't me.  And if you can't be truly original, at least be sufficiently different or better than the ads that you were inspired by (take the Light House ad, for example, that aired during the first quarter — if you goal was to do a Bud Light version of the very funny Heineken ad (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1ZZreXEqSY) from a few years back, you missed the mark).  Stick to the basics — like your ad from a few years back in which men watched footballwhile their wives shopped (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_7xRaNY8wY).  That was a solid reflection of life, for many people, and it was truly funny.

Doritos: Seriously - is the violence necessary?  The 'play nice' commercial has a kid slapping some guy (after the guy had ogled his mom).  The guy (who taunted the dog) ends up on the ground after a violent shock from a no-bark collar in the 'Dog Gets Revenge' ad.  The 'Weight Room' ad turns a snack chip into a weapon and ends with a scary (chip-covered) maniac attacking another guy.  Apparently everyone who eats Doritos is a jerk.  Good to know that's how you think about me.  Look, I love Doritos.  I buy Doritos.  My wife loves Doritos.  The first chip of any kind that we fed our son was a Dorito.  But nothing about your ads reflected the feeling I get when I see a bag of Doritos, the reasons I buy them, or the fact that I can't resist eating a Dorito when given the opportunity.  Can't you make a case that Doritos' taste good?  Can't you show that the person who brings Doritos to a party is always the most popular?  The best you can do is suggest that Doritos make us all violent?  Maybe I don't want to eat Doritos if that is what happens to me.

Motorola: Seriously - do you think I am going to buy your phone because Megan Fox might send out a picture of herself in a bathtub when I do?  I get it, Megan Fox is hot.  And having a sexy woman in a bathtub talk about your product gives you an above average chance that someone might pay attention.  But, does it sell phones?  Does it present you as a company that is interested in developing a relationship with me as a consumer?  People buy phones because they serve their communications and other needs. The 'features' that you highlighted on your phone — the ease of updating all your networks, for example — are available on any phone.  And I can't imagine that getting slapped, getting hurt, or any other result would be the result I am hoping for with the purchase of my next piece of technology.  What makes your device better than an iPhone, or a Nexus One?  Is there anything that makes your product unique, or more useful than something else that is available on the market?  Is there any real benefit I get from buying your phone?  Also, on the sexting thing — if Oprah says something like sexting is a bad thing, you might want to think twice before using it as the foundation of your advertising campaign(http://www.oprah.com/showinfo/14-Years-Old-They-Say-Theyre-Ready-to-Have-Sex). And last time I checked, Megan Fox uses an iPhone (http://www.tipb.com/2008/07/16/celebspotting-megan-fox-with-an-iphone/).

Go Daddy: Seriously - do you think I haven't seen your Superbowl ads before?  The well is dry.  The idea of using Danica Patrick, or any other women who tears off her clothing, to drive traffic to your website is so last year (or maybe it was the year before, or the year before that).  The 'too hot for TV' videos aren't that hot.  They aren't funny. And, the message at the end - about customer service - actually comes across badly.  I dont' have a problem with using sex to sell... but at least use it well.  Take all that energy that you put into breaking the mold of the traditional Superbowl ad several years ago and apply it to a new concept.

Google: Seriously - what was the point of running an ad?  Did the head of CBS call and say 'We're $3 million short on braking even for the Superbowl — will you help?  Are you getting nervous that Bing or KGB (who advertised during the Superbowl as well) or Yahoo! are going to make a serious dent in your search business?  Do you not think that searching on Google is the first thing that, well, probably everyone who watched the Superbowl is going to do when thinking about something they want to track something down during the game last night (I have used Google at least 25 times already this morning). The Google ad was simple, clean, well written — by all standards well done.  But I don't think there was any reason for Google to run an ad.  They have brand recognition.  They are wildly successful, even in tough economic times.  Running a Superbowl ad suggests, to me anyway, that they aren't as smart as everyone thinks. I would be annoyed if I was a Google investor that money was spent on a Superbowl ad - as opposed to, say, improving the actual performance of the search engine (lucky guy searching in the ad that there was content for everything he was curious about... would have been interesting to see the ad show the guy have to go to the second page of Google results to get some facts that weren't helpful at all) or making a profitable business out of any of their other products.

I come across as harsh, and cynical, I realize.  But I don't want to suggest that every ad during the Superbowl was a waste.  There were some ads that I thought justified the millions spent to air them — even if what happened after the ad left much to be desired:

Dove: I can see parts of my life, as I suspect many other men can as well, in the Dove 'You Are a Man' ad (though neither the ad, nor the Dove website devoted to the new men's line of soap products - http://content.dove.us/mencare - do nothing to make me want to go buy your soap). But, assuming that your ad makes a big part of the Superbowl watching audience aware of the opportunity to take better care of their skin, and they are willing to explore further — you still have a lot of work to do.  I don't think men's skin care is a well understood area of personal care. Your commercial framed the opportunity, and had pitch perfect presentation, but the rest of your supporting marketing can't close the deal.  If you put a fraction of the effort that you put into your Real Beauty campaign (I wrote about it here - http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/16431.asp) you might see a bigger result.  In short, your television commercial can't be the only relevant part of your marketing to men if you want to sell product.

Flo.TV I would love nothing more than to be able to watch live TV whenever and wherever I want, and the series of Flo.tv ads actually made me curious about whether it was possible.  I should have known better than to get my hopes up.  Yes - the service exists — but my visit to the Flo.TV website, followed by another website, and another website revealed that in order to actually get the service, I need to buy a different phone.  Not going to happen.  If anything, the success of the Flo.TV ads reveals a limitation in the product/company itself — you sold something you couldn't deliver.

Coke: You can never go wrong with the Simpsons (though I was surprised to see them in an ad that aired on CBS and not Fox).  An ad that is visually rich — and in class Simpsons fashion, riddled with hidden messages — actually forces me to pay attention.  The message is clear... Coke makes you happy (and even the worst, down on their luck, hated by everyone person, kind of cool to hang out with).  But I couldn't follow up — the Coca Cola website had nothing.  Facebook had nothing (I could find).  After several searches I stumbled on to the Happiness Factory site (http://hf3.coca-cola.com/), but it took so long to load that I had to abandon it to get on with the rest of my life.  And wasn't there all this talk before the Super Bowl about Coke's fancy cause marketing effort (http://www.marketingvox.com/coke%E2%80%99s-cause-marketing-campaign-ties-to-super-bowl-as-pepsi-sits-out-046084/) — I still don't know how to participate.  You had me at 'ha ha ha... another billiionaire is broke' (the line that opens the Simpsons ad), but you never did anything with it.

Finally, I do want to give a special shout-out to the 2010 Census for running an ad (full disclosure: my father works at the Commerce Department, which is responsible for the Census — but I was not given advance notice of the advertising, or any additional information about the campaign).  I thought the ad itself was pretty lame — the 'snapshot of America' message is not compelling in my view (how about... fill out the Census becuase funding for things you care about depends on it, or even 'everybody is doing it... you should to") and Ed Begley Jr. is the last person who would motivate me to act, on anything.  So there is a lot to be desired in terms of execution.  But, the very fact that an ad appeared about the Census was a big deal, a very smart strategy by the government.  There was a lot of buzz generated by the Census ad - good and bad - and that is not something that happens every day.  As fans and consumers, we expect to hear from Bud Light, Google, all the other companies that spent millions of dollars on advertising, and we are more than happy to talk about them (that's why they advertise of course).  Nobody talks about the Census.  And the 2010 Census is actually very important.  Filling out your form and returning it is important.  In fact, as the @uscensusbureau team noted "If 1% of folks watching #SB44 change mind and mail back #2010Census form, taxpayers save $25 million in follow up costs."  That is not an unreasoanble goal, or a way to measure whether the taxpayer funds spent to promote the 2010 Census were well spent.

Let me sum up with this: The advertising during last night's Superbowl did little to change mymind about any of of the brands, products, services, or personalitiesfeatured.  If anything, the advertising did more to hurt the chances I will buy a product, talk about a company or spend any additional time or energy exploring what was being promoted.  I was always under the impression that is the purpose of advertising - and especially the purpose of advertising during the Superbowl. At very least, that should be the reason someone advertises during the big game, and how they can measure whether they were successful.

I could go ad by ad, brand by brand, situation by situation and tell you exactly what it would take to compel me to buy the product, recommend a brand to someone, or even just suggest a friend watch an ad or visit a website.  As a consumer — and a member of the target audience for almost every single advertiser featured during the Superbowl - let me say this: I will talk to any brand, advertising agency or anyone else out there who is serious about making improvements to their marketing, and tell you what you need to do to reach me, successfully.  And as a professional — let me say this: I am confident I could do a better job than the folks who produced your ads, or provide some help to make sure that even the worst ads have some potential of driving a real meaningful, measurable outcome, and I have a lot of friends and colleagues who want to see you succeed as well. 

You know where to find me.  And if you choose not to write or call, that's fine — I guess I'll see you next year.

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