Marketers Are Trying to Hard to Be Entertainers and It Shows

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It's time the Super Bowl ad parade stopped being a popularity contest.

Our own Bob Garfield lamented that "smart-minded idiots" polluted the environment by censoring Super Bowl commercials "for their own craven political ends."

Rance Crain, editor in chief, 'Advertising Age'
Our rather alarmist headline said that "fear" stalked the Super Bowl ad process.

Another explanation
May I humbly offer another explanation as to why the ads were less than scintillating this year (although some ad critics, notably Stuart Elliott of The New York Times, opined that the commercials were "markedly better" than typical spots from previous years)?

Some of last year's crop of ads over-reached by catering to the lowest level of frat-boy humor -- flatulence and crotch-biting set the theme. I looked it up, and Bob wasn't impressed. He wrote: "Pay attention, the ads shouted, PAY ATTENTION TO ME!

"But notwithstanding the annual hype and grandiose posturing, the advertisers offered nothing for the annals, little will be remembered beyond Groundhog Day and lots of just what you'd expect," Bob said in last year's column.

Tried to raise standards?
So could it be, dear readers, that Super Bowl advertisers tried to raise the artistic standards of their commercials to a higher level, spurred on by critics like Bob and not so much by the "small-minded idiots" that seek to impose their smut-free views on the rest of us?

That they fell woefully short of the mark shouldn't be blamed on self- or any other kind of censorship. It should be blamed on their own inability to be hip and witty and funny and clever year after year. They are trying too hard, and it shows.

USA Today's ad-meter ratings are more than a little culpable. With visions of all that free publicity dancing in their heads, advertisers are encouraged to devise ads that score high on the likability scale. In case you haven't read the fine print, USA Today says the ad-meter process electronically charts the second-by-second reactions to the Super Bowl ads of 289 volunteers, who registered on handheld meters how much they liked the ads. Not how much the ads persuaded them to buy the product, mind you, but how much they were entertained.

Everyone likes chimps
Is it any wonder that "four smart-alecky chimpanzees" were the stars of the show, based on pure likability? The advertiser, CareerBuilder.com, is so giddy with the results that it is putting more chimps in a new ad to run on the Academy Awards.

Honda's Ridgeline truck commercial.

The ranking for Honda's first U.S. pickup truck, Ridgeline, was at the bottom of the list. For my money, it was the most effective commercial in the Super Bowl, showing the new truck sure-footedly navigating a mountain ridge. The tagline: "Above all, it's a Honda." Great stuff.

Honda's money well-spent
Honda so far doesn't have a whole lot of evidence that the Ridgeline commercials were successful, but I would argue it was a better use of ad dollars than the Anheuser-Busch spot showing a pilot jumping out of an airplane without a parachute in pursuit of a six-pack of Bud Light (which ranked No. 1 in USA Today's ratings).

But, then again, buying a truck is serious business and buying beer isn't. At the very least advertisers that use their Super Bowl time to concentrate on good old-fashioned selling can avoid the morality mood swings that embroil us every few years.

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