Learnings from the Super Bowl: Advertising may be dead

Super Bowl 50 LV advertising critique

Ah… the Super Bowl. The event of the year where everyone gets that one (highly expensive) shot to put forth an ad that people will actually watch. In years past we’ve had many winners and losers – what the hell was Monkey Baby Puppy, Mt. Dew? We’ve had the notable, and the forgettable. So, what did this year bring?

True to 2020 fashion, absolute disappointment. And it may be safe to say, advertising is dead.

Before hopping ahead, our friends at Pavone have launched their SpotBowl site where you can vote on this year’s ads. Go have a look! This year’s Super Bowl ads fell into a few clear camps:

  1. 2020 was tough and we’re here to make the world a better place so buy Product/ Service X.
  2. We’re weird and funny and mostly obtuse, so buy Product/Service X.
  3.  Hey! Look at this 90’s throwback cultural reference. Buy Product/Service X.
  4. In case you missed it. Paramount+ is launching. 
Overall this netted out in a highly disappointing showing that left me wondering if today’s advertisers are even funny let alone relevant. Can they create serious ads and commercials that effectively connect, and does anyone buy into the sappy, emotionally driven narratives from brands that have done nearly nothing to believe they mean it?
What I took away is that the ad industry is struggling to find connection in a medium that simply doesn’t connect any longer. The creative is weak and reliant on gimmicks and parlor tricks to beg and plead for attention. Put simply, it’s really sad.
However, there were a few shining stars. I can’t tell if they’re great ads, or if the other ads were so bad that these ones stood out as a result. You be the judge. 

Bud Light Seltzer - "Lemonade"

Okay, this connected big time. It mirrored the frustrations and laughable trials of 2020 in a way that a large number of people could relate to. It wasn’t about being desperate or downtrodden. It was about taking the issues last year brought with an attitude we can all relate to. It made us laugh as we looked back and a bumpy year and pulled in the product naturally. It gave a sense of much needed relief as opposed to a reminder of how rough it was. It didn’t seek to connect to the “we’re all in this together” emotionally saturated ilk we all had to stomach from advertisers while we were locked in our homes.

Grade: A

E-Trade - "Workout"

E-Trade is another company who got the 2020 tone right. This commercial connected to the often times bloated goals of people in the pandemic who sought to better themselves. It was a great laugh as we’ve all understood that moment of trying to get into shape and getting disappointed with lack of results. The struggle is very real and we felt it. The sign-off really sealed the deal: This is the year you’ll get into shape… Financially, at least.

Grade: B+

Rocket Mortage - Certain is Better

I can’t say that Tracy Morgan is the funniest guy ever, but I can say this spot got a giggle or two out of me. And, it really delivered the core message of “certain” being much better than “pretty sure.” It stuck that message in my brain in a way that’s funny. For a mortgage company that’s quite the achievement.

Rocket Mortgage had two spots which was a great way to continue the narrative and the message. However, I wished it continue and wondered if there were a way to create more content that pushed the message beyond these ads. Still a great set.

Grade: B

SquareSpace - 5 to 9 by Dolly Parton

The 5 to 9 spot featuring a riff on the famous Dolly Parton song was quite remarkable. The set design and production was stellar. It effectively tapped the upbeat, go-getter attitudes of entrepreneurs and gig-ecomony go-getters. The song is, of course, very catchy and memorable, and it effectively drove home the connectivity between SquareSpace’s ability to bring you 5 to 9 dream to life.

Grade: A

Dishonorable Mention: Oatly - Wow No Cow

I can vividly imagine how the client interaction went during the pitch meeting. I imagine the agency or in house team biting the bullet for the paycheck. This spot was so incredibly bad we actually muted the TV as everyone in the room, in melodic unision, said, “No.”

But, I am talking about it, so maybe it’s still a win? Only in the CEO’s mind.

Grade: F

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