Ad Industry Underappreciated For Super Spectacle

For the briefest moment any image of a cocky, carefree Madison Avenue creative executive is shattered in a newly released USA Today video. Asked about the weight on his shoulders to make a Super Bowl commercial a crackerjack one, Mark Hunter gets introspective and betrays stress.

“It’s a pressure-cooker,” the chief creative officer of Deutsch L.A. says.

Then, almost as if he catches himself going against type, he comes back with: “But, we’re more than up for the task.”

Deutsch is producing Volkswagen’s minute-long Super Bowl spot and the USA Today coverage – which also includes a lengthy article – shows a different side to the ads in the big game. It goes beyond all the hype about which celebrities will be making appearances, how much dogs touch people and questions about how a Super Bowl ad will help sell pistachios (a brand is in the game).

It shows that the Madison Avenue types privileged enough to be creating ads for the big game could have a tough time sleeping the night before. That’s if they’re still not tinkering with the creative or holding last-minute focus groups deciding whether to go to a back-up ad.

In the same video, a Volkswagen creative director Michael Kadin downplays any hyper-intensity. The standards are the same for any other spot, he says: “For us, the pressure for creating a Super Bowl commercial is no different from any other commercial that we do because our philosophy is to create a commercial that’s good enough to be on the Super Bowl -- and not a Super Bowl commercial.”

Kadin sounds like the coaches who offer up the “it’s just another game – just like tossing around a Nerf in the backyard” cliches.

Who at Deutsch believes him?

“I mean you have 110 million people watching,” says agency CEO Mike Sheldon. “You have a client that has invested a tremendous amount of money. You have the industry looking at you. And, most importantly we’re trying to sell cars here, so you want to be doing a brilliant job to make people just love Volkswagen.”

Chief Creative Officer Hunter also makes the point that Volkswagen could be a victim of its own success with its legendary mini-Darth Vader spot two years ago and a well-received one in last year's Super Bowl.

What’s remarkable is with all the nerves, Madison Avenue as an industry has kept the Super Bowl such an advertising showcase. Sure, each year there are plenty of spots that are duds. And, there have been a few years with not too much to get excited about. But for the most part, Madison Avenue always comes through with enough breakout creative to keep the anticipation soaring the next year about the next round of super spots.

A survey released Monday is a tribute to the industry -- to all the papers crumpled while dreaming up concepts, to the hours spent arguing in conference rooms about which direction to go, to the sweat on the set. The fact the results aren’t surprising at all is the reason to pay respect.

The ho-hum summary is: people watch the game for the ads.

The Harris Interactive poll for agency Hanon McKendry found 56% indicating they will watch as much for -- or more so-- for the commercials. (Broken down, 66% of women surveyed said so and 47% of males.)

Hanon McKendry is just one entity that will tally viewer-initiated real-time results about the ads Sunday. Then, of course, there’s all that social-media chatter.

Madison Avenue types -- who worked so hard to move and inspire -- get some quick feedback about whether they’ve met their expectations. For some, corks will pop. For others, the nerves will continue while waiting for the client to call.

Fortunately, a lot of the brands disappointed Sunday will be back next year. It’s good for advertising and viewers that a bad showing doesn’t mean automatic retrenchment. If that were the case, spots like Volkswagen’s mini-Darth Vader and Chrysler’s with Eminem (2011, maybe the best ever in the Super Bowl) might not have ever made it.

Tags: television
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