By Paul Wiefels
Decades ago, FCC chairman Newton Minow described American commercial television as “…a vast wasteland.” He could have been talking about yesterday’s Superbowl. Not the game, mind you. It was superb from kickoff to the final second. No, this year it was the advertising, much of it an exercise in mendacity, mediocrity, and banality. Then there was Justin Timberlake, who the LA Times described as having nothing to say which he said over and over. It’s also an apt description for this year’s commercial efforts.
First, there were the completely inauthentic attempts to be authentic. That’s you, Verizon and T-Mobile and Toyota. Lawsuits should be filed and marketing VPs should be sacked over Ram’s invocation of Martin Luther King to sell a pickup truck. Next, the gratuitous use of celebrities. I know it’s show business and boy does it pay, and I can see Morgan Freeman in business class on Turkish Airlines. I can’t see him guzzling Mountain Dew channeling Missy Elliott. Peter Dinklage gets a pass. He sells it every time. Danny DeVito for M&M’s? Fire your agent and don’t ever do that again.
Then there’s the “huh?” and “why bother?” Tide overwhelmingly leads the laundry detergent category. While the media buy was novel, P&G traditionally does “cute” well but strains to do “funny.” Why not spend a few million to tell people that if they eat Tide Pods (or leave them around so toddlers can), they’re dumber than they look? Squarespace? Who? What? Who cares? Budweiser gets mixed marks. The Bud Light stuff was well produced and directed. Brand Budweiser reminded us that their beer is produced in a factory and tastes to many, like water.
What worked? Commercials that had a selling idea—highlighting a benefit to be considered or reinforcing a belief already held. That’s called advertising. Persil, the detergent, accomplished it in one :30 spot. Australian Tourism made us smile with a little film. Clever Aussies. Jeep showed us what’s it like to own and drive a Jeep. And Amazon showed us how the future might look, ready or not. I’ve since disconnected Alexa. Nothing personal.
The day reminded me once again that saying something well is not the same thing as having something worth saying.