It was reported this week that CBS has sold out national ads for The Super Bowl, with 77 commercials locked and loaded. Some long-time Super Bowl advertisers like Budweiser, Coke, Pepsi and Ford are skipping this year’s event -- perhaps because of the $5.5 million price of a 30-second spot -- but more likely because recent events such as the pandemic and the Trump-led insurrection make this a perilous year to come up with the usual not-particularly-funny-anyway commercials.
It would be relatively easy to come up with ideas that make fun of the pandemic and the inconvenience it has been for everyone, but with 400,000 deaths already recorded and more expected, there's also the opportunity to offend millions of families who have lost loved ones or who can’t seem to fully recover from the disease. Same with Black Lives Matter, red vs. blue, and the abject relief at having adults back in the White House.
Then there is unity. Everyone’s impulse is to try and support the concept of reunifying the nation and trying to get beyond the polarization caused by four years of a paranoid, white supremacist, misogynistic, xenophobe at the head of the administration. But it is entirely possible that Trump voters don’t want to rejoin the America that fostered their formative years -- especially since they tend to believe absurdities like Qanon and “radical left” conspiracies. It's not good when the government has to issue a warning that some of your fellow citizens might launch domestic terrorist campaigns. So much for unity.
So I mulled over all of this while talking to my creative department about what approach we might take to win hearts and minds on Feb. 7 and avoid anything that might turn into a negative internet meme. “We could focus on product attributes and how ours are best in class,” offered up the intern who was the only one really paying attention on the Zoom call.
This produced a round of head-shaking and mumbling about how “This isn’t the ‘60s” and “It’s the Super Bowl,” and “We have to be $6 million-worth of memorable.” Others were clearly checking email, so said nothing.
When someone suggested an attempt at humor, the negative responses repeated the litany of reasons why there was nothing funny about 2020 from start to finish. Unless you count con artist Sarah Huckabee Sanders' run for governor of Arkansas, the ultimate test of who was paying attention during the first few years of the Trump administration. Her platform: “We are Better Than Mississippi.”
There was an extended and eventually heated discussion of whose idea it was in the first place to drop that kind of money on a single media buy -- a discussion that ended only when the intern reminded everyone that the client CEO was a huge Tampa Bay fan because he saw Brady walking down the street in Boston three years ago.
A heated debate followed about if we should release the creative early to capitalize on the usual excessive press coverage of Super Bowl commercials, but that kind of petered out when the intern reminded everyone that we didn’t yet have the creative idea, much less the video.
So with only a week remaining, we are totally out of good ideas, but would welcome your thoughts on which direction to take our spot. The product? Does it really matter?