There are a surprising number of people who believe that I don't like puppies.
Every year the day after the Super Bowl when the votes are tallied rating all the ads, the ads with puppies always mainstream favorites. Meanwhile, for the past four years I have published my own list of winners and losers based on marketing strategy versus entertainment value and one thing has become sadly clear:
Puppies in ads are rarely the sign of a great marketing strategy.
This year's game was no different, with big themes emerging in ads about the role of social media in our lives and what really makes you a real man. Based on the ads, real men either care about others or arm wrestle heroically for the last Skittle candy in the bowl.
There were celebrity appearances (Mindy Kaling, Pierce Brosnan, and others), plenty of animals (animated and real) and an interesting lack of scantily clad women (aside from two notable exceptions - Victoria's Secret and Carl's Jr). All of this leads me to share my annual list of best and worst marketing strategy from the big game...
- Best Marketing Strategy Overall - Wix "It's That Easy"
- Worst Marketing Strategy Overall - Lexus "Make Some Noise"
- Best Alignment To Existing Strategy - Snickers "The Brady Bunch"
- Worst Alignment To Existing Strategy - esurance "Walter White"
- Most Strategically Creative - BMW i3 "Newfangled Idea"
- Worst Strategically Creative - Nissan "Cat's In The Cradle"
- Best Strategic Timing - Weight Watchers "All You Can Eat"
- Best Capitalizing On Great Strategy - Always "#likeagirl"
- Worst Capitalizing On Great Strategy - Chevy Colorado "You Know You Want A Truck"
- Best Ongoing Brand Strategy - Doritos "Middle Seat" & "Pigs Fly"
- Worst Ongoing Brand Strategy - Bud Light "Coin"
- Best Strategic Use Of Emotion - Dove Men + Care "Real Strength"
- Worst Strategic Use Of Emotion - Nationwide "Make Safe Happen"
- Best Statement Of Brand Values - Jeep "This Land"
- Worst Statement Of Brand Values - Skechers "Hall"
- Best Use Of Celebrity - Kia "Unexpected"
- Worst Use Of Celebrity - Tmobile "#KimDataStash"
- Best Understanding Of Target Audience - Carls Jr. "Au Natural"
- Worst Understanding Of Target Audience - Mercedes-Benz "The Big Race"
Best Marketing Strategy Overall - Wix "It's That Easy"
Of all the brands advertising during the big game, Wix.com is likely to see the biggest results thanks to the fact that the brand is still a relatively unknown online website building service. Helping their argument was a creative and well executed ad that featured plenty of legendary NFL greats and great integration of their service as each NFL star launches their own business with a corresponding website. The underlying message was clear - if you are considering starting a business, Wix.com is so easy to use even former NFL players can do it.
Worst Marketing Strategy Overall - Lexus "Make Some Noise"
It is never a good sign when you run the same ordinary ad that you might for an ordinary NFL game during the Super Bowl. It is even worse if you happen to be an automaker that trades last minute slots to get two coveted 30 second spots and then proceed to waste them with uninspired creative, random shots of a car zipping through a garage with people dancing and a remote controlled version of a car doing tricks. The message, if there is one, is confused and the two ads seem clearly done by two different creative teams working from two different briefs ... the opposite of being strategic.
Best Alignment To Existing Strategy - Snickers "The Brady Bunch"
In a world filled with glorified candy bar style products (ie - granola bars!) which are promoted as healthy, I love the way that Snickers has managed to avoid this minefield for years with their "You're not you when you're hungry" campaign. The message is simple - after eating a Snickers you won't be hungry again. It's not a kale salad in a bar, and it doesn't pretend to be. Instead, this latest installment of the long running campaign features a funny tie-in to the Brady Bunch, some impressive special effects, a celebrity cameo and the same message as always. You can't always have Betty White, but this execution still works.
Worst Alignment To Existing Strategy - esurance "Walter White"
Last year, esurance brilliantly took on Geico's longstanding claim "15 minutes could save you 15% or more" claim with a series of ads sharing how 15 minutes was too long. It hit right at one of the things consumers care most about when it comes to car insurance (or anything else) - their own time. The other top concern, of course, is saving money. Two new ads from the Super Bowl this year addressed neither of these concerns, while alternately featuring Bryan Cranston reprising his role as Walter White from Breaking Bad, and Lindsay Lohan reprising her real life role as um, a bad driver? Both share the new tagline "Sorta You Isn't You" promising to somehow personalize the car insurance buying process even further. Like them or not, at least Geico understands the two things their target market cares most about. This new ad illustrates exactly why departing from a good strategy too quickly is always a mistake - and probably the biggest one that marketers make.
Most Strategically Creative - BMW i3 "Newfangled Idea"
Everyone loves to see a new cool looking car. When that car is introduced along with a clever creative concept of relating the media sense of awe and confusion at its introduction to the same reaction which greeted the introduction of the Internet 21 years ago, it stands out. Perhaps the most strategically impressive thing about this ad, though, is how BMW managed to take credit for pioneering what seemed like the first electric car produced - even though there are plenty of others. Using smart creative to entertain, and claim ownership of an entire category. That is why this ad and the creative behind it worked so well.
Worst Strategically Creative - Nissan "Cat's In The Cradle"
Days before the game, when explaining Nissan's 18 year absence from advertising during the Super Bowl, the one of the brand's execs shared in an interview that part of the aim of doing the ad was to get people to "stop in their tracks and think a little bit." This year's ad - a guilt inducing story about a boy who misses his race car driver Dad was highly emotional, and highly confusing simultaneously. Are they saying we should spend more time with our kids? Does Nissan help us do that somehow? The ad was one of those perfect examples of a beautifully told story without much tie in back to the brand that told it to us in the first place.
Best Strategic Timing - Weight Watchers "All You Can Eat"
In probably my favorite spot of the entire Super Bowl, Weight Watchers delivered an onslaught of food marketing messages that seemed eerily realistic in order to change the voice in our head that says we must eat everything that is put in front of us. The empowering message behind the spot is that you have the power to take back control. And Weight Watchers can help. Great message, beautiful execution and perfect timing to deliver during a sports event where people are probably eating all kinds of junk food anyway.
Best Capitalizing On Great Strategy - Always "#likeagirl"
When Always's #likeagirl campaign went viral last year to show how girls lose their self confidence as they reach puberty, you could imagine their team trading kudos and moving on to their next big idea. Instead, the brand doubled down on the video and overall campaign by buying time to share it with more people. I love when a brand finds a winner, and resists the temptation to leave it behind just because a new opportunity comes along.
Worst Capitalizing On Great Strategy - Chevy Colorado "You Know You Want A Truck"
Just minutes before the game started, the first Super Bowl spot for the new Chevy Colorado truck gave Americans a collective heart attack by pretending their TV sets were broken and doing the second half of the ad without sound. The promise from the ad was that their newest truck has 4G LTE to allow for video streaming on the go. Unfortunately, the whole "you now you want a truck" message of the ad missed the fact that the Super Bowl attracts a different audience than a regular NFL game. The ad would be been much better off on a brand level to promote multiple cars instead of just the one truck.
Best Ongoing Brand Strategy - Doritos "Middle Seat" & "When Pigs Fly"
Several years ago, crowdsourcing Super Bowl ad concepts was en vogue and lots of brands were trying it. You have to admire Doritos as being the only one that stuck to the strategy and the brand is realizing some results from that choice year after year. 2015 was no different as multiple spots from "Middle Seat" to "Pigs Fly" featured unique situations, plenty of Doritos product placement and yet another collection of proven and funny ideas to execute in the ads. It's no wonder Doritos ads rank highly for entertainment value year after year.
Worst Ongoing Brand Strategy - Bud Light Whatever Happens "Coin"
For more than a year Bud Light has focused its strategy on portraying the beer as a tool in order to have more spontaneous fun - yet choosing to give a random person a night to remember from a bar has always seemed far fetched. In this year's latest edition of the same idea over and over, the guy selected becomes Pac-man in a human sized Pac-Man game. I suppose there are some Pac-man enthusiasts thrilled to be part of the resurgence. For the rest of us, this new ad was just as random as any of the others in this series - and random isn't always a good thing.
Best Strategic Use Of Emotion - Dove Men + Care "Real Strength"
One of my favorite trends in Super Bowl advertising over the past several years is how the portrayal of men seems to be evolving beyond the drunken-girl-chasing-slob that was once usually portrayed. Instead, this ad makes a powerful and emotional case for what it takes to be a "real man" and care for others. The tone and filming of the ad is even enough to make up for the jarring voice over and overly perfected product shot at the end.
Worst Strategic Use Of Emotion - Nationwide "Make Safe Happen"
In the ad that was universally lampooned on social media for "bumming everyone out," Nationwide reminded us of all the dangers that our children face by having a young boy share all the childhood experiences he is going to miss out on because he's dead. Ouch. For the brand that gave us that catchy jingle the Peyton Manning can't stop singing and a funny second ad featuring Mindy Kaling and Matt Damon, this ad was not only a departure ... it was like that evil voice in your head that always reminds you that no matter how much fun you're having, there is always something to be afraid of. No one likes that voice.
Best Statement Of Brand Values - Jeep "This Land"
When an ad starts out with a car driving on an open road accompanied by a singer's rendition of "This Land" - I'm just about ready to mark it as the most obvious kind of marketing cliche we often see in Super Bowl ads. Instead, this ad surprised me. First of all, with its rare choice to show us a world outside of America during the Super Bowl (gasp!) - and second for the bigger message it shared about treating the world with respect that seems perfectly on brand for Jeep. As a result, this was one of the few ads this year which integrated a product message with a social one and blended the two together in a way that really worked.
Worst Statement Of Brand Values - Skechers "Hall"
If there was a moment when Skechers first ran into ethical brand problems, it was with their ill fated copycat launch of a social good program called BOBS that was mirrored exactly on the model of TOMS and launched to plenty of online ridicule back in 2010. Since then, their "toning shoes" launched a firestorm and eventual settlement with the FTC over false advertising claims. So, to put it mildly, the brand has had its fair share of ethical setbacks ... which makes their choice of using Pete Rose as a spokesperson in their 15 second spot this year a fitting choice. Unfortunately, it still says nothing good about a brand that could really use a more positive strategy and spokesperson.
Best Use Of Celebrity - Kia "Unexpected" (Pierce Brosnan)
When you use Pierce Brosnan in a TV spot, the most unexpected thing for him to do is not turn into an action hero. In perhaps the perfect homage to the fact that Brosnan is a former James Bond and now may choose to spend his time in a more relaxing way, the ad not only featured an interesting story line - it also seemed perfectly true to how the pitching session to get him to agree to do that ad probably went ... all the way down to the beautiful voice over all the way at the end where he asks if he gets to keep the car, and the declares "I'm in" after they say yes.
Worst Use Of Celebrity - Tmobile "#KimDataStash" (Kim Kardashian West)
Every year there are celebrities willing to take a Super Bowl role - and often they do it to poke fun at themselves. This year, the good sport award goes to Liam Neeson for his Clash of Clans gaming ad. Kim Kardashian, on the other hand, comes across in this spot for tMobile as stiff and practiced. In fact, the only redeeming part of this ad is the fact that is sort of pokes fun at all those data hungry customers who need access to their phones all the time just so they can keep up to date on social media "news" like Kim's outfits. It would be clever if the joke was on purpose.
Best Understanding Of Target Audience - Carls Jr. "Au Natural"
There is no denying this ad is completely offensive and totally objectifies women. Yet for its target audience, the ad strikes a perfect combination of sex appeal and simple message. Natural is better, and Carl's Jr. is the only fast food place to have a natural grass fed beef burger on their menu. For the 20-something year old guy this ad targets, Charlotte McKinney will get his attention - but he might just remember to try that burger too. Make fun of the tired strategy of having super models take fake bites of burgers bigger than their faces all you want. This ad will work perfectly for exactly who they are trying to target.
Worst Understanding Of Target Audience - Mercedes-Benz "The Big Race"
Somehow I feel like I've seen the story of the tortoise beating the hare by getting into a fast car before. Obvious story line aside, it seems like this animated ad is a strange choice to sell a new sports car from Mercedes, and just seemed plain strange. Complete with bad puns about "hare-raising" design and how the car "is no fairy tale" - the rampant use of cliches, the entire scripting and execution of this spot seemed like the budget was entirely spent on trying to create great animation with no attention on the fact that even a beautifully animated scene needs a good script to make it work.