My First Super Bowl Ad

In an interoffice memo to myself, I disclosed today that George H. Simpson Communications would join the 15 or so others running ads for the first time during the upcoming Super Bowl telecast. By return memo, I asked myself if I was "out of my f***ing mind -- and where do you think the $5 million anticipated creative and media costs would come from?" That’s a legitimate question, although it might have been asked in a nicer tone.

At the moment I have six clients. I thought about adding $834,000 to their monthly invoices under the EXPENSES column to see if any of them noticed. I could argue that the ads are not about prospecting, but rather reinforcing the brand that brings them so much joy and affirmation every 30 days. Then my wife said, "Are you out of your f***ing mind? You're not a brand. You are a PR guy. Get over yourself." Since she works at a big-deal consulting firm that tends to throw around terms like "brand equity," “elevate" and "runway," I thought she might have a point.



I was going to buy into that beer company collecting lots of other companies to create some sort of promotional patchwork quilt, but I wasn't sure if they were serious, since everything they do is supposed to be funny. And if I have learned anything writing this column for a dozen years or so, it is that humor is subjective. Especially British humor.

I remembered that a snack brand once encouraged ordinary folks to make their own Super Bowl commercials, so I trained my webcam on my desktop -- but after about 10 hours of footage, I realized that it was going to be hard to make a memorable commercial out of my sending emails, begging for forgiveness, and making conference calls where someone inevitably breaks up at the worst possible moment. Although the bar has been set pretty low by lots of other earlier Super Bowl creative.

I have an ad agency as a client. I asked the CEO if he could bang out something "really cool" in exchange for, say, some speaker placements and a few extra press releases next month. He said, “Are you out of your f***ing mind?” He reminded me how much he was paying me each month and gently pointed out that I would have to work for the firm free for the next seven years JUST to cover the story boards, much less the execution. Wasn't having a Super Bowl ad in his portfolio a great incentive, I asked. "Yeah, if you were a brand somebody has heard of, but you're a PR guy. Get over yourself."

When I got back from the gym, I sat down to have a serious talk with myself about spending so much money on a single spot when $4.5 mil could cover 18.64 full pages in the business section of The New York Times (before frequency discounts that might get me to 25 or 30 pages). But what would I run? A montage of client press clips? “Attaboy” emails from clients? Pictures of my kids in the ruins of Ephesus? Or the one where TJ caught the pass in the endzone for a two-point conversion that helped his team win the NEPSAC championship? Although I am partial to the one where Anna and I are resting on a wall at the Tower of London.

I read all of these other guys saying that putting all their marketing eggs in one basket was a great strategy, although none of the reporters who did the initial stories followed up. So I don’t know how it all worked out for the folks who did it in past years, never to repeat again.

I assumed that if I ran a really cool Super Bowl ad, I would get the amplification effect on social media. So I asked my social media client for his thoughts. He said, "Any cute animals, pratfalls, famous actors doing or saying something counterintuitive, or a shot of Kate Upton anywhere in the ads?" No, hadn't had any luck with those. "How about a gravelly voice saying something earnest over pretty, patriotic pictures?" No, I am still trying to figure how I feel about “American Sniper.” He said the only thing viral about PR was when something went very wrong and everyone positioned it as a "PR failure," like the GM recalls or anything to do with a Malaysian airline.

So I wrote another interoffice memo calling the whole thing off. Sure, some will accuse me of announcing a Super Bowl ad just for the publicity, when I never planned to run one in the first place. But I would never do that. It would be, well, unethical.

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