It's that time of year again. Time to make that fancy dip and that special wing sauce. Time to lay down a few bills in that office pool. Time to defiantly put on the jersey of your team -- the one that didn't make it to the Super Bowl. Time to pay as much attention to the TV commercials as to the big game.
Yep, it's time for the Super Bowl and for advertising's big day in the spotlight. With an expected 100 million viewers, a 30-second spot is going for around $4 million. And just like the big game itself, there will be winners and losers. I sat down with a bowl of my wife's most excellent chili and a tall glass of ice cold diet Dr. Pepper to review this year's spots and give you my professional opinion of which brands were able to score a touchdown and which ones fumbled. Most, but not all, of the spots that will be broadcast during Super Bowl XLVIII were available for review.
Contrary to popular belief, big budget commercials are very difficult to pull off. Brands that over-reach, over-promise or just plain lose their way will be in full view during the Super Bowl broadcast, and we'll get to some of them later. Kia, quite simply, knocks it out of the park. In a spot that pays homage to the Matrix and stars Laurence Fishburne in a reprisal of his role as Morpheus, Kia delivers on its tagline "challenge the luxury you know." It is the perfect spot to communicate the way Kia has come up in the world of automobiles.
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How often do you see a brand be brave? (Sing it, Sara Bareilles.) I recall having to pull a commercial off the air after my client received one or two negative letters. So after Cheerios received some backlash from its commercials depicting an interracial couple and their darling daughter, Gracie, it is heartening to see them revisit the family and up the ante. Cheers, Cheerios!
Love the "Finger Cleaner" spot, one of the four finalists. Grossed me out but I still love it. It gets to the heart of one of the aspects of Doritos that Doritos lovers love. Hope it wins.
Close second is the Time Machine Spot. Clever without being contrived.
The Puppy Love spot will get a lot of buzz. Not because it's about anything or tells such an exceptional story but because it taps into our pet zeitgeist.
It has been clear for some time that Pepsi is willing to open its wallet and try and buy itself back into the good graces it enjoyed with the public during the Pepsi Generation. This year, they have created a spot that seems like it is half an hour long called Halftime America. They converge on a community, putting up banners and signs and dropping Pepsi machines that dispense free Pepsi all over town and overwhelm the simple folk of Milligan, Neb., as they prepare to put on a concert roughly at the midpoint of the country. I love Lee Brice and his mega-hit Parking Lot Party, but I cringe seeing everyone in the town swigging Pepsi like bottled water. It's just not where we are right now and Pepsi needs to understand that if it wants to become a revered brand again. Listen more and simplify or the backlash defeats the purpose of spending that kind of money.
Axe's agency studied the film. They looked at iconic ads of the past and they stretched, they really did. Like an okay pianist taking on a master work, you know what they are playing but it misses in enough places to make it uncomfortable to listen to. Axe is a smart aleck deodorant for Millennials. Peace is serious business because in the absence of it people die, for real. So, it's an inappropriate stance for a deodorant that clearly has nothing to do with peace. Donating to the organization Peace One Day is laudable but Axe risks being offensive and patronizing if it can't figure out a stronger action prior to taking on such a big issue.
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SodaStream and Beats almost make it, but fall short. GoDaddy's effort is weak. Most of the ads are clearly forgettable. Mazda's ad and in fact it's current campaign in which it compares what they are doing with their car design to iconic figures like Jackie Robinson, Bruce Lee and Frank Lloyd Wright is an over-promise and falls flat.
In the end, Super Bowl advertisers don't need to sell product, or gain market share. They simply need to get noticed and talked about. To be associated as a leading product or service. Using this idea as the measuring stick, Kia is the big winner and Cheerios has the opportunity to develop a unique voice as a corporate leader. Mars just teased us, we won't see their spots until the big show, but I bet you it will be something good. Enjoy the spots for yourselves. Time for me to get seconds.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Larry D. Woodard is CEO of Graham Stanley Advertising and the co-author of the book, "Advertising as a Branding Tool."
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