Not So Super? The Bowl Ads and New Creative From Wendy's

Does This Kind of Advertising Work?

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For a while there, it was a great week for brand creativity. Artist Shepard Fairey declared his endorsement for Barack Obama with a set of stunning posters. Crispin Porter & Bogusky whipped up a simply great site for Domino's. There was some stellar out of home from BBDO for the BBC, and winners were announced in a fascinating -- dare I say important -- online project from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Google and Specialized Bicycles that challenged people to create a pedal-powered solution to climate change. But then two things happened.

One of them was the Super Bowl.

Seriously. The day after the Super Bowl should be, like, the Super Bowl for a creative-focused column. But it's not. Due to the inconsiderate publishing schedule of Ad Age, I didn't get a chance to see all of the spots by this page's date with the printer (and I'll be sure to sheepishly give due to any winners I missed in the online version of this column *.)

But I saw most of them. I saw enough to indicate that the Super Bowl is officially about football again. In the past few years, the hype around Super Bowl commercials has grown in inverse proportion to the super-ness of the spots in the game. There were a few bright spots -- a refreshingly hard edge made Wieden's CareerBuilder ads stand out. I do hope they ran the spot in which a genuinely scary spider takes out an office drone's hopes and dreams with the blink of eight dead, red eyes. But as a body of work, the ads were, once again, anti-climactic.

To call the spots formulaic is beside the point since there sort of is a Super Bowl formula (parodied nicely in a FedEx spot from a few years back). But it seems the formula -- particularly in the all-important beer category -- has gone off. Surely the premier showcase of the ad industry's commercial-making prowess, honed during 50 years of doing not much else, should be more consistently special? Incidentally, my own favorite Super Bowl XLII moment came before the game. It was posted on The New York Times' online reader-feedback section on the subject of favorite Super Bowl ads of all time: "My favorite was the one where the Burger King comes to Attica dressed up like a priest & digs a tunnel with his crown from cell number 2223 to Toots Shor's restaurant. Then Sinatra walks in and commutes my sentence and makes me a member of the Rat Pack. ... Hey, a guy can dream can't he?" Signed Angelo Bepp, Attica State Correctional Facility.

The other rain cloud that blew in last week made each and every Super Bowl spot look like God's cut of "Surfer" projected on Tom Brady's rippling back. Yes, the new Wendy's campaign. As Ad Age reported last week, forces within the company had it in for Saatchi's "Red Wig" for some time and finally terminated the campaign with extreme prejudice. Love it or hate it, the red-wig campaign was a step forward for forgettable Wendy's. The new spots? It feels wrong to blame the agency for this silliness, as it's clear that the ads are the sole responsibility of the client. But the effort is so spectacularly terrible that it warrants some discussion. Where to begin? The anodyne tone; the insipid voice-over uttering lines such as "If hamburgers were meant to be frozen, wouldn't cows come from Antarctica?"; the empty chatter about "authenticity" and "honesty" surrounding the campaign. The food shots aren't even that great.

I close with an earnest question for the marketers out there: Does this kind of advertising work? I'm not even being (that) snarky. I'm curious. Respond in the comments section on AdAge.com.

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Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine and Creativity-Online.com. E-mail her at tiezzi@creativity-online.com.

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Sheepish additions: There were two more spots that turned out to be winners: Coke's "It's Mine" and NFL's "Mr. Oboe."
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