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Super Bowl ads and 3 trends to watch

inclusion

For the umpteenth (technical term) year in a row, I asked the students in my BRC328: Media Copywriting class to watch the Super Bowl ads and tweet about them. It’s a great foundational exercise this early in the class. And while I felt I had to apologize to my students for how awful the game itself was, and how many ads proved lackluster, some gems and at least three trends emerged.

Inclusion

The best ad — to me and, seemingly the class — was the excellent Microsoft commercial on inclusive technology for gaming. Take some adorable kids, adaptive technology designed and distributed by Microsoft and more than a little emotion and you had a winner. As some students noted, it really does show that gaming is for everybody (and that, once upon a time, gaming was seen as more of a niche market than it really is). Google scored well with their ad supporting job searches for veterans, a deservedly feel-good, solutions-seeking concept. These were prime examples of moving beyond the generic “let’s all get along” sentiment to showing how creativity and technology really make inclusion achievable.

Takeaway: I think the Microsoft ad especially is going to show that good deeds can indeed equate with good business, and will likely (hopefully?) spawn similar campaigns. Ones that show how their product has a concrete impact on inclusiveness should continue to win.

Crossovers

Budweiser and “Game of Thrones” was the most notable (and gruesome) ad that employed crossover of brands, with quite a twist. (Is this canon, meaning the Bud Knight is no more?) We saw T-Mobile and Taco Bell plus T-Mobile and Lyft merging brands in simpler, funny ways. You also had loads of pop-culture references and cameos from the likes of Pepsi and Stella Artois with varying levels of success, with Walmart putting a lot of money into licensing everybody from KITT from “Knight Rider” to the Scooby Doo gang. And can we expect a Chance the Rapper/Backstreet Boys tour this summer?

Takeaway: It makes sense for brands to work together where the big audiences are. And while no bigger audience exists than the Super Bowl, expect more creative partnerships to come.

Technological dystopia

It was not a good year to be a robot. A creepy baby found out it can’t work as an advisor for TurboTax in what was probably the worst ad on Sunday night (there were a million better ways to get to that point). A smart speaker realized it will never get to enjoy Pringles. A robot learned it can never drink the semi-beer that is Michelob Ultra. And we learned that Alexa is a bad match for a number of situations, albeit played pretty well for laughs. Is this a reflection of how we, as a society, are becoming wary of electronic assistants (who may or may not be eavesdropping on us) and actively resisting transhumanism out of a fear that, expressed in the debut SimpliSafe ad, robots are going to take over the world from us?

Takeaway: Technological backlash is real. Co-worker Jim Kearns astutely shared the New Yorker article “The 2019 Super Bowl ads are a case study in technological dread.” Expect the black mirror reflecting our tech anxieties to show its face more and more.

While the ads weren’t as bad as the game itself or the halftime show, only a few were even worth remembering. Maybe with that $5 million placement fee, companies could have also budgeted hiring some good writers. Unless, of course, the technological dystopia is here and they had already hired robot copywriters.

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super bowl™ ads, with student perspectives.

One great thing about teaching an advertising/media copywriting class is every spring brings the gift of discussing Super Bowl™ ads with a sought-after demographic focus group … the 23 students in #brc328. Before class, I asked them all to tweet what they thought were effective ads, and why, then we watched and talked about many commercials.

Five trends/topics worth noting:

1. NFL = Nostalgia For Life? Advertisers frequently want to use nostalgia to reach a specific demographic, but the NFL managed to score a bullseye on a whole host of generations. The students recognized how the ad included everything from current shows like The Office and Modern Family to ’90s favorites like Seinfeld and Friends to “oldies” like Happy Days and The Brady Bunch. Of course, the NFL has the unique advantage of television contracts with all the major players and thus can more easily negotiate the rights to use the shows, which would otherwise represent the biggest challenge.

2. Bridgestone: Difference Between Concept and Execution. Two popular spots with the students for Bridgestone, “Carma” (with the beaver) and “Reply All,” were both very entertaining. But they noticed a difference. With “Reply All,” viewers more paid attention to the frenetic actor destroying various electronic devices and barely noticed the product. But they preferred “Carma” — which gets my vote for best ad this year because it tied directly to the product, in terms of handling and braking ability (and, as one student pointed out, “six months later” showed it lasts). Playing off a timeless Aesop’s fable, employing a cute beaver with human tendencies and providing a feel-good ending, it’s hard to envision creating a better ad.

3. VW Uses The Force. The class favorite, overall, involved the kid in the Darth Vader mask trying to use the Force repeatedly with the payoff of the VW starting remotely. While students didn’t see that as any great product benefit — they’ve grown up in the era of the remote car-starter — the simple storytelling, cute concept and timeless tie-in with Star Wars all clicked. Nota bene: The Star Wars appeal spans generations.

4. Doritos: Finger-Lickin’ Good? While they found it funny and memorable, students had mixed feelings on the ad where the office worker licks the Doritos-crumbed finger of a co-worker. Some thought it successfully communcated the idea that Doritos are irresistibly good. Others found the idea of someone sucking someone else’s finger appropriately creepy. Or both.

5. Chrysler + Detroit + Eminem = Discussion. Much like the Twitterverse, the class split on the Chrysler “Detroit” ad featuring Eminem. They generally thought it had beautiful production values. Consensus found it showcased the Motor City fabulously — I like its underdog tone and one student said it resembled an engaging tourism spot. While many folks of, ahem, a certain age lamented in the blogosphere Em “selling out,” many students already consider him yesterday’s news (one even used the term “old”). As for the connection to the product, one student said “Lose Yourself” made him think of 8 Mile, which brought to mind trailer parks … a world away from a luxury car. For what it’s worth, on production and general branding merit for its three products, I really liked it.

I’m always impressed with students’ variety of opinions, which are well-articulated, thoughtful and multi-layered. What was unanimous? All thought the Groupon/Tibet ad was a really bad idea, but you don’t need to take an advertising course to recognize poor taste when you see it.

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super bowl™ ads, through the eyes of students.

The Super Bowl™ presents an excellent opportunity for people, like me, who teach advertising to tie it to key lessons. And, as often happens in classes, I learned almost as much from what students thought were effective ads.

For Broadcasting 328: Media Advertising, I’ve asked all my students to sign up for Twitter (the subject of a future blog post) and each session includes a less-than-140-character homework assignment. This one: Tweet about an ad you thought was effective and mark it with a #brc328 tag.

So while USA Today had its ever-popular AdMeter ratings, the Web was all a-twitter over various commercials and every pundit had their take, the students provided a different view (in a much-sought-after demographic, no less). I learned the three most important things to them were 1) humor, 2) great visuals, 3) a memorable idea. Most popular campaigns with them were:

1. Bud Light/Budweiser. Biggest buzz surrounded the Bud Light House. Clearly, it represents fantasy fulfillment, but it made people laugh, provided a concrete visual and was a clever execution. Moreover, the product was not only the hero, but dominated the screen. They also liked the Lost parody and the T-Pain/autotune spot — both using humor and playing on popular culture. What all ads had in common: They equated Bud Light with partying and fun. The Budweiser bridge spot also proved popular because of its visual impact. I continue to maintain that it’s unclear whether Budweiser gains market share for the outlay, but if college students are impressed and remember the product, that says something.

2. Doritos. One student explained the simple brilliance of the Playing Nice ad: When the child tells his mother’s suitor: Keep your hands off my momma. Keep your hands off my Doritos, it pretty clearly sets the priorities in his world. Hyperbole? Sure. But it makes its point succinctly. The snappy execution of Dog Collar and the (weird, imho) Tim’s Locker/Samurai spots also scored.

3. Denny’s. When’s the last time anyone even talked about Denny’s? Yet the screaming chicken ads, while potentially annoying, sure captured attention. One student shrewdly noted it highlighted special offers for Free Grand Slam Day and free Grand Slam on your birthday. Simple idea — everyone will want Denny’s breakfasts, so chickens have to work harder — that came across loud and clear.

Other thoughts:

Surprising revelation: Many pundits wrote off the Boost Mobile ad because they assumed using the 1985 Chicago Bears couldn’t sell to young adults. Big disconnect, right? Wrong. Every student in my class claims to know the Super Bowl™ Shuffle, perhaps because of how we recycle pop culture. Thus we know what happens when we assume …

Betty White scores: The Snickers ad earned the most positive buzz among people I follow on Twitter (and topped AdMeter ratings), plus the students loved it too. They may not have known who Abe Vigoda was, but they all knew Betty White from Golden Girls. And once you got past the shock of White being creamed in a backyard football game, you got the concept: Snickers picks you up.

Where’s the outrage?: The young women weren’t terribly offended by the Dodge Charger ad, even though it seemed the most excoriated spot on Twitter. Some saw the overstatement and shrugged it off; others didn’t find it any more offensive than the other messages that regularly bombard us.

My personal favorite?: The Google ad. Why Google would need to advertise (imho: to counter Bing) is a fair question, but in terms of simple storytelling and demonstrating the product’s effectiveness, I loved it. A tale of boy meets girl, with some cool music, the brand as hero and a bit of humor. It won’t affect my use of Google, but as standalone branding, I found it just about pitch-perfect.

So you have the opinions of a couple dozen college students and an older dude who works in communication. What did you think? And will you think of any of these observations next time you try to market to students?

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