For the last 20 years at least, viewers have been taught to watch super-carefully for the super-pricey commercials -- aka, the “Super Bowl of ads.”
Because there was always a running score, over the years the winning formulas have devolved into slapstick jokes (men getting hit in their gentleman parts) and stupid animal tricks. (This year’s teasers include several bears and at least one llama.)
There are always the unexpected celebrity human tricks, too: Arnold Schwarzenegger appears this year as self-parody in a bad wig, perhaps fulfilling the role of Fabio.
Plus, despite the fact that we are well into the 21st century, we can usually bank on some easy, teasy, cleavage-based appearances by various womens’ boobs in the service of selling everything from cars to corn chips.
So I am encouraged that a new mini-trend might be on the horizon. Yup, we might have finally reached so low that the standard lowest-common-denominator approach has outlived its shelf life.
Sex is ubiquitous: In this age of Kim Kardashian tweeting selfies of her private parts for the benefit of Kanye and millions of intimate friends, brands can’t rely on the usual visual shock anymore. They have to get more strategic and creative.
In that spirit, both Axe, the body spray for boys, and GoDaddy, the Web hosting company, have given up their typical soft-porny approaches for more mature messages.
In 60 seconds of sweeping cinematic storytelling, Axe has, for the moment anyway, moved from blatant sex to politics. The spot redoes famous scenes of war and aggression in favor of romance. The idea sounds kind of dumb, but it’s so well-produced that it comes off as sweet and beautiful.
This is GoDaddy’s ninth year on the Super Bowl. The company has become notorious for in-house spots that feature GoDaddy girls, including race car driver Danica Patrick, in “too racy for the Super Bowl censors!” fantasy gambits that frequently sent viewers to the Web site to see the uh, unadulterated version.
The spots tended to be corny and porny; I could never understand how the company was as successful as it was with ads that alienated a great many of its prospects. But what did I know. As an online brand, GoDaddy immediately registered how its ads fared, by number of clicks. And every year, business doubled.
In 2011, Bob Parsons sold the company to a trio of private equity firms, and stepped down as CEO. The new investors moved to an ad agency -- Deutsch -- and attempted to inject a little business rigor into the message by showing how beauty and brains combine. One of the results -- involving swimsuit model Bar Rafaeli (representing beauty) noisily making out with a younger, doughy, red-faced uber-nerd (representing brains) -- so devalued the meaning of a kiss that it actually managed to repel me more than any of the company’s previous spots.
And I was not alone. More than 7,500 tweets were directed at the company, denouncing the ad for being sexist. (In addition to the grossness factor, it also portrayed women and men as only being good for one thing each.)
GoDaddy’s new spot that was released early involves Danica Patrick in a sea of near-nudity. In agreeing to don a fake muscle suit and run with a group of male bodybuilders, she’s really taking one for the team. And all the muscles, whether prosthetic or not, do get attention (Perhaps the thinking was, well, we still get to show breast tissue….) The joke is that they all head to a tanning shop run by a young, female, small-business owner. (It’s much more P.C. to show male bodybuilders getting tanned than female beauty contestants, I guess.)
Research shows that more than half of the small businesses in the U.S. are owned by women. And, increasingly, they are able to open their own companies by relying on services like GoDaddy for their mobile sales, ad placements and search functions, in addition to Web-hosting.
So bravo for the GoDaddy shift: from showing women as beauty objects to portraying them as business owners. It’s about time.
A second spot,
which isn’t being pre-released, shows a person (presumably a woman) quitting her job live to start her own online business. It’s presumably based on a video that got millions of
hits, in which a woman put her late-night resignation on YouTube.
It’s no longer a simplistic “take this job and shove it!” culture. It’s more like “I now have the tools to do this, and in a jobless recovery, what do I have to lose?”
And maybe this is the year that we can even retire the phrase “scantily clad.” Although for every action, there’s a reaction. I suppose Kim Kardashian considers herself a business owner, too.