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Maybe we've come to expect too much of the annual display of advertising on the Super Bowl telecast. Ever since 1984, when the event brought us the Apple Computer and Chiat/Day classic "1984," the ad industry has looked forward to earth-shattering commercials at record-breaking cost. During the past few weeks, the general consumer media have played up Super Bowl advertising as much as the football contest, possibly because the games had gotten so bad

the last few years. But this year, good game, mostly bad ads.

There's certainly a problem of perceptions here. Agencies and even clients seem to be trying too hard, seeking creative for creative's sake-ads that stir talk. They have the consumer in mind, but is it for the right reason? Is it to be talked about on Monday or to sell product?

Well, the ads are being talked about, but in media hit/miss polls rather than subsequent shopping sprees. After "1984," the story was how people flocked to see the Mac's retail unveiling; this year, it's about overexposed and unearthed celebrities and animals in ads-chickens, pigeons, ducks, cows, pigs, mosquitoes, bears. One article quoted a viewer, "I liked that car commercial with the dogs." What car commercial?

Simply put, there were too many spots on the Super Bowl to be seen, not sell. When there was a new campaign being launched-a great reason for buying in-the various spots were so unrelated it was difficult to view them as part of a whole. When there was one meant to "tease" a coming campaign, it did its job so well the marketer had to announce just a few days later it was pulling the spot from the air.

Maybe Mail Boxes Etc. and Visa had the right idea: Air a non-extravagant, hard-working spot in front of that huge, receptive audience-ad watchers and ad polls be damned! Might end up like Green Bay: winners, rather than losers before the real ad game-subsequent airing-even gets underway.M


Red flags have been raised in the past across various media-print, TV, Internet-about the dangers of blurring the line between editorial content, or programming, and advertising.

Well, we're seeing red again, this time over Harmony Holdings' formation of a production unit that will give advertisers control over-and input into-TV programming. Particularly appalling is the bravado with which Harmony-parent of two wellknown commercial production houses-is erasing the ad/edit line.

The unit's president unapologetically talks of his plan for "taking a 60-second commercial and making it into a long-form program." He's not talking about infomercials but a "seamless" integration of advertising and programming designed primarily to sell products. In the works: A show developed "in essence to sell a certain kind of automobile," he said.

While Harmony is proud of the idea of "seamless advertising," it's precisely that concept that worries us. To gain the trust of viewers/readers/surfers, there need to be seams, clearly visible seams separating editorial content and marketing messages. That's why ads on kids programming are preceded by "after these messages" bumpers, and why magazines label advertorials. Without seams, there is no media credibility. Without credibility, no consumer trust. Without consumer trust, no effective advertising.

Last year, cable TV's History Channel backed away from similar plans. Harmony