In Shocking Upset, RadioShack Wins the Super Bowl
Dear Ad Review reader,
I get it. You're angry. I did not like your favorite ad. Or I liked an ad that was totally stupid. Or, worse, I trashed an ad that you personally worked on. On top of that, I totally missed that ad. And that other ad. And two other ones. And what about Ford?
Here's the deal. Ad reviewing, like any other reviewing, is subjective. And for the Super Bowl, it's even more nebulous. Because what makes a good Super Bowl ad doesn't necessarily make a good ad-ad. There are different expectations.
And ad reviewing isn't done in a "natural" environment. It's not like I sat down during the game and whipped up 4,500 words. This was written last week, in an office rather than Sunday night surrounded by drunks. If any ads are missing it's for one of the following reasons: the marketer refused to share the ad prior to the game; the ad is not a national Super Bowl ad and is rather something that ran in select markets; the ad, like Ford's, is not, technically, an in-game ad (which we define as happening between kick-off and final whistle).
That bit of house-keeping out of the way, let's proceed with the review. This year, aside from star rankings -- four stars being best, two being perfectly serviceable and below that, well, you know -- we arranged them from best to worst, top to bottom. Are you surprised that RadioShack is in the top spot? I definitely was. I was almost as surprised by that as by where Chrysler ended up. But you can only run the same play for so long before it ceases to be effective.
In an attempt to update its stores and its image, RadioShack does something few brands have the backbone to do: it acknowledges reality. The reality in this case is that if Americans think of Radio Shack at all, it's as a relic. So, the young store employee, after answering the phone, announces, "The 80s called. They want their store back." And in a perfectly Super Bowlian moment, in storms a horde of 80s icons, real and imaginary. Mary Lou Retton, Twisted Sister's Dee Snyder, Alf, Ponch, Kid (and Play), Hulk Hogan, Chucky and more. After they ransack the place, we're treated to the updated look of Radio Shack. Whether or not that convinces people to walk into the stores remains to be seen, but altogether a solid attempt to persuade them.
The last time Tim Tebow appeared in a Super Bowl ad, it was for a serious pro-adoption spot with a pro-life slant. An NFL hopeful at the time, experts wondered if his religious stance would sabotage his endorsement career. Silly experts. Turns out his actual skills (or lack thereof) took care of that. A flash-in-the-pan run for the Broncos a few years back netted him deals with Jockey and TiVo, but now the Heisman Trophy winner is contract-less. Which is great news for T-Mobile and Super Bowl viewers, because these two spots—from Butler Shine Stern and Partners—are on message for the product and for Tebow, who gamely makes light of his own situation as he enjoys life sans contracts. The joke might fly over the heads of non-football fans. But you know what? We deserve some jokes just for us.
Has a Clydesdale ad ever sold a single Budweiser? Who knows? Bud's Clydesdale ads typically don't even have a bottle or can of beer anywhere in sight. Does this ad reach the same emotionally satisfying climax as last year's "Brotherhood"? Not even close. In fact, the ending, such as it is, raises more questions than answers. But who cares? Clydesdale. Yellow lab puppy. If you didn't hear all of digital America go "Awwww" last Wednesday when this was released, you definitely did when 100 million people saw it during the game—even if you weren't watching. Bud's in the weird position of feeling like it absolutely has to provide one of these every year. But, hey, wouldn't you love it if consumers demanded to see your ad every year? Yes you would.
This was one of the campaigns heavily teased on TV. Yes, marketers are now running ads for their ads. The teasers for this one were worrisome, but happily the in-game ads were fun, appropriate for the Super Bowl and exactly what we expect from Bud Light. Some guy agrees to accompany an attractive woman -- no questions asked -- if she gives him a beer. What? Did anyone expect him to say no? Unless he's a CIA operative, happily married or one of those insufferable craft-beer snobs, what guy wouldn't? The proposition that drinking Bud Light might lead to a night of limo rides with models, sharing an elevator with Don Cheadle and his llama, or playing Arnold Schwarzenegger in "tiny tennis" is preposterous. But it's fun watching it happen.
Intuit's TurboTax continues its recent campaign with a spot that's going to speak directly to the millions of football fans watching the game who like neither Seattle nor Denver. It's funny, it's relevant to football in general and the Super Bowl in particular. It even attempts to make the ad relevant to tax preparation. The Super Bowl might not be holiday for you, the hater of Seattle and Denver. But thanks to TurboTax—and, presumably, a big honking return—tax day can be your holiday.
If you don't watch cable news or read easily excitable web outlets, you may have missed the "outcry" last year when Cheerios first featured this interracial family. Apparently the mixed-race kid was enough to infuriate the mouth-breathing racists that lurk among YouTube comments. And that was enough to become news. Kudos to General Mills for sticking its thumb in the eyes of such idiots and for making a hell of a cute commercial that continues its campaign of oddly touching moments centered around breakfast cereal.
Put aside the fact that GoDaddy, at least for 30 seconds or so, has grown out of its teenage-boy tactics of over-sexed, too-hot-for-TV ad antics. In this spot introduced by John Turturro, a real woman -- as in not an actress playing a part and also not a model wearing a bikini -- notifies America and her boss that she's quitting. With a website powered by GoDaddy, she'll be working from home. This ad taps into a consumer fantasy (telling the boss sayonara) and makes a selling point.
Is it wrong to like an ad because it will make Pat Buchanan stand on the side of the road and cry one single tear over what has become of "his" country? Coke trades on both its global presence and America's melting pot in a spot showing happy Americans—Causasian-American, African-American, Mexican-American, Asian-American, Eastern European-American, Muslim-American, even Cowboy-American—having a good, ol' happy time while "America the Beautiful" rolls in the background in English, Spanish, Keres, Tagalog, Hindi, Senegalese French and Hebrew. #AmericaIsBeautiful. Damn right it is.
I have to admit that I thought the entire teaser effort for this spot was a misguided waste of money—especially considering the amount the company must have spent on Ben Kingsley, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Strong, that helicopter and shooting on location. The biggest issue with teaser campaigns is that casual Super Bowl fans don't necessarily watch the playoffs so if your ad depends on a convoluted setup, it won't necessarily work. This teaser campaign also looked like it was teasing a movie, not a car ad. All that said, this is an ad that does exactly what Jaguar set out to do—make the car seem like a sexy bad boy with British roots (rather than something churned out by India's Tata Motors). The F-Type Coupe looks amazing, the men are dapper and slightly dangerous, and the script, while describing the appeals of British villains, also describes a car that sounds right, is more precise and is obsessed with power. The commercial is so British, in fact, that Mark Strong even pronounces Jaguar the correct way (according to Brits).
Bruce Willis and Honda would like to interrupt third-quarter festivities with a safety message. Thankfully, it turns out to be rather funny, in a weird sort of way, thanks to Fred Armisen (who's usually weirdly funny). It's not easy to make an auto safety message funny. But they did.
This one's a charmer in which a dad, using intuition and lightning-fast reflexes, repeatedly saves his apparently accident-prone son from near-death experiences. The first couple of scenarios may even make new parents squeamish, but overall the spot is funny. The ad, which pulls off sweet and funny, also bothers to show a clear product attribute in a realistic situation: the Hyundai Genesis carries on dad's noble work by stopping Junior from rear-ending another vehicle.
It's not a sexy ad. It's not a sexy product. What the hell is a floor-mat marketer doing in the Super Bowl? Making a name for itself, that's what. Without the help of a contest or gimmicks, WeatherTech and Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing, deliver a fairly solid ad. It might not scream SUPER BOWL, but it speaks to Americans' dreams of an actual Made in America product (rather than a designed or assembled in America one). The ad doesn't explain that it uses lasers to create floor mats to precisely fit your vehicle, but it does show the product and implies the possibility of employment for your fellow citizens. It's also an ad that won't look out of place in non-Super Bowl programming.
Wait. A third spot for T-Mobile? From a different agency? This one's text only, set to Roger Miller's "Whistle Stop" (from Disney's "Robin Hood"), and tells folks that yes, you can break up with your crummy carrier, and T-Mobile will pay for the broken contract. And, no, T-Mobile is definitely not saying that because it's on its "fourth margarita." The ad is quiet and might speak directly to those who are on their fourth (or eighth) margarita. The only off note from this spot is that it implies T-Mobile isn't the sort to spend gobs of cash on celebrities. You mean like Tim Tebow?
Adland may know Goldiblox as the girls' toy company that got into a legal dispute with the Beastie Boys for using a song without permission. The average consumer is going to know them for winning an Intuit contest for small businesses and getting a rather kick-ass Super Bowl spot featuring the musical stylings of Quiet Riot and a horde of little girls using engineering and other mechanical skills to blast all those pink girly toys into space.
Even if Volkswagen's sales haven't been the best in the U.S. recently, the vehicles last a long time. In fact the company uses this spot to point out that it has more vehicles with over 100,000 miles on the road than any other brand. And every time a VW hits that mark, a German engineer earns his wings in this mildly funny spot, which includes a penis joke and butt rainbows. What it doesn't include -- for those inclined to gin up some controversy about this year's ads -- is a female engineer sprouting wings.
Pepsi tunes up the audience for the Pepsi-sponsored halftime show with this pretty clever ad in which various bits of New York are used as musical instruments. Met Life stadium is used as a volume knob to crank things up to 11, so even a little bit of New Jersey gets some action. It's more a reminder that Pepsi is a sponsor than that Pepsi products are delicious or refreshing or necessary. But still better than those goofy invention-of-halftime spots the marketer's been running.
Budweiser throws a parade for one returning veteran. As it should. This one doesn't have the emotional oomph of previous Budweiser spots in this vein -- or maybe we've grown so accustomed to those YouTube surprises of troops returning home that it takes more to move us. The #Salute, however, is more than just a hollow hashtag. It's part of the brewers partnership with Folds of Honor, for which it helped raise $6.5 million between 2010 and 2013.
As my colleague Michael McCarthy notes, this spot is vaguely Bud Light-ish with its slightly raunchy approach. It may go over the heads of more urbane folks. And others might need more of a setup. But for those in the truck market and especially those who've sat through an entire football season of Silverado's earnest spots -- all of which start with "A man. A man and his truck. A man, his truck and..." -- the addition of a stud bull (literally) and a soundtrack featuring Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing" is a refreshing change of pace.
Of the two Greek-yogurt ads in this year's game, this is the good one. Or the one that's at least mildly amusing without being sexual in an off-putting way. And it's got a real bear in it, a real bear that wants to pay cash for his Chobani, even if he's destroyed the place and scared off all the customers. And if a bear likes it, it's got to be good, right? Voiceover by Mandy Patinkin acknowledges that a "cup of yogurt won't change the world." Then adds, "But how we make it, might." A message likely to go over the head of rooms full of people drinking soda, beer and orange-dusted chips and puffs. But, look! A bear!
With the introduction of the K900, Kia wants to change consumer perception of the Kia name and of luxury cars -- a pretty tall order for a company known for entry -- level vehicles. So it enlists the help of Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, from "The Matrix." The ensuing bit of Matrix-themed alternate reality is a bit predictable, but the ad is redeemed when Morpheus starts belting out Puccini.
This one starts out looking a lot like a car ad, what with the road winding through the snowy countryside and leading to an opulent mansion where Russian gangsters are dining. The Big Bad comes out to the car, opens the trunk and threatens to chop into little pieces whoever is inside. Of course, it's Yellow M&M, who has no idea what's going on but goes along with it anyway. Which is funny as long as you don't spend too much time thinking about Yellow's grisly demise.
What, you thought GoDaddy was moving away from the sex-sells approach? Well, here we have a bunch of oiled-up, half-clothed, muscle-bound... men? Oh, and Danica Patrick in a muscle suit. The stampeding herd of beefcake isn't just eye candy, however. It's heading for a tanning salon, owned by a woman -- a woman! -- smart enough to use GoDaddy's services.
Ellen DeGeneres uses Beats music service to find just the right mood for her dance session with a bunch of furries? It's got Ellen, decent tunes, people in animal suits and actually sells the product, so not much to complain about on this one.
A slick looking ad for Sonos wireless speakers. Football fans will have seen it, but it's still pretty to look at.
This is a mildly sweet spot about a young man who makes an impossible touchdown, keeps on going and is rewarded with a Coke. It was more poignant back when Forrest Gump did it (though he would have preferred a Dr Pepper. The grounds-keeper's "Hey, kid" is a nice callback to the 1980 "Mean Joe Greene" spot, but will those who don't spend hours and hours watching old Super Bowl ads (i.e., regular people) catch it? The choice of House of Pain's "Jump Around" is baffling as well.
Hey, Axe isn't just the choice of body spray for hormonal teenagers who buy into its typical ad approach of sexually aggressive women pouncing on boys who hose their bodies down with the stuff. It's also the choice of North Korean despots, Iranian dictators, Russian soldiers and U.S. grunts still fighting in Vietnam who are all looking to put away guns, bombs and tanks and just make sweet, sweet love. This sounds completely ridiculous—and risks being seen as "lame" or "sappy" with Axe's core audience—but it kind of works.
The joy of victory, the agony of defeat. Fans experience these highs and lows just as much as the players. And after one year touting the NFL Network (2013) and the prior year giving lip-service to player safety, the NFL returns to capturing the emotions of football and applying them to moments of everyday life. Nothing new, but the sort of thing fans love. And, just to be cynical, it's probably clever to implicate us all in the game as the league grapples with issues like player safety.
Toyota Highlander, Terry Crews, The Muppets. I like all three of these things separately -- and this was the ad I was most looking forward to -- but it just didn't add up. It starts off strong with a "No Country for Old Men" vibe transitioning to a Muppet caper. But the song-and-dance number didn't deliver. Luckily it's saved by the end, in which we get Kermit and Terry Crews, a great comedic actor, doing his thing (his thing in this case being mugging for the camera with his shirt off).
Give points to the company for taking the risk of breaking free from the formula it's been using for the last few years: "Honey badger does it badass" or "Dennis Rodman does it because he's nuts." But two 15-second spots featuring Stephen Colbert in character as his buffoonish alter ego might be a little too meta to work, even if the visuals in the second one scores laughs.
Shop at Carmax and you'll be rewarded with a now-cliché movie experience: the slow clap. Indeed, in this spot, our hero is applauded by Sean Astin, star of the movie that's an encyclopedia of every sports cliché, "Rudy." The Astin moment is blink-and-you'll-miss-it short, so people might miss out on that bit of the joke and just find the ad plain old weird. We'll toss in a half star, though, for Carmax running an all-puppy version of the spot online.
The all-new Audi A3 is "designed without compromise." Because compromise scares the company. Because when you compromise, you end up with a cross between a Doberman and a Chihuahua. And when you end up with a Doberhuahua, dog-show judges, Sarah McLachlan and children are terrorized by the physically (and perhaps mentally) unbalanced and poorly maneuvering mutts. So don't compromise. Ultimately this sounds like a concept picked out of the DirecTV reject pile. Worth a laugh, but the teaser featuring Sarah McLachlan (the soundtrack to those heart-breaking SPCA ads) was funnier, though just as irrelevant.
If you don't know what Squarespace does, this ad isn't exactly going to answer your questions. Crammed as it is with internet memes of varying annoyance (my favorite is the duck-face women), it might give you a chuckle or two -- and lead you to think Squarespace is meant to block spam or targeted advertising. Actually, among other things, it's a web-design firm and apparently wants to enlist you in the battle of making a better-looking web.
The popular-vote winner of the annual consumer-generated contest, "Time Machine," is cute enough, but didn't get near the online views of creeptastic Australian entry "Finger Cleaner," which as of this writing wasn't slated for the game. (Not that I blame Frito Lay; there was more wrong with that ad than finger-sucking.) But, seriously, "Cowboy Kid"? Lame. If you're going to play for cheap "baby and dog" laughs, you have to do better than this.
Despite using Johnny Galecki, who plays a nerd in CBS comedy "The Big Bang Theory," this spot for the Elantra is neither funny nor smart. The appearance of comedian Richard Lewis is as inexplicable as the flirty drag racing, falling space junk and suddenly appearing ramps.
So you spent something close to $4 million to advertise a package redesign? This is literally 30 seconds of glamor shots of an aluminum bottle with a twist-off cap.
SodaStream's flirting with GoDaddy or PETA territory with a second year of crying foul because an ad purposely created to stir trouble (and some easy PR) was censored. Is this fair? No. Chevy has openly mocked Ford in a Super Bowl ad, so why can't SodaStream do the same to Coke and Pepsi? (Answer: Because SodaStream doesn't have a massive ad budget it can threaten to withhold from the network; especially a network whose top-rated show is sponsored by Coke.) But SodaStream knows this. Last year, the company had a great, funny ad that was completely banned from the game. This year, it simply had to tweak its ad. At the end of this year's uncensored ad, Scarlett Johansson looks into the camera and says, "Sorry, Coke and Pepsi." She should also apologize to Smartwater and Jennifer Aniston for stealing their joke, as well as the ghost of Marilyn Monroe.
After years of hammering GoDaddy for its salacious spots, I guess we should do the same for H&M. Just because women are voting to see someone, even if it is David Beckham, half naked on TV doesn't make it OK. The only thing that makes this acceptable is that H&M is actually advertising David Beckham underwear. And theoretically, those with Samsung Smart TV's could order the clothing -- what little there is of it -- right from the ad.
OK, Chrysler and all involved agencies, someone needs to stage an intervention. At this point, the imported from Detroit act is bordering on schtick. In this spot, America's weird uncle, Bob Dylan, climbs out of the basement to liken the automobile to an American original like jazz. The man has a point. But we're four years into this. The first couple years, it was a rallying cry. Now it sounds like angry denial. And by the end of the ad, it sounds like weird Uncle Bob is just this close to saying something crazy, if not outright xenophobic. "Let Germany brew your beer. Let Switzerland make your watch. Let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car." Them and the Italians.
Look, one of those Levi's "Go Forth" ads was resurrected as a Jeep spot. But without the benefit of Walt Whitman's poetry. A bunch of handsome young people do outdoorsy things -- very Jeep -- while some guy drones on: "Are you among the restless many?... When the walls close in, do you climb out?... Genetics have a voice you can only deny so long." On and on for a full minute. Bathroom break.
Remember how crazy Uncle Bob said to let Detroit build your car? Well, here's the same parent company trying to sell you some kind of fancy Italian import -- and exploiting young American children to do so! Now maybe -- just maybe -- Maserati's name recognition in the U.S. is so low, no one will associate it with Italian import. But those who know damn well what a Maserati is are going to spend at least 45 seconds of this 90-second ad wondering why this ad feels so -- well -- so damn American.
Heinz tries to serve up a little bit of Coca-Cola's "happiness" theme here. Various people in various eating situations are humming "If You're Happy and You Know It"; when the clap-your-hands-part comes, they hit that stubborn old ketchup bottle twice. Except for Gammie at the end, there, who makes a farting sound with the squeeze bottle. Ha! Get it? See what they did there? A fart joke. It's like someone, at the last minute, said, "Hey, guys. It's the Super Bowl. We need to make this funny." Or they wanted to make the ad seem like it's specifically for ketchup in glass bottles.
Spokesman John Stamos is seconds away from yogurt-related oral pleasures with a young woman, but us interrupted by his former "Full House" costars Bob Saget and David Couilier. The only thing missing here is a shot to the groin, but watching stuff like this gives you the same effect. But should do well with fans of "Full House" and food-related soft porn.
I would have loved to have been in the social-media war room when this graced the airwaves. Chocolate and peanut butter may be two great tastes that taste great together -- or so I've heard. But this is 2014 and they need to try something new. Like inviting some creep in a Butterfinger costume into their marriage. Because Butterfinger cups are mind-blowingly different than Reese's? After "Butterfinger Man" is done feeling up another man's wife, he should join the MPA's Captain Read in the Hall of Misguided Brand Icons.