Building control and security power Johnson Controls would make headlines in 2016 with a $14 billion deal to merge with Tyco, but the company first became a household name in the 1985, 1986 and 1987 Super Bowls, where it ran the same pair of ads three times (see also "LAX").
Repeating Super Bowl commercials would become almost unheard-of, but in those days was a tactic of marketers such as Soloflex ("Work of Art"), the U.S. Marines ("Sword"), Master Lock ("Security," "Lock Abuse") and Van Heusen ("Think I Look Good?").
The Johnson Controls ads, created by Durfee & Solow Advertising in New York, actually began before their 1985 Super Bowl debut, according to Kenneth J. Wirth, Jr., manager-global records management and archives at Johnson Controls. "In the early 1980s, Johnson Controls was interested in reaching a large number of building owners and operators who could benefit from Johnson’s energy management, fire safety and security systems, and building services, so they decided to purchase ad time to air during the Summer Olympics in 1984," he told Ad Age years later:
In a similar fashion, it was decided that airing the commercials during the following January’s Super Bowl would provide another venue, similar to the Olympics, to help the Company identify itself, on the theory that even people who never have time to watch television will watch the Super Bowl. A Johnson Controls communications manager was quoted at the time as saying that Johnson Controls’ “market is very hard to reach through television.” But by advertising during the Super Bowl, they hoped to reach folks such as company presidents, CFOs, and plant engineers -- decision makers who would benefit from having Johnson Controls’ building management systems. ...
The commercials apparently had the effect the Company was hoping for, as they renewed the Super Bowl ads, unchanged, in 1986 and 1987.
Business-to-business advertising is a small but important genre in Super Bowl advertising, with other examples over the decades that include Mail Boxes Etc.'s "Top Dog" in 1996, Network Associates' "Missile" in 1998, IBM's "Hot Seat" in 2001, General Electric's "Scarecrow" in 2009 and Salesforce's "Cloud Interview" in 2011.
Executive producer: Herb Strauss.Send credit info to SuperBowlAdArchive@adage.com.