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Campaign Review: The Super Bowl special

Campaign Review is back for 2024! Starting off with a bang, we take a look at four of the most talked about spots from this week's Super Bowl LVIII. This Is Flow's chief strategist Catherine Rushton, DDB's creative partner Jenny Mak, Avenue C's managing partner and head of strategy Melissa Mullins, recently appointed art director at Icon Agency, Kenneth Parris III, and creative lead at 72andSunny, Gen Hoey, shared their thoughts.

In Campaign Review, Mumbrella invites industry creatives and strategists to offer their views on recent ad campaigns.

Brand: e.l.f. Cosmetics

Campaign: ‘In e.l.f. We Trust’

Agency: Agency Shadow

The verdict: Clever, but overbearing. 

Catherine Rushton, chief strategy officer at This Is Flow, gave it a 4/10, and said:

Rushton

While Nielsen rankings indicate that the combination of celebrity and humour help you ‘win’ Super Bowl advertising, in this case the combination doesn’t quite work. Perhaps it’s because the double layer of courtroom drama references (Suits AND Judge Judy) felt unnecessary to the point of distraction.

I do think they deserve points for attempting to mix rational and emotional elements here, it feels like the old saying ‘Your strategy is showing’ applies. What has stuck with me as a skincare addict is their hard hitting call out of competitors (‘elephant hot’, anybody) and managing to get a memorable price point in there.

Jenny Mak, creative partner at DDB, gave it a 6/10, and said:

While it’s clear that Elf objects to overpriced makeup, it seems they don’t object to paying for expensive celebrity cameos. While the premise of ‘Judge Beauty’ is fun, it felt like a simplistic way to talk about the brand’s values. However, the casting and performances are suitably diverse, and I appreciated the inclusion of former NFL linebacker and TV host Emmanuel Acho as a nice little nod to the Super Bowl placement.

Clearly inspired by the viral memes surrounding Jury Duty and the success of legal dramas like Suits and Judge Judy Sheindlin’s new show, the spot does do a good job of leveraging what their audience are responding to in popular culture. I just wish there had been a deeper insight and more laughs from such a star-studded cast.

I’m giving a bonus point for the final exchange of dialogue between Rick Hoffman and Judge Judy Sheindlin because it was the only part that made me chuckle.

Melissa Mullins, managing partner and head of strategy at Avenue C, gave it a 5/10, and said: 

In an attempt to be relevant, this ad feels culturally confused. In trying to poke fun at an outdated beauty industry, it is actually poking fun at the very people it should be trying to attract. Are we meant to laugh along with a beauty brand mocking women for being duped by the beauty industry? Spending their hard-earned cash on the promise of flawless skin? Or is it only successful rich women this is mocking?

Either way, a make-up brand talking down to women or turning them against each other feels out of touch in today’s climate. Even the Suits cast, Heidi from RuPaul’s Drag Race, Meghan Trainor, Benito Skinner, and Judge Judy can’t distract you from the truth that is apparent from this spot – you really can’t “buy” cultural relevance!

Kenneth Parris III, art director at Icon Agency, gave it a 7/10, and said:

Using Judge Judy’s reality daytime TV schtick along with excellent casting seems like they really know their target audience. The art direction was a spot-on parody: Snap zooms, exaggerated and well-timed reactions, e.l.f.’s brand colours with logo in the corner, the glint and ‘ding’. Such a great way to own affordability for everyone.

Genevieve Hoey, creative lead, 72andSunny ANZ, gave it a 5/10, and said:

Advertising Christmas aka The Super Bowl is the most wonderful time of the year. A time where the world is your focus group, and all creatives end up in therapy. Before I add my 2 cents, I’d like to acknowledge all the talented people who gave their past year to make these ads happen. Win or lose, you got an ad up in the Super Bowl – and that is more than most. I hope you’re all still sane and your parents finally know what the hell it is you do for a living.

OK let the reviews begin! Starting with e.l.f. Cosmetics. This was a long walk for a small drink of water. And I’m not sure using the cast of Suits plus the inimitable Judge Judy qualifies as an idea. However I know this courtroom scenario has traction with particular demographics in the US, so I think the agency clearly knows their e.l.f. audience. There’s enough easter eggs in there to watch it through once, but not enough for me to watch it ever again.

Brand: Uber Eats

Campaign: ‘Don’t Forget Uber Eats’

Agency: Special US

The verdict: Also a bit overbearing, but good tone and execution. 

Rushton gave it a 5/10, and said:

Too many celebrities, too many scenes and too much for me to remember, which feels ironic but not in the good way (see Mountain Dew). I much preferred the accompanying stand-alone social content via Victoria & Becks social pages.

In saying that, the star power of this ad has meant it has been one of the winners when it comes to earned media attention. It also taps into the Y2K nostalgia trend we’ve seen across this year’s contenders meaning it gets a couple of extra points from me and no doubt my fellow millennial Taylor swift fans.

Mak gave it an 8/10, and said:

Mak

The idea that you need to forget something to make room for new information instantly appeals to me. It’s one of those things that isn’t true but makes enough sense that you kind of believe it. Like when you were a kid and you were told that if you ate the apple seeds, a tree would grow in your stomach. Straight away they’ve set the tone of the spot, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Each celebrity appearance doesn’t disappoint, and I love how they keep referencing the brand throughout the spot to cement the message. The casting is great, and the visual gags make me laugh as much as the dialogue. I particularly enjoyed watching David and Victoria Beckham struggling to remember the name of the pop group she was in. I’m sure NFL fans will also get a laugh out of the final scene that shows Usher waiting backstage at this year’s halftime show, manifesting that one day, he will get to headline the iconic performance.

Although this spot invests heavily in the use of celebrity, it supports the idea rather than overshadowing the message. A tactic Uber Eats has established over time now, which continues to work in their favour.

Mullins gave it a 6/10, and said:

Uber has long used celebrity scenarios as its advertising formula, so you would think for the Super Bowl, where they are paying $7 million USD for a 30 sec spot, they would want to use this formula in a fresh or interesting way to warrant the spend – but sadly this ad falls short.

I am pretty sure that the seed of this idea would have started from the insight that the most frustrating part of getting home is realising that there is something that you forgot and that due to the increased mental load, that happens all the more frequently. However, at some point in the creative process, inspired by Homer Simpson, I assume this morphed into the idea that in order to remember all the things Uber provides, you need to forget something else.

The lost consumer truth wouldn’t have mattered if the celebrity scenarios were hilariously clever, but Aniston forgetting that she ever worked with David Schwimmer, someone allergic to peanuts forgetting their allergy, Posh Spice forgetting the name of the pop group she was in? Sure, it’s taking forgetfulness to the creative extreme, but it just doesn’t have the same punch or cultural potency that some of Uber’s other work has had (thinking Kendall cutting the cucumbers). Sadly I think this ad is an example of what you get with a ‘lost in translation’ insight, lazy ideation and an overuse of celebrity to do the heavy lifting for your brand.

Parris gave it a 6/10, and said:

It was entertaining to watch celebrity’s stories and over-the-top vignettes intercut and play out, very funny. Brilliant tieback to the Super Bowl with Usher at the end. Smart use of talent and script to tell the story of ‘forgetting;. I just got a bit overwhelmed by the bigness of the gag that the twist to ‘remember’ left me forgetting Uber Eats.

Hoey gave it a 7/10, and said:

Uber stacked the deck with nostalgia – a classic Super Bowl play. Friends is trending with younger demos so having Jennifer and Schwimmer in there will ring the bells. Plus modernising the cast with Victoria and David doing a cameo helps. Yes it’s a very polished ad, but at the same time it feels a little too responsible to win The Super Bowl. By that I mean the product is responsibly centred throughout the spot, but the creative set up is a plodding plot exposition “ to remember Uber Eats you need to forget something else.” I focussed on this premise more than the overarching message which was…? Still, funny and well executed.

Brand: Pringles

Campaign: ‘Mr P’

Agency: Grey New York

The verdict: Quirky and fun take on an iconic brand asset. 

Rushton gave it a 6/10, and said:

I know this one has been divisive but I personally thought it was simple yet effective. Its quirky take on a brand distinctive asset in the moustache man, means it should at least achieve the goal of strong brand attribution for the enormous investment, which some more forgettable executions would have missed out on.

Mak gave it a 7/10, and said:

Another use of celebrity, but this time to leverage a distinctive brand asset – the Pringles guy, or Mr. P. The story is simple; after buying a can of Pringles, the cashier tells a moustache-sporting Chris Pratt that he resembles the brand’s moustache-sporting logo. His questionable likeness quickly goes viral via social media before he gets typecast by his agent to play Mr. P in a movie about Pringles.

Is the storytelling amazing? No. Is the production quality good? Yes. Apart from putting the brand at the heart of the narrative, the smartest thing about this ad is the wider social media campaign it’s part of. The social media campaign encourages fans to share their likeness of Mr. P for their chance to win a cash prize. So just like Chris Pratt in the Super Bowl commercial, you can get rewarded for sharing your likeness to the logo. Tapping into viewer’s second-screen habits is a smart move from the brand and is a good example of how to amplify and engage viewers beyond the broadcast.

Mullins gave it a 7/10, and said:

Mullins

Whether or not you love or hate this ad, if the brief was to elevate Pringle’s distinctive asset, it delivers. Apparently, the inspiration came from the fact that fans often claim they see Mr P in everyday scenarios. Using this as a springboard and applying it to (sigh) celebrity, may not be ground-breaking but it does succeed in bringing what is loved and memorable about the brand to an even wider audience. With a campaign that then asks fans to submit where they see Mr P with the #IseeMrP hashtag, you can see how this will translate to brand salience.

Parris gave it a 7/10, and said:

Such a fun and memorable way to bring the Pringles guy to life. It’s single-minded, entertaining, and I’m never allowed to forget I’m watching a Pringles ad. It’s nice to see how much of the comedy comes from nuance: The women’s dead pan camera snap, the composition of the scene as Chris Pratt is mobbed lit only by cell-phone and camera lights, the moustachioed boy’s furrowed eyebrows, how the cinematic music is cut by a horn honk and awkward silence. Mr. P’s wink at the end lets us feel like we’re all in on the joke.

Hoey gave it a 4/10, and said:

A one trick pony that just wouldn’t die. Chris Pratt was phoning it in and that showed throughout the spot. He puts on a moustache and goes viral as Mr Pringle.

Why, What? Meh. Production and extras casting good. Chris bad.

Brand: PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew

Campaign: ‘Having a Blast’

Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

The verdict: Aubrey Plaza was perfect. 

Rushton gave it an 8/10, and said:

Aubrey Plaza’s jaded irony (‘America’s sweetheart’) and the comic yet effective repetition of the ‘blast’ product name make this one of this year’s winners in my opinion.

Even better is the ‘Parks & Recreation’ homage to seal the deal.

It also gets extra points for being relatively short at 30’’ vs the unnecessarily long 60-90’’ edits from other brands (see earlier, ‘in e.l.f we trust’) You can easily see how this could be edited and the different scenes be used in short form social creative.

Mak gave it an 8/10, and said:

Firstly, for those who aren’t familiar with Mountain Dew Baja Blast – the flavour was first made available in 2004 and was created for, and exclusively sold at Taco Bell locations. Since then, Taco Bell and Mountain Dew Baja Blast have become an iconic duo satisfying the cravings of fans for the past 20 years. So, it makes sense that PepsiCo have enlisted the dynamic duo of Aubrey Plaza and her former Parks and Recreation co-star Nick Offerman to try to contain their enthusiasm for the flavour finally being available in bottles and cans (previously only available at Taco Bell).

The ad showcases Plaza in a series of increasingly peculiar scenarios. Despite the discomfort, irritation, or danger of her surroundings, she consistently reminds us that she’s “having a blast”. It’s only when she finds herself riding a flying, Game of Thrones-style dragon – alongside one piloted by Offerman – that she acknowledges the enjoyment she’s experiencing.

It’s an epic production that’s been delivered with deliciously wry humour, and the use of celebrity is spot on. Plaza’s monotone delivery dramatises the point that you can have a blast in any situation perfectly. While brands can quickly garner attention and recognition by using the right celebrity, the impact is heightened when combined with a cohesive device, such as a slogan unique to the brand. In this instance, the phrase “having a blast” does just that.

Mullins gave it a 6/10, and said:

To have a product that promises a ‘blast’ delivered by the famously deadpan Aubrey Plaza is a fun and witty execution. Ordinarily I would have nothing negative to say about this ad. However, in the context of the Super Bowl, a game that is known more for its half time show and celebrity sightings than the game itself, I am not sure that it has enough to punch through. I think this is a good example that in this context, the use of celebrity to deliver memorability really isn’t enough. In the battle for mental availability, it has to be Taylor Swift 1, Mountain Dew & Aubrey Plaza 0.

Parris gave it a 7/10, and said:

Parris

Simple, old-school approach where you keep repeating the product name so we can’t forget it. They just went for it and seems like you could come up with scenarios for Aubrey Plaza’s dry, perfect delivery for days.

Hoey gave it an 8/10, and said: 

Out of the gates, I love Aubrey Plaza so this was always going to be my favourite. The script is well written, giving her all the dead-pan beats she needs to be a counterpoint to the high energy Mountain Dew brand. The creatives would have started with “who’s the least likely celebrity to have a blast with Mountain Dew” and BOOM – enter Aubrey Plaza. Then, reuniting her with equally dead pan Parks and Rec co-star Nick Offerman in a bonkers dragon riding scene – chef’s kiss.

As told to Lauren McNamara.

If you are a senior creative or strategist who would like to take part in a future Campaign Review, please email Lauren at lmcnamara@mumbrella.com.au

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