Commentary

Hulu's Super Bowl Message Delivers Blow To Online Video's Value Proposition

  • by February 2, 2009

Despite the mostly weak display of conceptual and copywriting prowess (if you can call it that) that was this year's crop of Super Bowl ads, one ad that stood out in the mind of this creative director as being particularly useless was the Alec Baldwin shill for NBC/FOX's Hulu online video platform. 

What a lost opportunity.

For those of us engaged in the online video space, be it sellers, buyers, creators or platforms, we spend considerable amounts of time educating agencies and brand marketers on the value of the medium to consumers.   This includes what it offers that's unique and exclusive, and why it commands the kind of CPMs that often eclipse cable television.  So hearing there was a Hulu ad in the fourth quarter of this year's Super Bowl, I was intrigued to see how they'd handle the opportunity.  The result? Yes, very funny. But even more frustrating.

As a big "30 Rock" fan myself -- in particular, an Alec Baldwin fan -- I'm always up for watching more Jack Donaghy in character.  Yet, despite his humor in the ad, I found the completely smarmy "turns your brain to gelatinous matter" value proposition to completely miss the chance to deliver at least something about the platform that might raise awareness not only for Hulu -- but also for the entire online video platform space.  After all, a rising tide raises all ships, right?  In this case, maybe it's rising gelatinous matter that raises all ships.

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Maybe I should lighten up.  After all, it's the Stupor Bowl, and the only things that matter are humor and recall, right?  Along those lines, the spot did pretty well according to the polls I've seen.  Yet brand linkage here will almost certainly be the challenge.  Will they remember Jack?  Positively.  Will they remember they saw that guy from "30 Rock"?  Without a doubt.  Will they remember the brand?  Hulu?  What it is?

Therein lies the $3 million question.

Yes, great commercials are supposed to entertain and reward us for the time we spend watching.  They're also supposed to cleverly deliver a BENEFIT that matters to people and doesn't simply rely on the trivial, meaningless and often easy, sexist, smarmy or punch-line-driven one-off executions that the vast majority of Super Bowl ads have become.  "Does anybody remember laughter?"

Just off the top of my head, there's a ton of great things to say about Hulu (Carol Burnett archives aside) that TV star Alec Baldwin could have mentioned casually in Jack Donaghy character -- like the ability to email your favorite clips to a friend; choose from dozens of your favorite classic TV series; even rate stupid commercials like this one. 

Then again, if mentioning benefits like these seems like just more commercial blah-blah to you, then perhaps your brain, too, has already turned to gelatinous material -- worthy of reruns of, say, "Joey" or "Father of the Pride"?

17 comments about "Hulu's Super Bowl Message Delivers Blow To Online Video's Value Proposition".
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  1. Noel Jago from CTVgm, February 2, 2009 at 1:57 p.m.

    Does this rant not take the commercial, the event and the format far too seriously?

  2. Patrick Ford from Atari, Inc, February 2, 2009 at 1:59 p.m.

    Yes, you should lighten up. It was one of the funniest, and most memorable, ads in the broadcast. Have you not heard of the trend called "ODDvertising"?

  3. Thomas Deierlein from TD Foundation, February 2, 2009 at 2:01 p.m.

    I couldn't agree more. I think the ad was terrible. Even if the message was "TV Turns your brain to mush" the commercial failed miserably at communicating what exactly HULU was and why it also turns your brain to mush. I was very upset when I saw the ad - so disappointing.

    TD

  4. Todd Zander from healthline, February 2, 2009 at 2:11 p.m.

    wow - you totally missed the point of the spot. the goal was to make people wonder 'what the heck is Hulu?' not - Hulu is so cool that you can 'email your favorite clips to a friend.' you have to be joking; it's not an infomercial. good thing you're not a creative director...:)

    and the quote you mention a bunch of times: "turns your brain to gelatinous matter". I took that metaphor to mean something completely different than you. Alec began the spot by pointing out how in the past it was said that TV rots your brain. now there's a whole new medium and viewing experience to further rot the brain. it was a joke... and also one could surmise that TV has become so powerful that millions of people want a new version of TV on the internet: Hulu. the spot was great (i thought).

    and you failed to mention in your piece how interesting it was that NBC was leading with Hulu promotion and not NBC.com promotion -- now that's the basis for a story worth reading.

  5. Li Halpern from _, February 2, 2009 at 2:11 p.m.

    Alan - yes - lighten up. Don't you think the real message was; TV - anytime, anywhere and free? I doubt that most viewers would remember the phrase "gelatinous material" as you did.

    Congratulations to Hulu for creating an ad that should help drive adoption of online video record numbers.

  6. Benjamin Decker from _, February 2, 2009 at 2:14 p.m.

    Hulu so far has built its business around pure user expererience -- make a great platform, and people will come to it. Possible they're simply continuing to put faith in their product, and banking on the fact that if they can shock/suprise/entertain viewers into out checking the site, it will quickly sell itself? Note, the night of the superbowl, two prominent new 'introduction to Hulu' videos were posted on the landing page... presumably to accomplish what you've suggested was lacking in the add itself

  7. J S from Ideal Living Media, February 2, 2009 at 2:22 p.m.

    I found the Hulu ad memorable -- even hilarious -- but apparently I am not inside the bell curve on that. Check out the interest ratings for all the Super Bowl commercials at mediacurves.com -- the Hulu spot is buried down in the "advertainment" section. The site tracks positive/negative interest in the spots in a graph overlay as the commercials play. Note that when the "evil plot" punchline unfolds, interest plummets. Meanwhile the Budweiser Horse Circus was the best ad for most viewers; I am definitely way outside the bell curve. Since I make commercials day in and day out, the mediacurves results are fascinating, and for me, unnerving.

  8. Scott Maxworthy from Max Media & Entertainment, February 2, 2009 at 2:52 p.m.

    Agree, a funny and entertaining ad but maybe also laying a foundation to build a competitive position against old media - ie old TV for mush brains and we're doing the same thing online (easy user transition) BUT...

    As we KNOW online asks more engagement from our viewers then to simply consume, we know they can easily consume, comment, share and create.

    Agree just as important was to increase awareness with advertisers and like Douglas would be interested to see the comparisions.

  9. Mike Weber from CMR Studios, February 2, 2009 at 2:53 p.m.

    The Hulu spot was brilliant! It positioned broadband video as an equal entertainment medium with television. Video entertainment has always been passive. The adoption of online video has been slowed by the constant "interactive" tag attached to it. The masses WANT to be able to just sit back with a controller in one hand and a beer in the other while they are bombarded by a stream of mindless entertainment. Everyone knows it melts your brain.

  10. Bob Kiger from Videography Lab, February 2, 2009 at 2:57 p.m.

    Our lab recorded a running commentary to capture our "gut" feelings about all the SuperBowl spots. We agree that most all the spots "simply rely on the trivial, meaningless and often easy, sexist, smarmy or punch-line-driven one-off executions that the vast majority of Super Bowl ads have become." and it was particularly noticeable this year . . . a reflection of our depressed culture.

    We felt the Hulu ad was cute but the message was obscure. Certainly no "unique selling proposition" by Hulu!

    Overall impression of the SB spots was "depressing". The most intriguing was when the venerable "Jack" ended up under the bus with noticeable head trauma. As we said in Hollywood "if anyone is left alive . . . there's a spinoff"

    We can't wait for "comeback Jack".

  11. Matt Kaplan from VisibleGains, February 2, 2009 at 3:04 p.m.

    Alan,

    While I find myself agreeing with you most the of time, on this post I need to disagree. The Hulu spot was funny, memorable and served its purpose - to convince the public that Hulu IS TV. People love TV and so do marketing execs and media buyers, so the only way to get a massive shift in adoption to broadband video is to get people to understand that Hulu is just like TV.

    Believe me, I'd like nothing more than to distance online video from the passive, linear model of broadcast TV and talk about the virtues of interactive video for which I am passionate. But for Hulu, I thought it was exactly on brand.

    Matt Kaplan
    Chief Strategy Officer, PermissionTV

  12. Catherine Ventura from @catherinventura, February 2, 2009 at 3:20 p.m.

    Seriously? If we disagree with you, perhaps our "brain, too, has already turned to gelatinous material." Careful, next step is punching Koalas! ;)

  13. Brian Hayashi from ConnectMe 360, February 2, 2009 at 3:24 p.m.

    This morning, a local radio talk show host made the very same point. Almost immediately his program director chimed in, along with the audiotrack of the commercial, and told him what it was all about.

    The spot was funny and memorable, and as a result, it broke through the clutter. More importantly, it was memorable enough that the radio host chose to share it with thousands of listeners. I'm sure this kind of pass-along happened countless times all across the United States (important, since Hulu can't be played outside of the US).

    If that wasn't a home run, it was at least a double at their first time at bat.

  14. Lisbeth Kramer from Identities, February 2, 2009 at 3:36 p.m.

    BRAVO (AND I don't mean the NBC extension), ALAN, BRAVO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    lisbeth kramer

  15. Peggy Fry from Clearspring, February 2, 2009 at 4:27 p.m.

    At free or most likely barter, Hulu by far got the most bang for their buck! The proof is in the performance - did it drive traffic?

  16. Mark Walker, February 2, 2009 at 5:31 p.m.

    More than that I was struck by how many no-charge spots NBC ran... Hulu, GE, program promos... so take their reported sales with agrain of salt. They are probably posting them as revenue but charging them off as inter-company promotions. What the heck, if you can't sell ads, you might as well give them to your partners and owners!

  17. Brian Lindholm from URS Corporation , February 8, 2009 at 11:42 a.m.

    I loved the ad. It took a great TV persona with a well known actor to poke fun at the stereotype of TV - turning your brain into mush. There's nothing complex about Hulu.com. Why try too hard to get people to pay attention? I'm willing to bet people went to the website to check out what they could get.

    There's no need for any deep thinking here. It was a clever and memorable ad for a product most people probably never knew. Someone needs to critique the lot of other Super Bowl ads that were, as we've come to know, unimaginative, boring slop.

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