Super Bowl Advertising Round-Up, Part 1

Despite the fact that I work in advertising, I actually do watch the Super Bowl for the football, as opposed to the ads.

That said, my Twitter feed last night consisted pretty much entirely of people commenting on the ads and I made sure to watch them all online following the game and since it’s been a long time since I actually posted anything here, I figured I’d give some reviews into the spots seeing as this is pretty much the biggest night of the year for advertising.

Overall, I thought that this was a pretty bad year for advertising. Fuck, for the first quarter, I fel vaguely ashamed to work in this industry, so bad were most of the spots.

There were a few standouts of really strong work.

I particularly liked Google.

It really stood out for its simplicity and elegance the midst of a sea of big budget, highly produced spots and it really served to underscore the point that simplicty and elegance are at the core of teh Google user experience and did a good job of highlighting the Google features that go beyond simple search.

This spot does not get my top prize, however, for a couple reasons. First, it wasn’t a new spot. It actually aired at least 6 months ago and they just re-aired it. Doesn’t take away from the greatness of the ad but doesn’t really meet the criteria for being a “Super Bowl ad”. Second, I just don’t know if it was money well-spent. One of the things I most admire about Google is how they’ve built themselves into such a great brand and such a dominant player with very little in terms of paid advertising. They did by doing things right – offering a great experience, building on WOM, and great customer service. Dropping 2 million bucks on a Super Bowl seems to go against their brand image in a way. Also, it just seems unnecessary for a brand like this to do. I use Google all day long. It’s my homepage on my laptop, it’s right there on my BlackBerry. I get Google Alerts pinging me constantly. I just don’t need a reminder to use it and I doubt anyone else does either.

The spot that gets my top prize – my “Palme d’Or”, if you will – is the latest incarnation of the e-Trade baby.

E-trade has been one of my favourite advertisers for a while and here’s why: a good test of the creative chops of an agency is whether they can do great creative work in what’s considered a pretty boring category. Any agency should be able to do a spot for a cool and fun brand like a Nike or Adidas and knock it out of the park. Doing ads for things like insurance, financial management, etc. – categories most people would rather tune out – needs to be really strong in order to break through. That’s why I’ve loved the Geico campaigns so much over the years. Taking an insurance company client and producing genuinely funny and captivating spots shows mad skillz, as the kids might say.

E-trade has done a lot of great Super Bowl work in years past, satrting with the absurd dancing monkey that was a standout during the year that it aired. They followed that up with a great “money out the wazoo” spot which also stood out. Three years ago, they launched a brilliant spot where they first introduced us to the E-Trade Baby. Check it out below:

i loved it and I wasn’t alone. Yeah, I found it a bit derivative of other campaigns – particularly Geico – with the message of “so easy that even a  _____ could do it”, just replacing “caveman” with “baby”. But the spot worked. It was unique in the category, delivered the message clearly and, fuck, it’s an adorable talking baby dispensing stock tips! What more do you want?

It’s been a while since we’ve had many great “characters” in advertising. The Marlboro Man is pretty much banished and aside from cereals, we don’t really get many iconic, loveable little advertising icons. I think the E-Trade baby may just be the best one today and they were wise to recognize his potential following the first Super Bowl appearance and keep building him up. Below is the best spot featuring him, in my opinion:

I mean, a golfing baby who uses the term “shankapotomous”? Awesome.

Now, the spot that they ran last night didn’t quite live up to that one. It was good, it was funny, just not over-the-top amazing. But I give the agency (Grey – New York) a ton of credit. There’s a tendency in advertising to abandon campaigns just for the sake of “refreshing” the brand – even when the campaign is doing well and still building up brand equity. It’s especially tempting when you’ve got a huge platform like the Super Bowl to force yourself to do something “new” jsut for the sake of doing something new. But they’ve got a great character who has already made two Super Bowl appearances and it was like fans were expecting and anticipating a new incarnation. If he didn’t appear, it would have left people disappointing. So kudos to Grey for not trying to fix what wasn’t broken and giving a strong standout spot in a pretty dismal year.

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