By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. Despite all of the hype, which included the pre-running of commercials and the coordinated social media orchestrations to make sure everyone “absorbed” them so that advertisers could pretend they got more mileage out of their $5 million, mediocrity reigned at the Super Bowl, both on and off of the field.
As for the game, yes, defense wins championships but artful it wasn’t. It was 60 minutes of football with everyone waiting for something big to happen, but instead it came off more like one of the NFL’s meaningless Thursday night games that they cram into the regular schedule. At least with the sheer scope of Sunday’s game you could appreciate the cumulative effort it took both teams to reach the game’s biggest stage, whether or not it played out like we hoped.
The advertisers? They didn’t have that excuse.
As I’ve said many times before, unless you’ve been charged with coming up with a TV commercial for the Super Bowl you have no idea of the all-consuming effort that goes into what you see on the screen. And it’s not just the initial creative imagination and subsequent execution either - it means crafting the strategy and refining the product positioning. And for car companies especially it means either staying true to the image of the brand, reaffirming who you are or projecting a reimagined image of who you want to be, all in 30- or 60-second increments, and sometimes more.
And, as you’ve probably figured out, the associated hand-wringing that goes along with it is prodigious and never ending. Why? Well, because it’s a lot of money, first of all, and for some of these auto manufacturers it makes such a dent in their annual marketing budgets that the client and the agency hierarchy find themselves sitting around while looking at their watches muttering, “This better be frickin’ good.” So there’s that pressure, to start with.
And then for the creative types there’s the even larger pressure that comes with competing on the world’s largest marketing stage, knowing full well that beyond the instantaneous ad rating puffery that goes on in USA Today, there’s the unrelentingly brutal arena of your peers, which can swing wildly from respectful kudos to vicious assaults, depending on what you ended up putting on the screen.
Now that I’ve dispensed with that brief primer on what it takes behind the scenes of advertising on the Super Bowl, the automotive commercials on Sunday’s game were mostly bad, sometimes amateurish and ultimately - except in one case - not worthy of marketing’s biggest stage. I have a few thoughts on some of them below. Oh, and I will refrain from mentioning any of the agencies responsible for the work. You know who you are.
We came. We saw. We bored everyone to death. Again. I really just threw my hands up when I saw the Acura spot “What He Said” presenting the new NSX sports car. As in, WTF? Maybe it’s the fact that they’ve been talking about and showing iterations of this car for something like five years now. Or maybe it’s the fact that, despite Acura operatives insisting that the NSX represents the very best that the brand has to offer, the car clearly exists in a vacuum unto itself. Acura wants us all to go watch the extended version of the spot, but why? If you can’t get it done in a :60, you just can’t get it done. Acura needs to ask themselves the following questions: Why does the NSX exist in the first place? What does it mean for Acura, other than the fact that, “Hey, look it us, we finally did a new NSX!” What is the compelling reason as to why we should give a shit? Then we’ll talk. Nice audio track though.
We don’t have time for no stinkin’ Diesels, but here’s our shiny new R8 that only a few of you out there will even see, let alone afford. Audi showed up on the Big Game again, this time with a former astronaut longing for that elusive rush, in “Commander.” And the Audi R8 is just the car to jolt him out of his wistful lethargy. Nicely done, complete with that wonderful David Bowie track and it artfully dismissed the whole Diesel controversy altogether, which was smart, but I am beginning to think that Audi is wasting its money on the Super Bowl. Massive audience? Check. Massive image-wrangling opportunity? Check. But I am questioning the ultimate effectiveness for the brand in the follow-up. I’m beginning to think that the image hit for Audi isn’t lasting beyond the big game and that it’s just falling into the Black Hole of Old Super Bowl commercials. Time for Audi to do a rethink on this whole being-on-the-Super-Bowl thing.
Buick + Odell Beckham Jr. = What was the question again? Ah yes, let’s trot out a football celebrity to make people experience the “new” Buick. I’m sure this had all the makings of a grand-slam home-run spot in the dark caverns of the Buick and GM marketing operatives’ minds. I mean, what’s not to like, right? They have a new convertible – the Cascada (catchy name, that) - which will achieve instant cult status in rental fleets in the “smile” states across America literally overnight. And they signed one of the NFL’s “new” stars and came up with a spot that neatly (sort of) ties the “new” Buick to what I assume to be a thoroughly parsed and vetted demographic, while giving a visual shout out to one of Odell Beckham’s signature on-field moves, complete with a twist. What was the net impact of all of this? The hired GM social media trolls went nuts claiming that this was big stuff, that the recognition of Buick rocketed to the moon. The reality? It was marketing cotton candy in its purest form. And now we have to be subjected to a :30 version of this mindless drivel indefinitely.
If we could remove this giant chip off of our shoulder – and get our collective heads out of our asses - we might actually see fit to do a worthy Super Bowl spot. In the effort to break through all of the stereotypes associated with its flagging brand, MINI came up with a Super Bowl spot entitled “Defy Labels” and in one fell self-absorbed swoop managed to reaffirm every single stereotype associated with the brand. MINI’s problem is that its German overlords keep insisting that it can be much more than it actually is. This just in: They are simply dreaming. A few weeks ago I said that half of the battle in this business is knowing and understanding who you are, not who you think you should be. Too bad more car companies – especially MINI - can’t grasp that concept.
A few quick hits: The Honda “A New Truck To Love” spot with sheep singing along to Queen was mildly amusing, adhering to the time-honored formula that animals on Super Bowl spots usually resonate. Hyundai showed up with three Super Bowl spots, “First Date” with Kevin Hart, “Ryanville” with Ryan Reynolds, and “The Chase.” Where to begin? Kevin Hart is always entertaining, but the creepazoid factor in the spot was undeniable. The Ryan Reynolds spot was a nice use of a celebrity within context of his celebrity, and “The Chase” was the Trifecta of Not Good: Regrettable. Terrible. Instantly Forgettable. And the Toyota Prius spots, the ones desperately trying to change the pious image of the Prius? They were non-starters and not even worth talking about.
As for the most compelling automotive commercial on the game, Jeep had one worth noting, “Portraits,” in an otherwise lackluster field overall. The other, “4X4Ever,” was competent but only mildly interesting and not the Oh-Em-Gee spot that Olivier Francois’s operatives would have you believe.
With FCA clinging by a thread right now and the Great Sergio admitting that yeah, basically we got nothin’ besides Jeep and some pickup trucks (this after selling the Obama administration a bill of goods to abscond with Chrysler’s assets based on the promise of all of the new fuel-efficient vehicles the reconfigured company was going to bring to market, in case you forgot, but that’s an upcoming column), the company is going to hammer Jeep's 75th Anniversary into the ground, and then some.
The copy on “Portraits” is superb and the visuals are compelling (although some of the so-called “connections” to Jeep’s heritage defy authenticity, to put it mildly), but ironically enough some of the images of contemporary Jeeps didn’t hold up at all, which was a giant negative. But in a severely depleted field of mediocre creative work, “Portraits” qualified as Best in Show.
(A final note: That the NFL needs a new idea for its halftime show at the Super Bowl is without question and a concept that’s clearly over Commissioner Roger Goodell’s head (as are a lot of things, apparently). Coldplay was a waste of air time and simply didn’t belong on the game, the whole Bruno Mars thing felt recycled because well, he was from a couple of years ago and Beyonce was definitely Super Bowl worthy, but the format is so leaden and expected that even she couldn’t keep the whole thing from coming off as tired. I took one glance at the Twitterverse, which was filled with comments like, “the halftime show was a-m-a-z-i-n-g!” that it made me ill and I didn’t bother going to that orchestrated social media bloviation site the rest of the night. It wasn’t amazing by any stretch of the imagination. It was tedious and expected, and there was nothing super about it.)
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
Check out the latest episode of The High-Octane Truth on AutoextremistTV below. -WG