Super Bowl High-Pressure Zones

by , Feb 5, 2014, 5:48 PM
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The Super Bowl opened with a lavishly fur-coated Joe Namath (in a world full of PETA) screwing up the coin toss. That act proved strangely prophetic.

After the shock of hearing Bob Dylan’s opening koan toss, “Is there anything more American than America?” we had a full two minutes to wrap our heads around the sheer cognitive dissonance of Mr. Tambourine Man pushing Chryslers (huh?) in a jingle-jangle jingoistic commercial

I know Bobby likes to confound expectations, but my head couldn’t extend far enough to accept a message that completely countered the 1960s counterculture that his songs -- and persona -- helped create.

And even though he’s been a creepy/weird presence in ads before, (he lurked demonically in the corner of a castle in a Victoria’s Secret commercial) here he seemed like an out-of-sync apparition.

Nothing hit on any cylinder. One of his overly preachy lines -- sending us to Germany for a decent beer -- stepped on the next advertiser, which was Budweiser, no less.

Actually, it was one weird year. With all the pre-releases and social media, there were thousands of ways to gauge success. Results were all over the place, with few viewers agreeing on much besides their love of the old standbys like Budweiser Puppy and Doritos campaigns.

But there was something new, and perhaps, threatening going on this year. It didn’t make people comfortable, but it mirrored a new America. For one thing, the line up of brands suggested the 1% vs. the 99% in our economy: Maserati and Doritos.

Maserati was trying to “normalize” itself as nothing hugely indulgent: just another $60,000+, middle-class luxury car brand.   I loved the commercial, which starred Quvenzhané Wallis, best known as the little girl in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Her voiceover was a raspy poem -- “The world is full of giants.… We had to learn how to deal with them, how to overcome them.…" -- set to magical imagery that reminded me of the movie.  In addition to the ad’s sheer beauty and production values, what impressed me was that the sole star of an automotive spot in the Super Bowl was a young African-American girl.

That was in direct contrast to VW and Jaguar, both full of white men -- and VW even included a joke about penis size. Most old-school Super Bowl jokes involve a painful hit in the groin, and thankfully, this year, those were absent. The only nearly nude person was David Beckham for H&M, and frankly, many men didn’t seem to appreciate the move.

General Mills' Cheerios went with the biracial Gracie and her family and upped the ante -- both with the Super Bowl spot itself, and the new additions to the household, including a puppy. It was charming, delightful, and incredibly well-acted, and deserves raves.

So does Coca-Cola for presenting an uber-inclusive spot that updated the spirit of “Mountaintop” (“I’d like to buy the world a Coke”) in a beautiful, contemporary and appropriate way. Sadly, it too set off all the scorn and hatred that the original Cheerios ad prompted on the Internet (and then some.) As a corporation based in the South, Coca-Cola is not known for being ragingly liberal. It was merely honest and forward-thinking enough to show us the demographic mosaic that is our present country.

With all this newness, I was disappointed that Apple didn’t run an ad to commemorate the 30th anniversary of “1984.” (Especially after Lee Clow tweeted that it might be happening.) After all, “1984” was the first Super Bowl commercial to become a broadly shared cultural (even pre-Internet viral) experience. It not only became a blueprint for all Apple launches and the rest of the tech industry, but it also reset expectations for future Super Bowl ads. It set the tone for all the cinematic shockers that left viewers stunned and open-mouthed.

And, amazingly enough, it actually made good on its overblown claim that the introduction of Macintosh would change everything.

Thirty years later, we can see that it was the first in a string of Apple products leading up to the iPhone that did revolutionize the world. Products like sneakers or corn chips can’t do that.

Apple did release a spot that is comprehensive and beautiful -- shot on iPhones. It’s gorgeous, which would have been a nice way to reestablish image domination, especially when Samsung has been eating Apple’s lunch.

Now the world looks to the Olympics, and then next year’s Super Bowl. For every action there’s a reaction. 

I don’t doubt that sex will make a comeback in the ads of 2014. But I also hope that other advertisers follow Cheerios and Coke in moving forward, serving entertainment that also possibly tells us more than we might want to hear at the moment.

19 comments on "Super Bowl High-Pressure Zones".

  1. Colette Stimmell from Beaumont health system
    commented on: February 5, 2014 at 7:13 p.m.
    If you live in Detroit, like I do, you would have appreciated the message of the Dylan Chrysler ad. We are in bankruptcy after all.
  2. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: February 5, 2014 at 8:03 p.m.
    I understand, Colette. But they could have found a star who wasn't such a disconnect with that sort of message .
  3. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2013ac.com network
    commented on: February 5, 2014 at 8:08 p.m.
    I'm a paid-up member of the "Dylan generation." Way back when he freaked-out many of my fellow freaks by going electric (Google it, kids), I had to laugh at the absurdity of people telling artists what their art should, and should not, involve. Same deal with Dylan doing an ad for Chrysler. So what? ... On another subject, I missed seeing the ad shot with an iPhone until following the link in this article. Having been a TV camera operator in a past life - huge 3-gun RCAs - and currently a digital photographer, I am simply stunned by how far camera-phones have advanced in such a short time. Some related trivia: For those who might not know, that optical mouse you're probably using is a crude, early version of the cell phone camera, having both a miniature video camera and lens to sense movement across a surface.
  4. lisa shawn from self-employed
    commented on: February 5, 2014 at 10:07 p.m.
    After skipping the Super Bowl this year but now reading this typically clever Barbara Lippert critique, I will now have to track down each one of these commercials online. I must see firsthand what Ms. Lippert so smartly writes about in this razor sharp piece.
  5. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting
    commented on: February 6, 2014 at 1:59 a.m.
    Although the ads for Butterfinger (for its Peanut Butter Cup) and Subway (its Fritos Chicken Enchilada sub) will never be considered hallmarks of great creative, they were the only ads I saw during the game that made me want to go out and purchase what was being advertised (since it was too late I waited until Monday). And like the hokey-pokey, that's what it's all about.
  6. Ruth Thomas from Second helping
    commented on: February 6, 2014 at 8:40 a.m.
    Not sex, not celebs that have not been relevant for years, not sweeping hand holding shots with overwrought musical numbers...where is something actually NEW? ..there is a lot of time to come up with an idea, a whole year ...I see more creativity everyday on social media than I saw on the snoozefest on Sunday...new means New...I throw down the challenge...try and entertain or surprise me next year
  7. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand
    commented on: February 6, 2014 at 8:56 a.m.
    Just like calling your commercial a "Super Bowl commercial" is not a concept, the hype surrounding Super Bowl ads has outlived its hype.
  8. dave alpert from pmd
    commented on: February 6, 2014 at 11:15 a.m.
    Possible explanations for Dylan commercial: 1] He's goofing on his baby boom audience, which he has always been wont to do. 2] He's disdainfully mirroring his baby boom audience, most of whom "sold out" long ago and are now senior partners at large negligence law firms. 3] He's totally fried and does whatever his manager tells him to do. 4] He needs the money to settle another divorce after another secret marriage. 5] He needs the publicity to boost attendance at his more than 100 shows a year. 6] He really wanted to do something for the working people of Detroit. 7] All of the above. 8] None of the above.
  9. dave alpert from pmd
    commented on: February 6, 2014 at 11:18 a.m.
    As far as the other spots, in my opinion they ranged from pretty good to pretty lame to pretty awful. But, in general, they weren't quite as offensive as they usually are although I could live without angel wings on Germans. Made me a little uncomfortable but I'm not sure why.
  10. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: February 6, 2014 at 11:45 a.m.
    1. Chrysler is owned by Fiat. It is now an Italian company, not an American company and many other foreign car companies are made in America by Americans. So that message is just irrelevant. It has nothing to do with Detroit, American jobs or increasing the desire to buy a Chrysler. They can ask me how to handle their message for next year and I cost a lot less than they paid this year and can't be worse. 2. I want a puppy doggy and a horsey. Not going to happen. Odds are better for me buying a Chrysler and that already happened that won't again.
  11. Tom O'Brien from NWPS
    commented on: February 6, 2014 at 12:23 p.m.
    Wonder what the average age of this discussion is? How many people watched the Chrysler ad and asked the person next to them "who was that" Where is the current, contextual relevance of Bob Dylan??? I think Chrysler tried to catch lightning in a bottle a third time - and missed. (Eminem and Eastwood both worked.) @tomob
  12. Sally Edelstein from Sally Edelstein Design
    commented on: February 6, 2014 at 2:49 p.m.
    Real America is causing a controversy for some real Americans , upset over the recent Coca Cola commercial celebrating American diversity. Their notion of what constitutes America is as dated as the illustrations of "real" Americans that Coke once portrayed in its advertising.These vintage images of small town real America were always color and ethnic free. Take a look http://wp.me/p2qifI-20Y
  13. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER
    commented on: February 7, 2014 at 7:55 a.m.
    Conversation with a caddy yesterday. ME: So what was the best commercial on the Super Bowl. CADDY: The puppy thing was kind of nice, but the T-Mobile with Tebow talking about not needing a contract, that made sense cause that is the issue. ME: Should I use a 4- or 5- iron here? CADDY: It was the only commercial that made any sense to me. I mean why would you spend millions of dollars on the rest of that crap. Didn't you used to be in advertising. You know that, man.
  14. Richard Badami from Badami and Associates
    commented on: February 7, 2014 at 4:35 p.m.
    Barbara, I just saw you were quoted in NPR's story on Intuit's ad. Contrary to Intuit's claim, the first company to put a small business on the Super Bowl was Mail Boxes Etc. with the “See Your Small Business on the Super Bowl Search.” Over 4,000 companies applied by sending in VHS casting tapes. In 1998 MBE awarded a spot to Pocket Pump (a handy device to inflate footballs, soccer balls and basketballs) and in 1999 to Jeremy’s Microbatch Ice Cream. This breakthrough idea is well documented in “The Super Bowl of Advertising: How the Commercials Won the Game,” by Bernice Kanner. The Pocket Pump :30 lives on YouTube, and Advertising Age columnist Bob Garfield called the concept “The best idea on the Super Bowl” for that year.
  15. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: February 7, 2014 at 5:09 p.m.
    Thanks for the correction, RIchard. It's all coming back to me! @Tom-- I agree with the caddy-- the Tebow thing worked well, and not only in the world of Ts. Strategy dead on. In a contract less word, a clever, memorable and cinematic way to sell it. Plus, as was the case with Radio Shack, people like self-deprecation.
  16. Richard Badami from Badami and Associates
    commented on: February 7, 2014 at 5:31 p.m.
    Hummm...I think you might have written about it (Ad Week?) in the distant past when I was CD at the agency for Mail Boxes Etc.
  17. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: February 11, 2014 at 4:55 p.m.
    It's all coming back now, RIchard! thanks. I liked it, right?
  18. Richard Badami from Badami and Associates
    commented on: February 12, 2014 at 4:38 a.m.
    Yes, you loved it. Oddly, even though in 1998 USA Today busted Intuit on their "first" claim, they charged ahead anyway saying it was their original idea: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/07/30/small-business-super-bowl-commercial/2599595/
  19. Richard Badami from Badami and Associates
    commented on: February 12, 2014 at 4:43 a.m.
    Correction: Oddly, even though in 2013 USA Today busted Intuit on their "first" claim, they charged ahead anyway saying it was their original idea: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/07/30/small-business-super-bowl-commercial/2599595/

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