When did advertising get so small?

I’ve come around to agreeing that the best Super Bowl spot (above) only ran in Canada.

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t run into anyone in the advertising or marketing business who wasn’t hugely disappointed with the commercials that ran last Sunday. It made all of advertising seem tired, old and in need of a serious makeover.

Even among the 25 students in the class I teach at Boston University, consensus seemed to be that all we got were recycled ideas (Honda), agencies struggling to extend past successes (VW, Chrysler), and sad attempts to replace humor with something more sophisticated (Bud Platinum).

Granted, it’s difficult to make great advertising of any kind. Add the pressure, money, judgment and expectations of the Super Bowl and the challenge is 10-fold. And today, with everyone having a microphone to express his opinion, in real time no less, it’s unlikely we could ever get consensus on what constitutes great.

At a Brand Bowl kickoff last Friday, held at the Boston Globe’s innovation lab, 60 people previewed half a dozen spots. They texted their reaction so we could quickly gauge a winner. Interestingly nearly all the spots split the audience. A slight majority disliked Ferris. A twinge more than half gave the VW dog the thumps up. But nothing stood out or made a lasting impression.

Granted come game day consumers and viewers pay attention to the spots. By adding their two cents, they elevate brand mentions and visibility across all of the social channels. And as Mullen’s Brand Bowl revealed, classic advertising humor still works at inspiring volumes of chatter. Doritos generated tens of thousands of tweets and M&Ms proved that a new female character can charm the pants off viewers.

But is that good enough?

There was a time when advertising helped define pop culture. “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing,” or “Take it all off,” or “Wassup,” or “When I grow up,” were ideas that started with an ad and then migrated outwards. Today, however, most great ideas begin somewhere else. Hollywood. Silicon Valley. The app store.

That should bother anyone who still works in this business and be a challenge to the next generation ready to enter it. Maybe it’s too late. The new frontier has moved well beyond message based marketing to engagement, utility and collaboration.  But it appears that good old advertising still has some role to play. And if it’s going to show up for a competition as fierce as the Super Bowl, it better start bringing its A-game.

Related posts:

All the spots: Ad Age

Non Brand Bowl analysis: Media Works

Charming to Smarmy: NY Times

 

 

13 comments
Jim Copacino
Jim Copacino

Let's not judge the entire advertising industry by four hours of Super Bowl nonsense. It may be possible that the hype of The Big Game is collapsing under the weight of its own bloated expectations. There are smart agencies that are reinventing the way in which we engage consumers--with remarkable innovation. The Super Bowl advertising derby, by contrast, is a goofy and desperate talent show that grovels for attention in all the wrong ways. It is the world's largest and most pathetic karaoke bar. "1984" created the Super Bowl advertising phenomenon. 2012 may well have marked its irrelevance. But please don't judge an entire industry by this one-day orgy of excess.

tomcunniff
tomcunniff

Regardless of how good or bad our commercials are, it is impossible for TV to influence pop culture the way it once did.

Audiences are too hopelessly fragmented, even for big ratings shows like The Super Bowl. Our attention is all over the freaking place -- on our smartphones, on Twitter, on Facebook, etc etc etc. (I worry Social TV is about to make all this worse and not better, but... that's a subject for another discussion...)

In January 1964, 44% of America tuned in to see a run-of-the-mill episode of perhaps the most run-of-the-mill TV series ever. It was for a Beverly Hillbillies episode called "The Giant Jackrabbit".

That show, and the commercials that ran on it, was probably water cooler conversation for a week or two in Manhattan. It probably resonated for a month in places like Holdredge, Nebraska. We can't begin to imagine media impact like that today, because it just doesn't exist anymore.

Definitely, the advertising could have been better. But just as definitely, it couldn't have had the impact it once did.

CarolWeinfeld
CarolWeinfeld

Yes, very disappointing. The spots reminded one of Hollywood remakes and Broadway revivals. Due to the economy, which has caused an atmosphere of caution, advertisers stayed with safe ads. Agencies should inspire their clients to go beyond safe. As Michael Lewis wrote in Moneyball, "If you challenge the conventional wisdom, you will find ways to do things much better than they are currently done." (p.98)

@clweinfeld

miznixie
miznixie

Tv advertising got small when it ceased to be the dominant way people learn about new products. Think about it: most spots get leaked on line before the game. That's where the action is now. We're past the golden age of TV and we're not coming back. And I think that's awesome. How much better can advertising be when it can be finely targeted, and not pander to the lowest common denominator? Video created for the web can be edgier, funnier and customized to the viewer. We're on the verge of great times.

photographyou
photographyou

@DezzyDood very true. That was my home rink for 20 years when I lived in Port Credit and Loren Park

D_Hock
D_Hock

@edwardboches No love for the Chevy spots? The OK GO ad with digital payoff was miles past a recycled ImprovEverywhere spot like the Bud one

DaveKoranda
DaveKoranda

@edwardboches the bud spot re rec hockey in canada superior to anything i saw here sunday. but then again, I still play in rec league. mite drink bud now

Ericvanf
Ericvanf

I think spot criticism is covered. So I'll take on a different target to flog. It seems to me to exactly backwards to the idea that Super Bowl commercials are provocative or special to debut them as 'content' in advance of the event. Instead of viewing Super Bowl commercials as an 'end point' ("Look it's on the Super Bowl!") the work should start with the Super Bowl and incite interest to follow further in different arenas (in store, other media) of experience. To further the concept of timeliness and being contextual - let me suggest the current line of 'pre-release screening' thinking is akin to viewing romance as culminating with marriage.

Ericvanf
Ericvanf

@tomcunniff Right on, Tom. I also think our contemporary understanding of advertising is driven by a much greater appreciation of (and demand for) superior marketing. I think we have a parallax view of commercials and/or marketing these days. So advertising not only is smaller it appears even small until it, periodically, pops larger. Which is why, I think, even for a transcendently great commercial to register as a great commercial you have to create and equally 'great' media environment for/around it.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@Ericvanf You may be right, but that's a slightly different argument. I don't know if a "surprise" debut would make anything really better or longer lasting. Time will tell. I suppose you could also make an argument that in an age of so much information, data, a never ending stream, etc, that the likes of 1984 and WIGU are not even possible anymore. But that also proves my point that advertising may no longer have the power to make something that has both impact and endurance and from this point on such achievements will be the domain of some other media platform.

Ericvanf
Ericvanf

@edwardboches@Ericvanf I would suggest the role (s) of advertising have changed our definition and expectation for advertising. As you say, individual units - commercials- are going to have a tougher time emerging from the never ending stream. Nonetheless, I think, for the brands that command or belong on television, the big event spectacular commercial is still important and valuable. I'm just not sure it defines 'advertising' any longer. The barriers to entry - thanks technology- are lower than ever. And, in some ways, it's made the stakes lower than ever, too. My guess is for advertising as we think of it vis-a-vis 1984 or WIGU-ness the commercial, alone, is not enough. You've got to be equally brilliant in how it is deployed. In so much as as the Giant Ad Corporations have 'un-bundled' (excuse the phrase) media from creative that sort of challenge sits, mostly, in a blind spot. Long way to say, I think advertising (for the biggest most visible brands) got so small when we started carving all the parts off into ala carte commodity markets.

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