Super Bowl LVII's Top 15 Questions
Ron Tite (a friend, former comedian, speaker, author, and founder of the creative agency Church+State) came up with a terrific quip that perfectly sums up this year's Super Bowl ads:
"I was going to do a list of the 10 Best Super Bowl commercials (US feed) but I don't think I can come up with 10."
To be sure, this year's crop of Super Bowl spots was... underwhelming, to put it gently.
So this year, instead of my usual round-up of my favourite Super Bowl spots, I'm using my "Super Bowl post" to list (and in some cases, answer) the Top 15 questions that came to mind while reviewing this year's commercials post-game.
Who thought the M&Ms stunt was a good idea?
Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about M&Ms announcement that the brand would take "an indefinite pause" from using their well-loved spokescandies... and explained in a lot of detail why doing so would be a huge mistake. At the end of the post, I wrote:
"There is a chance the brand's announcement is, in fact, part of a Super Bowl stunt, and that the spokes-candies will work alongside Ms. Rudolph for the foreseeable future. Such a partnership would be a great way for the brand to move past its recent controversies and remain relevant to today's consumers."
As it turns out, I was half-right. The "indefinite pause" was indeed a Super Bowl stunt, but Maya Rudolph wasn't being engaged as a long-term partner to work alongside the spokescandies and help rehabilitate the brand after its recent controversies.
She was hired as part of a joke. And a spectacularly bad one, at that.
Some people believe all PR is good PR, and that all of the talk (both positive and negative) about the idea of discontinuing the well-known spokescandies was good for the brand.
I am not one of those people. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think getting people who like your brand upset about something your brand is planning to do is a win for your brand.
The company could have used Maya Rudolph's talents so much more effectively, and instead, we got... well, that commercial.
I don't know what's worse, the marketers at Mars who thought this was a good idea or the marketers at Mars who knew it wasn't but didn't speak up. Why, Mars, why?!?
What was that Workday Rockstar spot trying to accomplish?
Most of the time, I'm able to watch an advertisement and work my way backwards to figure out the spot's strategic objective and what the Creative Brief might have included.
But Workday's Rockstar ad has me a bit stumped.
The spot was absolutely entertaining, and I'll bet it was a LOT of fun to put together.
But what was it trying to accomplish, and did it work?
Strategically, the likely objective of the spot was to drive brand awareness. That's a very reasonable goal for a commercial to be aired during an event over 100 million people are expected to watch. But aside from the fact that it's a business-to-business (B2B) brand, I don't know what Workday is or how it can help companies get better... and I don't know any more about that after watching this commercial. The word "Workday" might be in my mind, but will it come up when I need it to, which is when I think about buying... what, exactly?
To be fair, I'm not the target audience for any HR and Finance software company. But of the 100 million estimated people who watched this year's Super Bowl, what percentage of people watching would work in the type of roles where they would be influencers as to whether their companies purchased Workday's software?
Creatively, the entire ad features actual rockstars chastizing "corporate types" for using the term to apply to talented office workers... then the tagline at the end of the spot says, incredulously, "Be a Finance and HR rockstar". Wait, what? How does that make any sense?
I'm usually going to be first in line to applaud B2B companies that wake up and realize business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing principles apply to their businesses too. But going from traditional B2B marketing to running a Super Bowl spot is like deciding you want to play chess and then immediately challenging Magnus Carlsen to a match: it's bold and ambitious, sure... but you're almost certainly not going to end up with a winning result.
And given each 30-second ad aired during this year's Big Game came with an estimated cost of $7 million USD, was this 60-second ad an effective marketing spend for Workday... or just an expensive excuse for some B2B marketers and their agencies to hang out with a few genuine rockstars?
And speaking of the incredibly high cost of Super Bowl ads this year...
How did Jesus afford to advertise during the Super Bowl?
If Jesus was famously poor, how did he come up with $7 million USD to pay for this ad... and then another $7 million USD to pay for this one?!?*
Is questioning the quality of your product ever a good strategy?
I love a good joke. I like Steve Martin. I like Ben Stiller. I even like a cold Pepsi Zero Sugar every so often. So you'd think I'd love Pepsi's "Great Acting or Great Taste" spots, right?
Sure... except I can't get past the idea that Pepsi paid untold millions of dollars (not just to produce and air these ads, but also to hire well-known actors to star in them) to essentially have celebrities be seen enjoying the products they're advertising... the telling consumers they might very well be faking their enjoyment.
I get the joke, I really do... but will that be true of consumers who haven't already tried the product (which are the people clearly targeted with these ads) and attempting to decide whether they should give Pepsi Zero Sugar a try?
Was "nostalgia" an effective or overused approach for this year's Super Bowl spots?
Breaking Bad is arguably one of the greatest television series of all time... but its final episode aired in 2013, over a decade ago. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, premiered on Netflix in 2019. Even Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad spin-off that serves as both a prequel and sequel, ended in 2022 after a successful six seasons.
Breaking Bad was a really great show... but did it need to return as a PopCorners ad in 2023?
Of course, this year's crop of Super Bowl ads went much further back in time than 2022.
The Rakuten team decided to dust off their VHS copy of Clueless from 1995 and ask Alicia Silverstone to reprise her role as Cher in their Not-So Clueless spot.
And T-Mobile decided to go all the way back to 1978 to return Danny Zuko to our screens... only this time, Travolta asks his neighbours to "Tell Me More" about T-Mobile's 5G Home internet plans.
It's not that I didn't enjoy watching the three ads I mentioned above... I did!
It's that I'm not sure how many people would have been able to recall what was actually being advertised in each of them just a few days after Sunday's game had ended. The exception might be the PopCorners spot, which had the tremendous benefit of being able to integrate (and show) the product being eaten during the commercial... but will people remember that Jessy was eating PopCorners... or just "some chip"?
My bet is the non-marketers who watched "the Greese ad with John Travolta" and "the ad with Cher from Clueless" will refer to them as just that... and that's an advertising fail.
My favourite example of nostalgia done well this year? That would be the ad for UberOne starring Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and several "one hit" numbers remixed for the delivery brand's catchy campaign. ("How does the fox say... U.U.U.U.Uber One!")
When will marketers learn celebrities aren't enough?
Speaking of celebrities, Ron also compiled a list of all the celebrities who appeared in Super Bowl spots this year. With only a few minor modifications,** here's the list:
Adam Driver, Alex Morgan, Aaron Paul, Amy Schumer, Anna Faris, Beavis and Butthead, Ben Affleck, Ben Stiller, Billy Idol, Bradley Cooper, Brian Cox, Brie Larson. Bryan Cranston, Danny McBride, Dave Grohl. David Ortiz, Deon Sanders, Donald Faison, Elton John, Jeffrey Ross, Jack Harlow, Jeffrey Ross. Jennifer Coolidge, Jennifer Lopez, Jimmy Butler, Joan Jett. John Cena, John Hamm, John Travolta, Julius "Dr. J." Erving, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Hart, Ludacris, Martha Stewart, Mark William Calaway (i.e. WWE's "The Undertaker"). Melissa McCarthy. Meghan Trainor. Miles Teller. Missy Elliot. Nneka Ogwumike. Nick Jonas. Ozzy Osbourne. Paul Rudd. Paul Stanley. Pete Davidson. Rob "Gronk" Gronkowski. Sarah Mclachlan. Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. Serena Williams. Snoop Dog. Steve Martin. Sylvester Stallone. Tony Hawk. Tony Romo. Will Ferrell. Will Forte. Maya Rudolph. Zach Braff.
That's 58 celebrities, and I'm not sure anybody would claim this is an exhaustive count.
Sure, the recall as to what brand each celebrity was representing might be there for some brands... but can you tell me the ad where Zach Braff appeared? Missy Elliot? Kevin Hart? (Okay, that last one was a trick question: Hart was shilling for multiple brands this year.)
Dan White articulated it well in this post (which was supported by research): "Ads about brands, enhanced by celebrities, are great. Celebrity ads featuring brands are useless."
Some day, marketers will learn that lesson... but it hasn't happened yet.
While we're on the topic of things marketers should learn sooner rather than later...
When will we finally give up on the "Idiot Dad" stereotype?
I think I have a pretty good sense of humour, and as a father of four, I absolutely recognized the "binky emergency" being exaggerated for comic effect in Kia's Binky Dad spot.
I can excuse the set-up of the spot, where Mom turns to Dad and says "you remembered her favourite Binky, right?" Parenting should be a shared responsibility, and it's perfectly plausible not only that Dad was responsible for packing the Binky, but also that he forgot to do so... not because he's "Dad", but because he's human, and humans forget things.
But I take some issue with the end of the spot, where after Dad's herculean efforts to retrieve his kid's pacifier, the kid spits it out and Mom tells Dad "She only likes the blue one"... with the implication that Dad isn't involved enough with his daughter to know what she likes.
Part of finally getting society to treat women as equal to men is to stop portraying men as incompetent idiots when it comes to childcare. And the spot would have been just as funny (and just as effective, perhaps even more so) had it ended with a "You got it - amazing! Now... where did we put Mr. Ducky..."
Why didn't that incredible Crown Royal "Thank You Canada" spot air in Canada?
As a Canadian unable to (legally) watch all the US Super Bowl spots aired in real-time and having to endure the Canadian telecast of the Super Bowl instead, I was quite surprised when my American friend mentioned how much she enjoyed the ad "that was basically a love letter to Canada".
Hold one... which ad? This one!
As a reasonably patriotic Canadian, I loved this spot. I just don't understand why it was only aired in the US instead of on both sides of the border. I asked the brand that very question on Twitter...
... but I'm still waiting for a response. Crown Royal, care to comment, eh?
WTF happened to Old Spice?
Seriously, in just 13 years, how did the brand go from the iconic, hilarious, award-winning, universally celebrated, and EFFECTIVE "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" to this?!?
And before you accuse me of anything unsavoury, know I h