Car companies go long on the Super Bowl. The result? A mixed bag of The Lame, The Pretty Good and The Not So Much.
Detroit. Every year automobile companies wade into the Super Bowl with the best of intentions for their advertising, and every year they run the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous. How does that work, you ask? How do car companies and their ad agencies get so wrapped up in the dulcet tones of their own voices that they get lost in the process or even miss the point entirely?
After all, they’ve spent months and in some cases one full year hand-wringing over what they’ll say and how they’ll say it. They’ve noodled the positioning, strategized the message, unleashed their creative forces and arrived at whaat? Exactly.
That’s because it’s a crap shoot, folks, and don’t let the so-called instant ad “experts” pontificating away today about the impact of the advertising on the Big Game and the Big Meaning of It All lead you into thinking otherwise.
In some respects it’s a beautiful thing to know that when these car companies and their ad agencies muster their considerable brainpower the chances are an even 50-50 that they’ll either strike marketing gold, end up looking foolish, or worse. The quest to create memorable, big-impact advertising is an imperfect pursuit at best, and if you haven’t had the privilege of doing it I can assure you that you can only imagine how difficult and fraught with uncertainty it really is.
But understanding that, it’s in the postmortem explanations that things really go off the rails. I would be willing to give some of these advertisers a break if they’d just stand up and say, “Yeah, we frickin’ winged it and truthfully, we stunk up the joint.” (See Audi’s “Doberhuahua,” for the A3, the “Matrix” influenced spot “The Truth” for the Kia 900 or the Muppets for the Toyota Highlander as stark evidence of that.) It would be a nice jolt of fresh air compared to the unmitigated bullshit flying around today as earnest CMOs and their Internet apologists try to justify the complete waste of $4 million (plus another $4-6 million in production and promotional costs) that they perpetrated on the American viewing public last night.
Speaking of that Audi spot, excuse me but what was the car they were advertising again and what was the point? Audi has been teetering toward the wrong side of the creative spectrum for a while now and they just crossed that imaginary line. The “Doberhuahau” spot wasn’t worthy of the brand, or the potential goodness of the A3 either.
VW went for sight gags with their “Wings” spot, which was trying to make the point that more VWs are running around with 100,000 miles on them than other brands. It was a creative attempt at trying to dispel the notion that VWs are service nightmares with recurring quality issues, and it was a mildly amusing effort. Not oh-em-gee great by any stretch of the imagination, however.
Jaguar wrapped a massive promotional campaign in the run-up to the big game around their “Rendezvous” TV spot (part of their "British Villains" marketing campaign), a grandiose albeit tedious spot that ends with Ben Kingsley delivering the tagline, “It’s Good to be Bad.” This spot is an extension of the brand’s “bad ass” positioning that they launched with the F-Type and it was instantly forgettable, as in that giant sucking sound you heard was the vast piles of cash consumed to make the spot and the associated promotional dollars that went down the drain with it. I hope Jaguar marketers are happy with it because the impact after all that effort will be fleeting, at best.
Of the Hyundai spots, “Dad’s Sixth Sense” for the new Genesis was decent, while “Nice” for the Elantra was a waste of Johnny Galecki and Richard Lewis. It’s becoming more and more apparent that Hyundai tends to throw creative ideas up against the wall to see what will stick. They only got it half right this time.
Chevrolet’s effort for the Silverado, “Romance,” summed up the good life of an amorous bull with a generous dollop of humor, which was refreshing after the predictable spots they’ve been doing for their pickup trucks for years. (And the “Life” spot highlighting World Cancer Day was quietly commendable, but whether it belonged on the game or not is an altogether different discussion.)
The Honda spot with Bruce Willis playing against type (with Fred Armisen holding on to him tightly) – “Hugs” – was simple and spot-on, and its safety message rang true. But again, who is Honda and what are they going to be when they grow up? Is it the purveyor of cool driver’s cars? Or all of a sudden the safety car company? I guess it depends on which day it is. Honda continues to be in the brand image Twilight Zone, flip-flopping from one idea to the next, with the only real consistency being their relentless inconsistency.
Ford pulled off a smart move by securing the buy immediately before the game. That proved to be prescient, especially given the hammering served up by the Seahawks on the Broncos, and the spot was compelling too. With actor-comedian Rob Riggle playing the straight man, and James Franco playing the “Nearly Double” version of Riggle, the spot started off quietly but finished off with a bang, while at the same time delivering the cogent message that the Fusion Hybrid has nearly double the average fuel economy of most cars. It was a solid hit for Ford and its ad agency, Team Detroit.
And now, for the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles spots. As I said last week, I applaud FCA CMO Olivier Francois for understanding the big stage and spurring his ad agencies on to shoot for the stars. And I also firmly believe that his adherence to not showing anything before the game is simply the way it should be. Other CMOs defer to the power of social media before, during and after the game, but Francois keeps his stuff under wraps for maximum impact, and it works beautifully, until it doesn’t. This year, Francois needs to be accountable for going to the well one too many times, and even though the hordes of The Great Ill-informed on the Internet lavished praise on this trio of spots, frankly, they left a lot to be desired.
In order to create the Maserati spot “Strike,” Wieden + Kennedy had to buy into The Sergio Doctrine of Smoke and Mirrors that suggests, no, make that insists, that Maserati is the coming brand in the world of automotive luxury, despite all signs to the contrary. This doctrine ignores the fact that its dealer body – such as it is - is operating on a wing and a prayer and that sales are only up from slightly above nonexistent chiefly because of the ball-busting incentives generously ladled on the cars. (It’s also clear that without those incentives the whole thing would implode like a house of cards.) Well, few ad agencies do overwrought, overwritten and overdone better than W+K, and they delivered the full measure of their “gifts” on this self-indulgent piece of crap to the point that it was simply beyond tedious. A monumental waste of time - 90 seconds, no less - and money.
And what can be said about the Jeep spot “Restless” other than that we’ve seen it before many times over? And over. And over again? Actually, as AdAge correctly pointed out, the template for this spot was a Levi’s jeans spot called “Go Forth” only without the stirring words of Walt Whitman’s poetry. Frankly, the obligatory "freedom" positioning for Jeep is dead accurate (although in its heyday Hummer did it much better), but do they have to be so damn ponderous and painfully precious about it? As in, so painful you want to take your TV and wing it across the frozen tundra painful? Olivier’s Jeep marketing troops desperately need a new idea, because this Jeep stuff has grown so tired and predictable.
And finally, it was a revelation to see Bob Dylan with a fresh dye job and a Blues Brothers suit on - and speaking coherently – but this whole conceit that has Fiat Chrysler Automobiles telling us what America is or isn’t hasn’t just run its course, it has suddenly gone as stale as week-old rye bread. Though the spot started off promisingly with exuberant American imagery featuring touchstones of Americana, it got lost in a big way and fell flat with a thud at the end. This just in: People simply don't believe that they should buy American for America's sake. And they really don't believe that they should buy anything from Detroit for Detroit's sake either. They just don't. You pound on the American consumer about the whole "built in America, made in Detroit" thing one too many times and they'll turn it off. For good.
(Oh, and the spot allegedly showcased the new Chrysler 200. Do you think anyone out there in ConsumerVille remembers that part of it? I highly doubt it.)
In the end, this year’s crop of automotive commercials was a mixed bag of The Lame, The Pretty Good and The Not So Much. About the same as every other year when it comes right down to it.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.