The Invisible Bowl

Super Bowl time is always an interesting time for me. The night before, I typically break out in hives out of fear that this year – finally -- the industry will get it right and knock it out the park, taking full advantage of their once-a-year (if not a lifetime for some brands) opportunity to surprise, delight and blow away a potential audience of over 100 million people.

By the end of every year’s big game however, I am getting as drunk as the aforementioned 100 million out of relief that I have at least one more year left as a keynote speaker to lament, lambast and ultimately challenge our industry to do better. Who would ever have thought farting donkeys would have become the gold standard? (I’m referring to a Bud Light commercial from 10 years ago.)

Of course the real gold standard happened exactly 30 years ago in the form of the immortal Apple 1984 commercial. Surely Apple would take center stage again this year to reclaim its throne with a frequency-of-one expression of art that would put brands like Chrysler (with their overproduced, melodramatic, chair-loving Clint-Eastwood-narrating -minute halftime spot from a few years back) in itsplace.



So how was the Apple commercial?

Actually I have no clue if there was one at all – because I was not one of the 100 million drunkards, but rather 80,000 drunkards at the Big Game itself.

I had the incredible opportunity to attend Super Bowl XLVIII.

With that in mind, I decided to experience the Super Bowl as a normal person. In other words, not overtly seek out commercials, but reflect on the commercial presence of the entire production itself. (Sadly, I am not a normal person, since my profession happens to be in marketing, so expect a few deviations from this script along the way.)

To begin, I don’t believe a single brand reached out to me with a point of view or intent to share their strategy, media or creative. No sneak peeks. No interview opportunities. No outreach. With my particular focus, I would have most receptive to any creative that would have leveraged some kind of technology, innovation, startup collaboration or original approach.

I sound like a broken record because I’ve been saying this since 2005!

It’s quite possible I got a few text heavy e-mails from 22-year-old well-intentioned P.R. interns, but if so, they would not have made it past the initial bulk delete action.

During the game itself, there were several “commercial breaks” shown on the big screen. The only ones I recalled were a Doritos Time Machine one (which I had seen before) and one or two very manic, confusing Bud Light commercials about starring in a commercial not realizing you’re actually starring in a commercial. Seriously, the big idea is “Candid Camera”?

The official sponsors had a major presence at the game. We entered through a Verizon pavilion and Verizon gate. Other than Verizon attempting to hawk handsets, which doesn’t work when you’re part of an 80,000 cattle call, I wondered what the likes of SAP, Pepsi, Budweiser, Verizon and the others (there goes that human memory of mine) could have done to step up their presence – both at the game AND beyond (in terms of #justanotherhashtag.)

Everyone who attended got a pretty amazing gift bag, loaded with warm weather accouterments. I wondered what the likes of Verizon, Pepsi and Budweiser could have done more in terms of “recognize and reward” (ala Flip the Funnel) their fans by providing similar merchandise, sampling and access to their assets.

Which brings us to post-game, what I guess I should call the “social media after burn” or armchair ad quarterback. I haven’t really been trolling the Facebook and Tweetstreams to determine “who won” and “who lost,” so I guess I’ll just ask you the questions:

-       How many brand spots can you recall? Feel free to list them

-       What was your favorite? Least favorite?

-       What innovation plays were there? I’m most interested in the emerging technology angle

-       Has real-time marketing run its course? Has this shark jumped?

-       Did Apple advertise last night? (I still don’t know.)

Personally, my big winner of XLVIII was Go Pro and Red Bull. Last week an incredible video circulated through the social media channels of “newly released” footage of Felix Baumgartner’s Stratos free fall.

Coincidence on timing? I think not.

5 comments about "The Invisible Bowl".
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  1. Jerry Shereshewsky from GrownUpMarketing, February 3, 2014 at 11:55 a.m.

    C'mon Joseph: Can we begin by reminding everyone that huge mass audience experiences are increasingly meaningless. The death of Life, Look and the Saturday Evening Post wasn't from lack of audience. It was from the opposite. We were entering a world of audience specificity. We liked the concept of publications that spoke directly to narrow but highly specific audience segments. The SuperBowl is frankly too darn big. The 100 million audience is not nearly as valuable as 100 vehicles with a million highly defined people with defined needs, interests and wants. Perhaps a farting donkey is the only common denominator to an audience of this size.
    The NFL and the networks (Fox in the case of yesterday) have it in their self interest to define the Super Bowl as something culturally important. But as Seth Godin points out today this is merely an attempt to make Super Bowl into a secular holiday (a la Halloween). We have been promised miracles (another 1984 spot for instance) befitting a major religious feast day, but when the centerpiece of the meal is Doritos and dip we ought readily see that this holiday has as much meaning as a donkey fart.

  2. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), February 3, 2014 at 12:06 p.m.

    By the numbers (link:, Budweisers puppy won the night, and Coke lost (apart from the category "hater comments" which does not feature in this link.

    I think the only brand that got it right was a true #zeropaidmedia effort by newcomer Glodieblox ( whose commercial was paid for by Intuit. Goldieblox has created a great start with massive awareness and their challenge is to now expand this window going forward. I would venture they are the ONLY brand that actually got something out of SB2014.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 3, 2014 at 12:48 p.m.

    I remember the same statements about value, influence and remembrance in the 80's. You know why.

  4. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, February 3, 2014 at 1:36 p.m.

    I was just watching the game. Brilliant demonstration of aggressive defense by the Seahawks. The ads can wait until I get time to see them on youtube.

  5. Joseph Jaffe from Evol8tion, LLC, February 3, 2014 at 2:21 p.m.

    @maarten - thanks for reminding me of Intuit's brilliant small business play and that they used Goldieblox (saw the founder at Zeitgeist) is sneaky, but equally smart. This was already a winner @Jerry - times have changed since our TBWA\Chiat\Day and Yahoo! days for sure. As easy as it is to zing the Super Bowl, I'd defend it to the hilt as the one true remaining media showpiece we have if only we could get it right...

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