Friday, April 20, 2018
  • Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017
Creatives Assess This Year's Crop of Super Bowl Commercials
Chuck McBride, founder & chief creative officer, Cutwater
A tale of two ad games within the Big Game
  • LOS ANGELES
  • --

The greatest comeback in Super Bowl history was a tale of two games--one dominated at the outset by the Atlanta Falcons, the other taken over by the eventual winner, the New England Patriots. 

In what shaped up as a parallel universe, this year’s crop of Super Bowl commercials also featured two distinctly different games--those advertisers looking to entertain, often opting for the comedic, balanced by a number of sponsors who instead decided to address social issues, at times touching upon the politically charged topic of immigration.

However, for a welcomed measure of continuity, SHOOT is sticking with its longstanding annual game, garnering feedback from creatives whose agencies did not have any commercials on the Super Bowl so as to get an unvarnished assessment of the advertising from pros with no axe to grind.

The stakes were again high with FOX fetching an average of some $5 million per a :30 ad time slot.

Chuck McBride
Cutwater founder/chief creative officer Chuck McBride sees value in the two ad games within the Big Game. He watched the Super Bowl with a non-industry gathering and noted that he heard laugh-out-loud responses to a couple of spots, including Skittles’ “Romance” from London agency adam&eveDDB. The commercial opens on a boy in front of a house in the middle of the night. He proceeds to throw Skittles at the window of his girlfriend’s room, hoping to get her attention, presumably to whisk her away for a little romance. But this story of young love takes a comedic turn as we see a procession of people--and one furry animal--with their mouths open, welcoming each thrown Skittle.

Also, the crowd was “howling,” said McBride, over Kia’s ad (from agency David&Goliath) featuring Melissa McCarthy as a crusading environmentalist who finds it can be perilous trying to save the trees, the whales or the rhinos. Luckily she drives a Kia Niro which proves that while it’s hard to be an eco-warrior, “it’s easy to drive like one.” 

McBride observed that the value of humor has skyrocketed as people want to escape polarizing, argumentative political times. “That’s one of the reasons I think La La Land is doing so well, with all the Oscar nominations. People want to escape the divisiveness. They want to feel good about things.”

On the flip side, McBride noted that some brands feel compelled to address these challenging times--and that too can be the right call. Conveying the values of the brand, he said, can “at the end of the day be the biggest differentiating factor separating one brand from another.” He said that a previously largely unheard of small company in Pennsylvania, 84 Lumber, “had the balls” to take on a controversial subject with a Super Bowl spot showing a mother and daughter making a long arduous journey to the U.S. for a better life. The broadcast ad ends with a website address, Journey84.com, inviting viewers to continue the trek. The second part of the journey online depicted the mom and daughter encountering a large wall blocking their path but a door opens--presumably with the attainment of the two gaining legal status--to let them through. A supered message reads, “The will to succeed is always welcome here.” Agency for 84 Lumber is Brunner.

And while Budweiser’s story of Adolphus Busch coming to America to find success was in the works (from Anomaly NY) long before immigration became such a hot-button topic, the tale took on an added poignancy in light of the travel restrictions initiated by the Trump administration. “Filming the first meeting in America between Busch and [Eberhard] Anheuser doesn’t seem all that exciting a concept but it took on a new relevance,” said McBride.

Also cited by McBride was the Audi spot which addressed equal pay for women performing the same job as a man. A man looks at his daughter competing in a soapbox derby race, wondering how he can explain the discrepancy in pay between genders and if he has to tell her that society values her less than a male counterpart. Ultimately he realizes we cannot accept that in the world at large as he and his daughter get in their Audi at the race’s conclusion. An super reads that Audi is committed to equality and the hashtag #Driveprogress appears on screen.

From the comedy of Skittles to the social messaging of 84 Lumber, McBride is buoyed by the range of creative opportunities represented in Super Bowl advertising. “There’s a wider, interesting spectrum of work we’re being exposed to. My hope is that the content comes out more melodic that monotone as we explore all these possibilities to build brands. I like to approach it by starting with the audience and backing up to the creative. First, what do we want the viewer to feel or consider? Do we want to make people laugh? And then we craft the creative towards that end, trying to figure out how to tap into a certain vein whether it be laughter or trying to stir someone’s conscience.”

Paula Maki
Paula Maki, managing creative director of mono, San Francisco, related, “Given the current soap opera of our political climate, I was drawn to two types of spots: social commentary and storytelling-driven escapism. Those clips that rose to the top not only entertained me, but had a “to be continued” storyline that helped me forget I was watching an ad or living in Trump’s America. Thank you, Tide, Avocados from Mexico, 84 Lumber, Squarespace, NFL, Hyundai. Thank you for Jeffrey Tambor. For John Malkovich. For the alternative cast of Eyes Wide Shut. For reminding us to build doors, not walls. For reconnecting humanity through technology. For, Gronk?”

Maki went on to pick the following spots as her favorites: 

•Hyundai (Innocean Worldwide)
“We’ve seen a lot of brands celebrate our troops at the Super Bowl. Few have truly given them a gift at the Super Bowl. Kudos to Hyundai for pulling off a Super Bowl technological stunt that actually meant something to real people.”

•NFL (Grey NY)
“It’s hard not to think that, after it was revealed that Trump blasted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, that the “Inside These Lines” spot wasn’t a purposeful counter-attack executed in the best possible way. In a world where our politics are divided, our interests are divided, our television preferences are divided into neat little demographic-driven content, where our individuality is so...individualized...there are few things that bring us together anymore. Sports is one of them. Kudos to the NFL for bringing us together and “going there.”

•84 Lumber
“Slow clap to the executives at 84 Lumber who must have thought, ‘Well if we’re going to spend 5 million dollars…’ Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Every single shot had a purpose. Every single frame propelled you forward into the journey. Who is 84 Lumber? Doesn’t matter. We’re all going to the website to see what happens to the little girl.”

•Tide (Saatchi NY)
“How can you not love Jeffrey Tambor in a pen-epic staredown with Gronk? A great example of random celebrity casting that worked.”

•Avocados from Mexico (GSD&M, Austin, TX)
“The strategy, the concept, the one-liners, the timing. Dialogue-driven comedy at its finest tonight.”

•Squarespace (JohnXHannes)
“They picked the perfect celebrity with the perfect name that of course would get perfectly upset that his domain name is taken. Simple strategy, simple execution. No bells or whistles. Squarespace unearthed the truth that we are all John Malkovich–and made us want to go out and buy our domains as a result.”

•Kia
“Overblown physical comedy usually isn’t my jam. However, Kia tapped into a truth about “eco-warriorship” and took it to the next stratosphere with Melissa McCarthy. Only Melissa McCarthy could have pulled off this concept. Nuanced, delightful and the special effects (which usually can make or break the comedy for me) fell largely to the background. Sean Spicer is on a roll.”

As for those spots which came up short, Maki said, “I hesitate to call any Super Bowl spot the “worst”; after all, somehow a marketer made the decision to pay $167,000 per second to put their message out there in front of the world. That’s brave. With that said, there were a few standout “oof’s” that probably could have put their funds to better use; namely...”

•Yellowtail (Burns Group, NY)
“GoDaddy called and wants its ‘girl in a bikini’ strategy back...’pet my roo?’”

•Buick (Engage M1)
“Celebrity athlete, check. Obvious CGI, check. Unnecessary supermodel, check. Familiar concept, check.”

•Sprint (Droga5 NY)
“Conceptually speaking, I’m quite surprised that suicide would even be considered in the client presentation as a funny, albeit buyable premise.”

Regarding trends, Maki cited: “2017 America. It’s hard not to ‘go there’ right now. Of the brands that went there (Coca-Cola, Airbnb, Budweiser, Google, Honda, NFL, and the sleeper hit, out-of-nowhere, Oksana-Baiul-of-the-Super Bowl...84 Lumber?!) I have to give the gold star to 84 Lumber. They have nothing to lose and the perfect product to capture a sentiment that many of us feel. Again, there are few cultural moments that bring us together anymore; we’re left with award shows and the Super Bowl. Like Chrysler’s debut of “Imported From Detroit” from 2011, 84 Lumber is an example of a tuned-in brand using the visibility of the Super Bowl to remind us, all of us, of who we are and what makes us America.

“Production-wise, I’m also refreshed to see that many of the marketers have stayed true to a clear, simple strategy and resisted the urge to succumb to the “Super Bowl 101” tricks we’re so accustomed to, like overcranked special effects, Looney Tunes-level pratfalls (with the exception of Melissa McCarthy), and gratuitous use of random celebrities for no apparent reason (eh-hem, Buick).”

Carolyn Hadlock
Carolyn Hadlock, executive creative director of Young & Laramore, Indianapolis, cited Kia, antioxidant infusion drink Bai with its comedy/celeb spot featuring Justin Timberlake and Christopher Walken (in-house creative), Squarespace with John Malkovich, and Snickers’ live spot (starring Adam Driver with concept from BBDO NY) as being among those that resonated for her on the basis of their entertainment/messaging value.  

“I think Snickers is kind of underappreciated,” she assessed. “It could be a game changer in that so many spots are seen online before the Super Bowl telecast. To do a live spot with a little bit of nuance to it, that didn’t hit you over the head, was commendable. I applaud the boldness of the brand.”

Hadlock observed that the surprise element is missing from Super Sunday with the prior exposure of so many of the ads. “I remember several years ago when Chrysler’s ‘Imported from Detroit’ hit the screen, and people took notice. It was the first time anybody had seen the work. Sometimes marketers embrace data to a fault and forgo surprise and delight.”

In the big picture, Hadlock saw “very much a divided Super Bowl from a marketing standpoint.” Some advertisers conveyed political messages while others were just trying to do entertaining Super Bowl ads. She was generally less enamored of the political/social commentary fare, sharing that 84 Lumber’s spot felt manipulative--first with the publicity that the original ad was rejected by the FOX network for its ending, then driving traffic to a website for the second part of the story. “Even at the end of the day, it was confusing. It seemed more about a political platform than it was about the brand.”

By contrast, Hadlock said work like the Bai spot--which entertains and brings a smile--is more in line with what viewers connect with on the Big Game. In the :30, Walken dramatically delivers the lyrics from “Bye Bye Bye,” the hit song from ‘N Sync some 17 years ago. Walken then turns to--and we see for the first time--a smoking jacket-clad Timberlake, an alum from ‘N Sync, who gives a figurative nod of approval.

Scott Mitchell
Scott Mitchell, head of production/executive producer at O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul, Chicago, felt that the political nature of some of the ads ”created a bit of a pall over the whole Super Bowl event. In turn that made you gravitate to other ads that were simply entertaining--Kia, Skittles, even the 10-second Amazon ads in a 30-second pod. To tell a story in 10 seconds is pretty good...I also thought the Michelob stuff (FCB Chicago) with the use of the Cheers song was clever. The film looked beautiful though the online :60 was better than the :30.”

Still, those alluded to political ads--including Audi, Lumber 84, Budweiser--were, said Mitchell, “all super well produced. They just created a different mood on the Super Bowl given where the country is at with a new president.”

Like Hadlock, Mitchell too misses the surprise element that used to be a hallmark of Super Bowl advertising. “I’ve worked on Super Bowl ads in the past, back when we were all tight-lipped about what we were doing. Nobody saw anything, except the client, the account, creative and production teams. It created more excitement for viewers.”

One personal element of continuity, though, remains for Mitchell. “I’m in awe of everything that I saw on the Super Bowl because I know what it takes to put anything together. It’s a complex process.”

Mitchell added that the mega stage of the Super Bowl can give much needed exposure to lesser known brands--and in that respect certain ads were successful. He cited as an example the Turkish Airlines spot (M&C Saatchi Istanbul) starring multiple Morgan Freemans. “Before that spot, I didn’t know Turkish Airlines even existed,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell also thought Snickers’ live ad was worthwhile but fell short of last year’s live Grammy ad for Target featuring Gwen Stefani.

Chad Leitz
Chad Leitz, creative director at San Francisco agency Eleven, was drawn to a couple of spots crafted in the Super Bowl entertainment tradition--Tide with Terry Bradshaw and Kia starring Melissa McCarthy. “Tide felt like a Super Bowl spot. The crowd I was with was entertained by it. It had an idea to it, a preamble, a two-part trick with Jeffrey Tambor at the end,” related Leitz. “Kia was funny and well executed.”

Leitz also praised the live Snickers spot for its entertainment value. He thought Avocados from Mexico was also funny and well written, though the longer form online version was stronger than its broadcast counterpart.

As for the social/political message fare, Leitz felt 84 Lumber came up short and that there was a flaw in Audi. Of the latter, he shared, “I would have been proud to write that ad. It made a beautiful statement about women, your daughter, equal rights, equal pay. But I think you have to make a decision--sell me the car or make me love your brand. By showing the car at the end, the message was disrupted. If they had just continued with the father-daughter story, then went to the Audi logo and the #Driveprogress hashtag, it would have been perfect. The message would have been more elegant and artful without the product shot.”

Overall, Leitz said he wonders “about the whole leaking strategy” whereby spots run online prior to the Big Game. “I know you get people talking about your spot a lot longer than one day but there’s something special about seeing the commercial on game day. And if it’s good, then people will be talking about it for more than one day anyway.”

Category: