Features

Super Bowl 2017 – advertising’s hits and misses

The Super Bowl has become one of the biggest events on the global marketing calendar, with one-off ads guaranteed to draw not only a huge televised audience in the US, but global coverage, too. Simon Canning rounds up this year's crop, and discusses the best and worst with Andrew Cameron, Creative Director of Emotive.

The build up for the 2017 Super Bowl has been underway for weeks, with advertisers releasing teasers and even full campaigns ahead of the big game between the Falcons and the Patriots.

superbowl-2017More than a dozen major advertiser have opted to wait for the game itself to show what their massive media spend has brought them. Many advertisers return year after year, while there are also a handful of brave rookie advertisers dipping their toe in the water for the first time – including one very bold Aussie winemaker.

And in what may be a first, a number of advertisers, including multinational giant, Budweiser, have used the game as a platform to make social commentary about American politics.

For many viewers the main game is not what happens off the field, but the battle between advertisers to be crowned Super Bowl ad of the year.

Here are the contenders:

Tiffany & Co.

Lady Gaga owned the half-time show but she also found her way into a stylish piece of work from Tiffany & Co., where she talks about the jeweller and the role it has played in her life, knowing as she grew up that she would one day have a special moment visiting the store. But also talking about how she became a rebel.

Mercedes-Benz

An early leader in the popularity stakes, Mercedes went to directors Joel and Ethan Coen for this Easy Rider-inspired spot featuring Steppenwolf’s hit ‘Born to Be Wild’. Naturally, the ad would not have been complete without a cameo from Peter Fonda.

T-Mobile

Proving to be one of the more adventurous marketers is T-Mobile, which has created a suggestive S&M ad starring Kristen Schaald (Flight of the Conchords) as the phone company spanked the data charges of its rival Verizon.

Turkish Airlines

In one of the more pedestrian celebrity endorsements this year Morgan Freemen steps up as the ambassador for Turkish Airlines asking people to widen their world. The ad includes a shot of plane filled with Freemans, as he asks, “If you are one of us and you want to explore more of this great planet, we’re ready to take you there”.

Bud Light

Bud Light has brought one of its seminal advertising characters, Spuds MacKenzie back from the dead for this ad which may leave many millennials scratching their heads. Spuds was a feature of Bud Light marketing in the 1980s and The Dog of Superbowl past returns to offer a lesson to a young man who has lost touch with his mates.

Andrew: Bud Light’s Spuds Mackenzie’s ghost of parties past plays well into the FOMO mentality of millennials. It’s a decent nod to getting together and enjoying a cold one which, I guess, is what the Super Bowl is all about.

Coca-Cola

Perhaps one of the biggest political statements from one of the biggest advertisers, as Coke takes the American anthem ‘It’s Beautiful’ ad it created in 2014 and gives it a run. Three years after it was created the ad carried a very different message.

Andrew: This feels more than a little inspired by Samsung’s ‘The Anthem’. In saying that, it’s good to see a large brand like Coca-Coca spreading a message of cultural diversity in a time when the USA is so divided.

10 Hair Care

In what may be the most bizarre ad so far, 10 Hair Care has warned America it is in for four years of bad hair and so the rest of the country needs to do what it can to keep its hair well-cared for. With some very different images the ad has managed to continue the subtle political debate that has underpinned a number of campaigns so far.

Andrew: Love the way they have focused on Donald Trump’s bad hair to promote good hair. Definitely some fun visuals set against a fairly simple script. Good bang for buck.

Kia

The Korean car maker comes to the game armed with an adventure story of a woman setting out to save the planet, turning her from average housewife into an eco warrior with startling, if unintended results. The effort is aimed at Kia’s Eco Hybrid range, not while it might be hard to be an eco warrior, it’s easy to help the planet by buying a Kia.

T-Mobile

Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart have arrived as the Super Bowl’s odd couple, starring in this ad for T-Mobile that has more than a little innuendo hinting at Snoop’s private habits while promoting its unlimited offers.

Andrew: Fun play on Snoop’s love of greenery. Great way to target a broad demographic and play off the success of the Martha and Snoop cooking show.

Audi

Audi is another advertiser which has chosen the path of the (slightly) political message – the irony of which will not be lost on the audience coming just days after Donald Trump told female staff to dress like “women”. The ad focused on the message of a father wondering how his daughter will be seen by society and whether her views and accomplishments will be as valued as a man’s before he finishes with the hope that there is equality in the world.

Andrew: Love the message here. It’s always great for a brand to get behind equality in general. Brilliantly executed but lacked a little emotion.

Mr Clean

The man who cleans is revealed as attractive option for housewives as the popular cleaning brand takes to the airwaves with this dance inspired ad.

Andrew: Not sure if any females would have found 3D animated Mr Clean attractive at all. Feels a bit cliché and not overly funny.

Nintendo Switch

Nintendo’s new multi-purpose gaming device gets the Super Bowl treatment with a commercial showing the device being used as a man moves through his day as he plays the new Zelda game.

Andrew: This feels very generic and lacking in any original thinking for a massive media buy like this one.

84 Lumber

The first instalment of 84 Lumber’s ad about a young Mexican girl’s journey is perhaps the most overtly political of Super Bowl 2017, coming from the American timber and building supply business. But the full ad, featuring a giant wall which was removed for the TV broadcast – is poised to be the most discussed of the game. It ends with the line: “The will to succeed is always welcome here”.

Andrew: What an epic film. A huge statement to make. With an audience as large as this, there is no more important message to send to the people of America. Putting a face and back-story to the people attempting to cross the border can only help.

National Geographic

Australia’s own Geoffrey Rush stars in this promo for the series ‘Genius’ on National Geographic where he plays Albert Einstein. In the ad Einstein picks up a violin before playing Lady Gaga’s hit ‘Bad Romance’. The spot, National Geographic’s first for the Super Bowl, aired immediately after Gaga’s half-time performance.

Andrew: Much better use of a Lady Gaga reference than seeing Lady Gaga talk about herself. Certainly makes me want to watch Geoffrey Rush play Albert Einstein. Simple but effective.

Budweiser

From the moment the ad was released the Anheuser-Busch brand was ready to court controversy in an era of Trumpian immigrant bans. Budweiser tells the simple story of one of its founders who endured hardships to make his way to America and follow the dream in an ad that leaves no one in doubt about what the central message is.

Andrew: The Budweiser spot looks like a trailer for the next Christopher Nolan film; its production values are truly world class. It’s a nice reminder to middle America that some of the things it loves most are a result of immigration.

Turbo Tax

Humpty Dumpty stars in this effort which may well be a commentary on the state of the US health system. The damaged egg leaps onto the Turbo Tax app to try to find a way to lower his medical bills.

Andrew: Fantastic use of Humpty Dumpty on a modern context. Well written, great visual effects and simple brand message.

12.01pm:

Wendy’s

Coming to the Super Bowl for the first time, the burger chain is using its spend to highlight its never frozen beef patties. Revealing the storage methods of the “Othr Guyz”, the ad goes into the freezer of the pretend rival chain to show a worker defrosting burgers with a hair dryer.

Andrew: Feels more like a teaser than anything else. The song cuts through and there is a small amount of intrigue created through a lack of information but all in all I hope it’s building to something bigger.

11.58:

Lexus

Freestyle dancer Lil Buck stars in the ad for Lexus as as the car maker shows off the melding of man and machine. In an ad focused heavily on the aesthetics of the car and the fact that while machines don’t have emotions there are a “rare few” that can inspire them.

Andrew: Very on brand for Lexus with slick visuals. I’m sure fans of Lil Buck would get a thrill but it’s lacking in emotion and narrative which is enforced with the voice over line.

11.50:

Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo delivered the promise that drivers could ride on the backs of dragons with an ad that focused on the design and history of the Italian car maker, but also looked to the future with “flying cars”.

Andrew: This feels more like a montage of stock footage than anything else. Far from entertaining and likely to have zero cut through on air.

Michelob

Beer with health benefits – or at least low calories – is the message Michelob is driving in its Super Bowl ad. The inspiring ad shows images of people relying on each other for support at exercise boot camps and in fun-runs, backed by title song from the classic comedy Cheers, ‘Where Everybody Knows Your Name’, which will probably prompt most viewers to think of the decidedly unfit Norm and Cliff.

Andrew: Certainly a different approach in the beer category. Obviously trying to tap into the group fitness craze but that sports montage made me feel less like a beer.

11.45:

Weathertech 

Weathertech came to the game with a futuristic picture of just what a drive would look like with an emergency delivery of its floor mats.

Andrew: Another example of trying to target the male audience with an action sequences. I feel like relatable spillage moments in the car with kids might cut through more than a random action sequence.

11.40:

Bai

Christopher Walken has always managed to own bizarre and this effort for health drink Bai with Justin Timberlake is everything views could expect from the veteran actor

Andrew: Totally random and a great use of talent for a very simple message. I’m not sure if this product is well known in the States but I feel it will be now.

11.35:

T-Mobile

Justin Bieber is the frontman for T-Mobile’s exploration of the evolution of the post-touchdown celebration, from the high-five to the spike and beyond. The ad is ultimately about the fact people should not be limited by their mobile plans.

Andrew: Will be interesting to see if this hashtag takes off. Obviously Bieber’s throwing arm wasn’t great as it didn’t make the cut. Harmless fun but not as risky as the other T-Mobile executions.

Febreze 

The air freshener company has created a comical take the massive strain the half-time break will put on America’s bathrooms and the pressure the water supply system will also endure. Surprisingly graphic and filled with puns about America’s mass movement. This is the long version.

Andrew: Love the fact that they have honed in on the famous bathroom break. Perfectly relevant to every viewer. Well executed. Love it.

11.28:

Tide

Tide has tried to meld fantasy with reality in this effort starring NFL great Terry Bradshaw, who discovers a stain on his shirt in the middle of the game that sends him trending on Twitter to find an unusual solution.

Andrew: Fantastically relevant spot. Feels like it’s part of the broadcast and then heads off in a completely random direction. Sure to get great cut through whilst keeping the brand front and centre in the narrative.

11.20:

Airbnb went with a message of acceptance, mixing faces from around world noting that not matter who you are, or from where in the world you come, acceptance is universal with the hashtag #WeAccept.

Andrew: Super simple execution which expresses an extremely important message. It’s great that brands are using this media buy to express their political opinions in a tactful way.

Honda

A talking high school yearbook is the theme for Honda’s 2017 ad, with old blurry photos of current celebrities coming to life to talk about how the journey in life might not take you where you expect but to keep going. Cameos include Robert Redford, Steve Carell and Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson.

11.08:

Pepsi

One of the big spenders during the big game, Pepsi is the sponsor of the Super Bowl Half Time Show, but has also given its brand a push with an ad showing the world transformed by colourful raindrops which turn a city into a vibrant canvas.

LIFEWTR

Andrew: Incredibly generic and boring. This is an ad break during the Super Bowl! People want to be entertained! If you’re going to attempt to inspire, you had better make sure it’s not through post-produced art on buildings.

Go Daddy

Go Daddy returns to the game with an ad that is pretty much every internet meme there ever was – from cats to flamingos. The ad opens with a man rising from his bed and introduces himself as “Internet” . It concludes with the reminder that “The Internet Wants You”.

Andrew: Well, if you were ever going to personify the ‘internet’, I think they’ve hit the nail on the head. A great deal of time has been spent making sure that every element of this commercial has some reference to the internet. You could spend all day trying to figure out what they all are. It’s nice that is doesn’t rely on a celebrity even though the internet is all about celebrity culture.

Busch

The American beer popular in the Midwest and the South takes a Super Bowl spot to tell a one liner, marketing not just the taste, but the sound of opening a frosty one.

Andrew: The use of a long ‘schhhhh’ here is actually quite smart when you think about the way this commercial will be viewed. Mostly in loud, overfilled lounge rooms. The ’schhhhh’ will bring this sudden elongated quiet from the TV which is sure to grab attention.

10.56:

H&R Block

The tax return company has decided to use its Super Bowl budget to show off its partnership with IBM and its Watson system which will learn as it is used by tax accountants to fill out returns, resulting in an even better result for customers.

Skittles

Romance is at the heart of the candy company’s ad, with a boy using Skittles to try to gain the attention of his girlfriend by throwing them through his window. But when the camera cuts to her room it reveals the rest of the family, and more, are benefiting from his romantic notions.

10.47:

Avocados from Mexico

In what has become one of the game’s quirkier advertisers, Avocados from Mexico returns in 2017 with a secret society wondering how secrets such as ‘there are only 49 shades of grey’ and ‘there is an Area 52 and 53’ are getting out to the public, including the difference between bad fat in corn chips and the good fat found in Avocados. And a hat tip to subliminal advertising.

Andrew: Extremely loose connection to avocados. Well written, good performances, touches on the conspiracy theory movement but feels more like a SNL skit than an ad for avocados.

Google

Google has  backed its new Google Home device with a family-focused ad supported with the John Denver song ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’. The ad features people asking Google Home questions ranging from ‘what noise does a whale make?’, to ‘what ingredients work best together?’. It ends with the line: ‘Home by you. Help by Google’.

Andrew: Slightly scary look into the future and the way Google will soon listen to every word you say. This was meant to give you the warm and fuzzies about coming home to see the fam but all I felt was a slightly bored and a little bit freaked out by this generic approach.

10.40am: 

Ford

The auto giant has opted for a feel-good spot using the trials and tribulations of daily life to show off how it is looking to the future with concepts such as ride-sharing, electric cars, find my car apps and self-driving cars.

Andrew: A pretty standard montage of relatable FML moments that are solved by Ford products. Safe as houses.

10.30am: 

Pizza Hut

The game is about to start and Pizza Hut is an early runner with a new campaign featuring George Takei.

Wix

The do-it-yourself website company has become a Superbowl regular and this year’s ad spins the tale of a hapless restaurant owner whose business gets caught in a battle waged by two apparent super-spies, forcing him to get creative about the way in which he positions his business.

McDonald’s

The fast foot giant has given over its budget for a catchy rap promoting its flagship Big Mac with the notion that no matter the occasion, there is a Big Mac for That.

Andrew: A failed attempt from McDonalds to become ‘cool’ and ‘relevant’ to millennials. I get the feeling that they will end up alienating the entire audience with this inauthentic attempt at targeting the kids.

Kia

The Korean car maker comes to the game armed with an adventure story of a woman setting out to save the planet, turning her from average housewife into an eco warrior with startling, if unintended results. The effort is aimed at Kia’s Eco Hybrid range, not while it might be hard to be an eco warrior, its easy to help the planet by buying a Kia.

Lexus

Freestyle dancer Lil Buck stars in the ad for Lexus as as the car maker shows off the melding of man and machine. In an ad focused heavily on the aesthetics of the car and the fact that while machines don’t have emotions there are a “rare few” that can inspire them.

Wonderful Pistachios

An animated elephant by the name of Ernie is the star of the Wonderful Pistachios ad as he highlights that the nuts are a good source of protein.

Sprint

The trap of long-term phone contracts is the subject of Sprint’s Superbowl ad as a man fakes his own death in front of his kids in a bid to get out of a contract with rival Verizon. Sprint is driving home the message that people don’t have to take extreme measures to change phone companies.

Buick

Footballer Cam Newton stars alongside Aussie model Miranda Kerr in Buick’s ad where a father spying a car he likes the look of prompts another man to venture the thought that if the car is a Buick, then his son is quarterback Cam Newton, with the ad then travelling a predictable line before a coach on the sideline remarks: “If that’s a Buick then I’m a supermodel”.

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