February 04, 2014

Because it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.


What better opportunity for a brand to tell a story to America than Super Bowl Sunday?  Companies from across the country and around the globe reach deep into their pockets to talk to one hundred million viewers for a matter of seconds—all to the tune of $4 million.  So, how did they do?  Did they tell a good story?  Does anyone remember what it was?  Was it worth the millions of dollars they spent?


What follows is our take.  Our awards for this year’s Super Bowl Ad—The Superbowl XLVIII  Ad Mazzie—call out hits and misses when it comes to communicating with Americans.


And the Mazzie for…


Best Brand Makeover goes to:  Radio Shack.  More people at our company discussed this spot than any other.  Why?  Because they did what we tell our clients to do all the time: start all communication from the understanding of where your audience is coming from.  You have your truth.  Your audience has theirs.  And only one of these two truths matters (hint: it’s the latter).  To sum it up, Michael Maslansky (CEO) said:  “This was one of my favorites. They put their flaws out front, gave people a reason to try them again, and connected back to the brand.”  Well done, Radio Shack.  As more than one person here said, “The 80s called.  They want their store back.”


Best Use of Patriotism goes to:  Chrysler.  In a year where patriotism filled the ad space, Chrysler stood tall.  Why?  Because they built on a powerful narrative they have been telling over the past few years—buying a Chrysler equals support for American-made products.  And this year they made that stance credible.  Patrick Buckley (VP) noted, “For me, the best part was the line about letting ‘Germans brew your beer’ and let the ‘Swiss make your watches, but we will build your cars.’ It lent some credibility to the idea that the American automobile, like the American road, is, as an idea, unique, special and worth promoting.”


Most Personal goes to: Hyundai.  The best—and most human—marketing strategies are the ones that make you think about YOU.  As Marilyn Chenoweth (Associate Language Strategist) said, “I loved this ad because it was personal.  It reminded me of my own dad and how he was constantly keeping me out of harm’s way when I was little.”


Best Use of Controversy goes to: Coca-Cola.  Like it or hate it—and there were plenty on both sides—there is no question it struck a chord.  Chris Manley (Senior Director) defended the ad, arguing: “I criticize our industry a LOT for thinking it’s way more intelligent than it really is…but this is a piece that really elevates the TV spot to art.  It’s taking a controversial position without making a logical argument.  It takes a side in a debate with two legitimate sides but does so in microcosm, looking at humanity rather than customers.  ‘America the Beautiful’ in multiple languages, with immigrants, touched a lot of people and infuriated others.  This is what art does.”


Best Use of Nostalgia goes to: Dannon.  There were a few throwback spots this year (Jerry Seinfeld was one, but he left many people upset that the reunion everyone was hoping for was just another Super Bowl ad).  Building on previous ads, Dannon really hit a nostalgic home run. Katie Cronen (Sr Language Strategist) said: “The Full House reunion was classic and blended seamlessly with John Stamos’ ‘brand.’”  Not to mention the fact that it gave women a reason to keep watching a very painful game.


Best Use of Iconography AGAIN goes to:  Budweiser Clydesdales Puppy Adoption.  It’s a bit formulaic…Cute puppy + Cowboy + Clydesdales.  But it works.  Year after year we look forward to those iconic horses. As Justin Altum (VP) said, “Super Bowl Sunday is about tradition, no matter how you spend it, and for me, seeing the Clydesdales is a nice part of it.  Oh, and puppies never hurt.”


Freshest Take on Their Brand goes to:  Beats.  Up until now Beats was for a certain kind of music lover.  By using Ellen DeGeneres as a brand ambassador alongside their well-known horde of male athletes and rappers, they took the brand in a new direction.  David Baynham (Social Media Manager) said: “This felt so fresh because it embraced a side of music-loving that it felt like Beats had ignored till now.  Whether it will be good for the brand remains to be seen, but it was a pleasant, subversive surprise.”


Creepiest Turn of Phrase goes to:  Scientology.  This has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with language.  SPIRITUAL TECHNOLOGY?  Lee Carter (Partner) had this to say: “Do I want my spirituality to have technology in it?  Technology for me is often equated with stress.  Spirituality is where I find rest.  Put the words together and I’m not even sure what it means.”


Creepiest Concept goes to: Squarespace.  Some might say this was unnecessarily creepy.  In our experience scare tactics just don’t work.  Felix Hofmann (Associate Language Strategist) said: “I never thought the Internet was bombarding me with stuff I don’t need, at least not in the age of spam filters, email alerts and personalized feeds.  It’s a cheap scare tactic, and I’m not buying into it.”


Most Out of Touch with Target Audience goes to: Maserati.  In their first Super Bowl spot ever, we were left wondering, “Who were they even talking to?” It was a great ad.  For someone else.


Best Ad Developed by an Intern goes to: Cure Auto Insurance.  We don’t remember any lines from it—or even what they were trying to say.  But, as our Media and Technology manager Bentley McBentleson said, “I just remember it looked like something an intern at Pixar would do on their lunch break.”


Most American but…I Have No Idea What That Company Does goes to:  I’m still not sure.  But I hear they make plastic mats that go in cars.  I think.  I am still not sure what they do.  We suggest they take advice from the movie, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles:  “And by the way, you know, when you’re telling these little stories?  Here’s a good idea—have a POINT. It makes it SO much more interesting for the listener!”  And for $4 million dollars… I’m talking to you Company Whose Name I Don’t Remember…


Worst Brand Makeover goes to: Kia.  The problem here: they didn’t acknowledge the truth of their audience.  Sara Snedeker (Language Strategist) argued, “They aren’t a luxury brand and this commercial isn’t convincing me otherwise.”


And the Final Mazzie…for Most Anticipated Comeback goes to: 24.  Jack Bauer is back.  And we can’t wait.  All we were left wondering is whether President David Palmer will make an appearance in the Allstate ads next year.


So was it worth the $4 million in the end?  Time will tell what the ad spots bought their brands. For now, it bought them a Mazzie.

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