Monday, February 05, 2007

Schoenbeck’s Take

Super Bowl XLI is history. At first it seemed as if something unusual might actually occur: that the game was going to be more interesting than the advertising – especially if one were a Chicago Bears fan. However, it was not meant to be.

Regardless of your predilection however; when it comes to the Super Bowl, there is no denying that the numbers are impressive, even if most of this year’s commercials were not. Forbes Magazine has deemed it “the most valuable sporting event” in the world weighing in at an impressive $379 million*; followed by a distant second ‘Summer Olympics’ ($176 million) and the ‘World Cup’ (at a paltry $103 million.)

Of course, what makes it so valuable to CBS, the NFL and AFC, the coaches, players and anyone else who happens to have a ticket on this gravy train are the almost sixty commercials, each of which coughed up a record $2.6 million (per 30-second spot – you do the math) to reach the more than 90 million die-hard couch potatoes (curiosity seekers and a few Prince fans) who tuned in.

WHY PRINCE? Of the last five Super Bowl acts, these performers (including the Rolling Stones, U2 and the unforgettable Justin Timberlake/Janet Jackson duet) have seen an average 187% increase in album sales in the week following the game. Paul McCartney scored an impressive 542% increase in 2005, thereby preventing a collection agency from foreclosing on the mortgage of his mansion.

This is not to mention, which I will anyway, the pre-game programs (that began last Thursday): Road to the Super Bowl, All-Iron Team, Super Bowl Today and the Kick-Off Show among others, providing those who want to be associated with the game the opportunity to do so at a fraction of the cost.

But I digress. What, you might ask, motivates these advertisers to spend their lucre so willingly? Advertising companies included many of the biggest name brands in their respective categories (Automobiles – Chevrolet, Honda, Toyota; Beer – Bud and Bud Light; Cosmetics – Revlon; Soft Drinks – Coke, Sierra Mist, Snapple; Snacks – Doritos, Snickers and Emerald Nuts).

EMERALD NUTS? Once again, Diamond Foods announced that it would be back with another commercial for Emerald nuts. “The Super Bowl still has a huge lure, and it’s a great creative platform to really show off your ads,” says Andy Donchin, national broadcast director at media-buying agency Carat. “It’s an engaging event, and people watching the game also watch the commercials.”

Which is one reason Emerald joined those who bought ad time. Emerald’s attempt to stand out in the Super Sunday featured theater and music personality Robert Goulet, who plays off the energy that nuts can provide. (Remember him? His presence may well suggest that when an advertiser spends more than $2 million on air time it cannot afford to hire big-name, expensive talent.)

Apparently Flomax prostate drug, King Pharmaceuticals for heart medication, Garmin GPS Navigator and Go Daddy also feel this is a worthwhile investment.

GO DADDY. The CEO of this august institution, Bob Parsons, wrote on his website, “…after watching our commercials, the vast majority will smile, then try our company. Then after they have a chance to experience our outstanding customer service, great products and prices they will become customers for life. That’s why is now the world’s largest registrar — more than twice the size of its closest competitor!”

To paraphrase Leo Burnett, one of advertising’s icons, if I want to get noticed I can walk around with a sock stuck in my mouth. Regretfully, most of the commercials appearing in this year’s Super Bowl weren’t really all that super. In fact, many would have been better off buying a pair of socks.

If you didn’t have the occasion to see them yourself, you can check them out
here (or any of the more than 28.5 million websites listed on Google; which is one of the reasons for running a Super Bowl commercial in the first place). Perhaps you’ll find, as I did, that the majority of these efforts lacked substance.

Disappointingly, the Bud Light commercials (Rock, Paper and Scissors; Great Apes; Wedding Reception; Fist Bump and Hitchhiker) were surprisingly puerile and perhaps a bit crass. They bordered on insulting the viewer as well as the drinker, especially when compared to the Budweiser spots (Spot the Dog; Wink and Crabs), which at least had charm and made one feel good about being a Bud drinker.

NOBODY DOES IT BETTER. Perhaps the most memorable commercial in this year’s line-up was the Doritos
commercial (Live the Flavor) created by one of its consumers, Dale Backus, at a fraction of the cost of a normal production as the result of a contest developed to engage greater interaction with its audience. So much for an ‘advertising agency!’

THE UNMENTIONABLES. Then there were the “unmentionables” – which I will mention anyway: Career Builder, Go Daddy, Emerald Nuts and Snickers. They were definitely “sock ads” and may be the topic of conversation around the water cooler; but for all the wrong reasons.

Does this mean the days of “great” advertising are over? Is Leo turning over in his grave? No. Coca Cola came through (Timeline; Happiness Factory and Video Game – a 21st century version of “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”) with some simple, memorable and relevant creative that, dare I say it, had something to do with the product (which the Chevrolet commercials didn’t). The Blockbuster commercial (Mouse) was not only cute, but also had a strategy and everything to do with the idea.

MVP AWARD. Ah yes, the idea…which leads me to the MVP (Memorable, Valuable and Plausible) Award: TA DA! This year is presented to Toyota Tundra for its commercials (see Saw and Ramp). These two spots were not only engaging and memorable…but had an idea. They related to the product and provided a striking, but believable demonstration of its performance.

As Leo once wrote: “We want people to say ‘That’s a hell of a product,’ not ‘That’s a hell of an ad.” I’m sure he would agree that after watching this year’s Super Bowl extravaganza, this is something which is not likely to be said about most of its advertisers.

My thanks to guest blogger (and Bears fan) Rob Schoenbeck. He grew up in Chicago and started his career in marketing there. After five years he was lured over to the agency side by The Leo Burnett Company, where he spent the next 22 years working with virtually every client in the agency; beginning in the US, then Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. He subsequently moved to Houston with BBDO to manage the Texaco and Shell business. From there he moved on to Fogarty Klein Monroe as SVP responsible for all CPG Clients including ConAgra Brands. He has also served as COO of The Cartel Group, a multi-cultural San Antonio-based ad agency.
Currently he is sharing his vast experience and guidance as CEO of his consultancy, Carpe Emptor. Rob brings a strong strategic perspective and a wealth of packaged goods experience combined with a fresh approach to every project he tackles.
*Included in this figure are advertising revenue, sponsorship revenue, ticket receipts and licensing income.


Byron Varme said...

I liked the Bud spotted Dalmatian. Cute at the end with the chick with mud on her face! Coke was great too.... I had not seen that style before.

Cameron Wallace said...

I thought the Robert Goulet and Emmitt Smith ads were the best of the evening, just because they were so random. If you don’t watch “Family Guy” already, try to make it through one show—the non-sequitir, the more obscure the better, is what passes for comedy these days. What could be more out there than suspecting a second-tier lounge singer of deleting your voicemails? Whew, I feel better now.

FABUTECK said...

what? a country fueled by fervent consumerism turning out sub par commercials?!

Richard Laurence Baron said...

True in part, Fabuteck. Amazingly, though, it is because America is fueled by "fervent consumerism" that sub par commercials can succeed. Consumer demand is so powerful that simple awareness can be one of the most important drivers; rather than cleverness or "coolth."

That's no excuse for doing less-than-your-best commercials - just an observation on everyday life in the good old USA.