The real problem is that we expect too much. We want every game to be like Super Bowl 49, when the Patriots’ rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted a Seattle pass in the end zone with 66 seconds left to cement the win.
And we want every commercial to be another VW The Force, a commercial so charming we can’t wait to see it again.
If we work in the business, we hope for even more: a spot as inspiring as 1984; an ad that becomes as much a part of the vernacular as Wassup; an idea so original it raises the creative bar for all of us.
This year we got neither. The game was filled with fumbles and penalties. And the advertising lineup relied too heavily on familiar formulas, dominated by an overuse of celebrities, visual gags, borrowed interest, and talking animals.
In some ways, that’s understandable. At $5 million for a thirty-second media buy, few brands want to take risks. It’s easier to play it safe. Go for a few laughs, hire a big name, check off the likeable box. We saw what happened last year when one risky spot cost Nationwide’s CMO his job.
It’s also become harder than ever for one ad, even on the Super Bowl, to have a significant cultural impact. We live in an age of fragmented media and diminished attention spans, making it unlikely that a single commercial, no matter how good it is, could ever capture and hold onto our collective consciousness for more than a day or two.
In fact if there’s an insight or trend we can glean from this year’s crop of executions it’s that even Super Bowl ads have surrendered the media mantle to Snapchat and Buzzfeed. It appears that the best the advertising industry can do is strive to emulate the new platforms’ approach to content with concepts designed to grab attention for a moment or two and then disappear. Or with executions that would make great listicle linkbait, but fail to elevate the brand whose name is on the spot or the advertising agency behind it.
That being said, I admit there were a few things worth a nod. So here are some of the best moments — jointly chosen with the help of my digitally savvy 15-year-old son — in an otherwise mediocre year.
Best performance by an actor in a leading role
There was an abundance of celebrities. But none came close to the performance delivered by Christopher Walken in Kia’s Walken Closet spot. He commanded our attention with his steely stare and his flawless enunciation of “sock” and “pizzazz.” He also delivered one of the two best lines of the day, “It’s like the world’s most exciting pair of socks, but it’s a mid-sized sedan.” Pitch perfect.
Best use of a hashtag
The spot was weird. But #puppymonkeybaby was trending in no time with over 40,000 Twitter mentions in a matter of minutes. Not sure this commercial will ever make anyone’s best of anything list. But at least the agency will have some data to manipulate in its favor when it makes a case study video to share with prospective clients.
Best use of a pun
No surprise that a beer spot with Seth and Amy prevails with, “Just wait ‘til you see our caucus. We’ve got the biggest caucus in the country.” But, “It’s not too big. You can handle it.” Wouldn’t have been all that good delivered by anyone but Amy Schumer.
Best closing line
This was a tight race. “America has seen the light and there’s a Bud in front of it,” edges out Audi’s “Choosing the moon brings out the best in us.” They’re both very good lines. But the duo’s delivery of the Bud line works better than words on a screen.
Best solution to selling a car that costs $116,000 in an age of income inequality
There was one entry and one winner. In a year when income inequality is the issue on everyone’s mind, on a game watched by the masses, Audi had the balls to advertise a six-figure car. But somehow this high-end brand managed to make a single, childless, hedge fund manager (or venture capitalist) appear to be a good guy by showing how much he cares about his aging Dad. Oh, and they demonstrated the car kicks ass, too.
Best attempt at redemption
T-Mobile is known for some of the worst commercials in a category famous for bad commercials. But give them credit for a pretty good inside joke and letting Steve Harvey attempt to redeem himself for the faux pas of the year at the last Miss Universe contest. Not sure this spot will ever get as many YouTube views as the original, but if you know the story, this made you laugh.
Best spot on the game
It has to go to the one spot that stood out by doing something different. By avoiding familiar jokes, visual gags or over dependence on celebrities, Jeep wins. True there were some images of actors, but the black and white ad was about the product, its history and the role its customers and users have played in building the storied brand. And, in a nod to the impact of modern technology, Jeep made a spot using the vertical video format popularized by our smartphones, a forward-looking complement to a concept that looked back in time. Perhaps a little derivative of Apple’s Think Different, but still the only standout on the game.
Hey, maybe we can still enjoy Super Bowl ads. We just have to lower our expectations.