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Super Bowl Commercials: This Year the Fans Got It Right (Almost)

I never cease to be amazed at how the Super Bowl became nearly as synonymous for TV commercials as for the game itself. This year the tradition continued and it’s always fun to see how TV viewing fans rank the various entries. I don’t typically agree with the public vote but this year, I have to admit that the fans got it right, or at least almost.

You see, as a guy who cut his teeth on the creative side of advertising, I tend to view these commercials through a different lens than the public at large. The fans like spots that are clever, cute, humorous or some combination thereof. I like these things too, but a spot that fails to deliver a relevant brand message, is simply, frankly, an exercise in self-gratification – a very expensive exercise at that.

With that perspective, I give you my critique of the highest-ranking Super Bowl commercials (and a few bottom feeders) as voted on by USA Today readers.

  1. Alexa Loses Her Voice (Amazon) – OK, full disclosure, my son-in-law works for Amazon. That said, I thought this spot did an amazing job of marrying a very powerfully branded message with some cleverly conceived and performed vignettes poking fun at what Alexa could become if she were replaced by celebrity experts such as the cranky celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsey, or the uber creepy, Anthony Hopkins (ala Silence of the Lambs).
  2. Touchdown Celebrations to Come (NFL) – Although I am not particularly a fan of Eli Manning or Odell Beckham, Jr., I thought this spot was brilliant. Another great example of a sponsor poking fun at itself, as Manning and Beckham spoofed the movie Dirty Dancing to highlight the celebratory experiences of an NFL game.
  3. Stand by You (Budweiser) – Advertisers were very conscious of being uplifting rather than controversial this year. This spot effectively spoke to Bud’s stand on corporate responsibility while working in a nice “made in America” theme without being maudlin or gratuitously self-serving.
  4. Doritos Blaze vs. Mountain Dew Ice – Here’s where my opinion diverged from the fans.  Interesting idea for two Pepsi companies to co-brand, but introducing two new products in this way resulted in messaging that was too cluttered and confusing to be effective.
  5. Good Odds (Toyota) – Actually this spot was part of a series by Toyota celebrating the shared values of Americans. The feel good messaging was powerful, the brand messaging less so. Still, taken in the entirety of the campaign, I liked it.

Honorable mentions

  • Human (M&Ms) - #6: in the fan vote. Danny DeVito as an M&M, brilliant casting.
  • Hope Detector (Hyundai) – #9: Another very effective “feel-good” spot.
  • Dundee (Tourism Australia) - #13: A bit corny but very unexpected.

Dishonorable mentions

  • Five Senses with Dr. Oz - #61: Turkish Airline as a sponsor, surprising. Dr. Oz as the spokesperson, incongruous.
  • YouTubeTV - #63: Still trying to figure out the point.

Random ramblings

  • It seems to me that promos for upcoming movies or TV shows probably deserve their own category in these rankings. A movie trailer, for example, better be memorable and have a clear call to action or they are meaningless. For that reason, I did not include them in this critique.
  • Previewing spots before the Super Bowl – To me, the element of surprise and anticipation about new spots to run in the Super Bowl greatly heightened the memorability of the spots as they were revealed during the SB broadcast. While the pre-release probably provides additional exposure, I can’t help but wonder if the impact is diminished.
  • Per my earlier comments about the importance of aligning brand relevance with creativity, I have often criticized Bud Light for letting silly humor trump any kind of strategic messaging. However, I have to say I like the current Game of Thrones styled campaign. The executions are smart and there is no doubt who the sponsor is. Dilly, dilly.

Filed Under: Super Bowl, Advertising, Branding

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