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NJ Television Advertising Report: Big Game > Big Ads

Brand Brady Is What We’ll Remember…

I’m not a huge football fan, but I look forward to the Super Bowl each year. This is when the best teams are supposed to dazzle us as they compete to take home the Lombardi Trophy – and the best ads are supposed to make us remember them as they compete to take top rankings on the USA Today Ad Meter. Sadly, this year’s NJ Television Advertising Report gives the bulk of the ads a big thumbs down. The only thing I’ll remember about this game in years to come is that the Brady-led Patriots came from behind in dramatic over-time fashion to snatch victory from the talons of the Atlanta Falcons.

Why is that? This is the ultimate advertising showcase, right? It’s the one day when people WANT to see and discuss commercials, even if they’re not in the ad industry. With brands paying more money than ever – $5 million for 30 seconds of screen time – what made this Super Bowl spots leaving me, ahem, deflated?

No substance, no suspense

  1. Where’s the beef? For those who remember, Wendy’s scored big in 1984 with their big game spot that asked this question. Then, it was about actual beef (and how Wendy’s had more on their buns than competitive burger chains). Yesterday I found myself asking the same question – in terms of the creative concepts. It seems that many brands and their agencies focused on execution techniques for spots that simply lacked meat. And that’s why I’ll remember the Wendy’s commercial and the phrase that Clara Peller uttered – a phrase that became part of our vernacular – long after the memories of most of yesterday’s ads fade away.
  2. Where’s the surprise? Call me crazy, but with so many brands releasing their ads in advance of the Super Bowl, these “debuts” just don’t have the same impact that they used to. It would be like releasing highlight snippets of the game BEFORE it airs, then expecting people to feel the same emotions when those great moments happen on game day. I understand that “it’s just how it’s done these days,” but why remove the element of surprise in one of the few settings that demands group viewership? When brands create an emotional impact that everyone can experience together, that can be truly powerful.

Brands tackling issues

What do I think will people remember about yesterday’s ads? Years from now I believe it will be the nod some brands gave to the current socio-political climate:

84 Lumber

  • 84 Lumber – The American building supply company aired the most controversial ad of the game, tackling the subject of President Trump’s wall. In fact, the spot was declared too controversial and company was forced to retool their ad before it aired. The commercial shows a young girl and her mother as they journey from Mexico to America – and at the end, viewers are encouraged to visit journey84.com to see the full spot. People did: the site got so much traffic it crashed. I won’t ruin the surprise (you know how much I hate that!), but I hope that you’ll take a look at this beautiful commercial about the search for a new home – no matter which side of the political spectrum you call home.


  • Budweiser – Remember the funny frogs who croaked Bud Weis Er? How about the regal Clydesdale horses and adorable puppies who graced former Super Bowl ads for the King of Beers? Oh how everybody loved those make-us-laugh or make-us-cry spots. Not so for this year’s Budweiser bombshell. This ad tackled the political hot-button of immigration as it told the story of how a German immigrant with a dream met an American man, and together Anheuser and Busch went on to sudsy success. The end screen has an empowering message: “When Nothing Stops Your Dream.” It adds, “This Is The Beer We Drink.” Apparently not, since people are calling for a boycott, seeing this more as a divisive stance on immigration vs. as a message of unity. Was this what the brand intended? Do things need to be political to be remembered these days? Or is it just a beautiful, cinematic representation of the brand story?


  • Audi – Well, there’s no question that Audi’s ad intended to help further a social cause: equal pay (for women) for equal work. The ad is called “Daughter,” and the accompanying hashtag encourages society to #DriveProgress. I happen to be friends with a few people at Team Audi, so I’ve been seeing this ad and the reactions to it over the past several days, as chronicled through my friend’s Facebook feed. Once it made its online debut four days before the Super Bowl, an anti-Audi movement was born. A conservative political influencer motivated troops to dislike the commercial on YouTube. In about 5 hours there were about 15,000 dislikes (vs. the fraction of likes that had organically appeared). Dislikes continued to grow enormously until there were maybe 50,000! Then, when the commercial appeared during the game, buzz drove a movement of support. As of right now there are about 40,000 likes vs. 55,000 dislikes – it’s a comeback that’s nearly Brady-worthy. Now I’m not going to comment on the Audi ad. If by some miracle you haven’t seen or heard about it, I encourage you to take a look and make up your own mind…and to do your darndest to leave your political affiliations out of it.

Car commercials score big

None of these ads won the coveted USA Ad Meter #1 spot – although Audi did rank at #3. It was a year for cars: Kia took #1, Honda took #2, and both ads were inspirational in different ways. (You can see the complete list here.) But perhaps Super Bowl commercials are sensing a new purpose, and a new opportunity, in our polarized society. I still think that brands would benefit from saving it for the Big Game. For Audi, it would have minimized the negativity before the mainstream public had a chance to see it on TV. This would allow people to make up their own minds in the moment.

One more thing about Tom Brady’s game: it was definitely better than the Intel ad he starred in. But I’m sure Intel is smiling big today.  Despite being rated 54 on USA Today’s ranking of 66 Super Bowl commercials.


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