Shock Top and Super Bowl advertising

It demonstrates the how ineffective most Super Bowl ads are that Budweiser’s Shock Top beer ad could end up being the best of the night.

Shock Top
Will Shock Top be the best the Super Bowl has to offer?

Before we get to the spot itself, there are inherent reasons why advertising during the TV event of the year rarely works out. One is that the cost of buying airtime is so high ($5 million for a 30-second spot) that I generally feel the money is best spent elsewhere.

But if you decide to do a Super Bowl ad, it should be about more than just raising awareness. And that’s the real problem. The companies financially able to afford a Super Bowl spot usually don’t have an awareness problem.

Secondly, and most importantly, ad agencies use Super Bowl spots to win awards, which is why the ads are produced strictly as entertainment. They often do very little to actually steal market share.

In fact, on Monday, when all of us (including possibly me) rate the night’s ads, we usually rate them based on their entertainment value. Not on how effective they are in increasing market share.

At least Shock Top has some meaning in its spot.

But here’s an interesting way to do it: Budweiser’s Shock Top beer ad. This is a beer brand that is not as well known as many of the other Budweiser brands, so its awareness is in need of raising. (Don’t fret. There will be plenty of Bud Lite ads aired during the game, I’m sure.) It is not, let’s say, Doritos who doesn’t have an awareness problem and whose Super Bowl ad is just a (somewhat lame) funny attempt at saying: Doritos are tasty.

No, most of us don’t know Shock Top beer. And the banter between comedian T.J. Miller and the Shock Top mascot is a personification of unfiltered talk for an unfiltered beer.

Budweiser will take that 1:25 spot and split it into 30-second spots for the Super Bowl, and I’ll admit that it’s pretty funny. (Check out Miller in the hilarious HBO comedy, Silicon Valley.)

The big three American lagers (Budweiser, Miller and Coors) have seen their market share eroded due to the rise of other offerings (wine, liquor, hard cider, etc.), especially microbrews.

Therefore, unfiltered by itself is not a switching trigger, but Shock Top has taken that product benefit and given it an emotional (and funny) meaning. It has at least followed through on its meaning, which is more than you will be able to say for most of the Super Bowl ads.

The Shock Top commercial may not be the best in class (I would have chosen another switching trigger and precept that exists in the market.) But, when watching the Super Bowl, count the number of ads you see whose message goes beyond the expected (such as that everybody, including a fetus, wants to have Doritos) and actually attempts a message.

You’ll be able to count on them with one hand.

Here come the Super Bowl ads

The Super Bowl of football has become the Super Bowl of advertising with the winner not being the best or most persuasive but the most entertaining. Weeks away from Super Bowl 50, many of this year’s advertisers have already made their intentions known.

There will, of course, be the usual bevy of beer ads. Taco Bell has teased it will introduce some secret new product and LG Electronics has brought Ridley Scott (director of Apple’s famous “1984″ ad and countless movies, such as “Alien” and “Blade Runner”) back into TV advertising but this time as a producer.

Super Bowl
The Super Bowl ad that started it all.

There will undoubtedly be commercial after commercial trying to out-humor and out-entertain each other with no real point of view and completely lacking in any ability to persuade. After all, isn’t that the point of advertising? To get people to buy your product?

Most Super Bowl ads fail.

This failure will especially be seen in the automotive ads. As of now, six car companies have purchased spots: Acura, Buick, Honda, Hyundai, Kia and Mini. How do any of these brands expect their products to be remembered?

Sure, viewers might remember the ad but will they remember the brand? All of the car ads will simply make up a cacophony of noise and corporate expense that advertising agencies will use as a notch on their bedposts. (“Look, Ma. I worked on a Super Bowl ad! Isn’t that neat?”)

I am not saying that I don’t enjoy Super Bowl ads. I actually find them quite entertaining. But for many of them, they are one-offs and the rest are basically 30 and 60 entertainment shorts.

But leave them alone after the Super Bowl. Have fun, be creative but they should not be used as ads afterwards because most of them are not persuasive.

A Super Bowl of missed connections

The Super Bowl was filled with brands just missing the opportunity to connect their stories to their brands. Whether you’re talking about Toyota, Dove, Nationwide (to an extent) or…the Seahawks, most failed to capitalize on their brand promises.

Super Bowl ads, as we’ve said time and time again, are basically a waste of money for companies. They are costly and are judged by their entertainment value rather than for whether they truly worked.

Having said that, many of the advertisers this year decided to tell emotional stories rather than out-loud funny ones and many had some real power. The problem was that, like those entertainment-based ads, there was no emotional connection to the brand itself.

Toyota had a wonderful montage of Amy Purdy dancing, running, modeling, biking despite two prosthetic legs while Muhammad Ali’s “How Great I Am” speech served as the voiceover. It was powerful stuff. But this was to sell a Camry? Just saying “The Bold New Camry” wasn’t enough. Why the Camry is bold was simply not there. Does anybody see the Camry as bold?

Dove had a nice ad centered on fathers and sons that played nicely but that transition to Dove for Men logo and tagline was so abrupt it was laughable. It seemed like Dove developed the ad, was ready to ship it off to NBC and, suddenly, someone said, “Wait! We forgot to put our logo on it!” So one was slapped on.

There were those ads that worked on a minor level in connecting to the brand. McDonald’s had a spot that said random customers would be able to pay in “love” (such as calling your mother or hugging your spouse) that connected with its “I’m lovin’ it” brand. Budweiser trotted out its most effective equity marker in the Clydesdales, although the ad itself was really just entertainment. But it definitely fit into the Bud brand.

Then there was the controversial Nationwide ad that showed a young boy going through the usual tribulations of childhood, then lamenting that he’ll never get married or enjoy an adult life. Why? Because he’s dead.

It was a shocking ad, unforgettable and drove home the point: Prevent accidents. And an insurance company like Nationwide, which promises to be “on your side,” does have permission to talk to us about preventable practices.

But Nationwide got itself into a bit of a trap here because nothing it’s ever done in the past ever suggested it was that edgy. Tonally, it was nothing like a Nationwide ad which are usually all Peyton Manning humming its jingle. To have emotional permission, Nationwide needed a rebrand, something that said it was on your side for things greater than price and service and a jingle.

The ad sparked outrage across social media, and I think Nationwide missed the opportunity for it to grow market share. Was that the highest emotional intensity in deciding on insurance? (Tapping into that is what steals market share.)

In an industry that trots out Flo and Ickey Woods to little effect, this was something different. In a way, we have become so conditioned to how insurance ads should work that Nationwide’s attempt was a bit tonally deaf. But there’s a part of me that applauds it.

And now we come to the Seahawks. I admit this is a stretch, but with an evening of brands failing to make the connection to their emotional stories, the Seahawks had a fitting end.

Seattle has won with defense and a running game powered by Marshawn Lynch. With the ball on the one-yard line (maybe even the half-yard line), a timeout and the best power back in football in the backfield, the Seahawks…threw a slant.

We all saw it. New England’s Malcolm Butler jumped the route, intercepted the ball and the game was over.

Maybe if head coach Pete Carroll (or, more likely, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell) had remembered the Seahawks brand, we might be celebrating a different victor today.

The Super Bowl for the “super” brands

I’m sure I’ll write more about this later, but I wanted to start this year’s Stealing Share Super Bowl conversation today. As I look at the list of advertisers this year, it is a familiar one with Budweiser, BMW, Coke, Doritos, McDonalds, and T-Mobile on the list, just to name a few. The cost for a single ad is up about a half million dollars over last year to $4.5 million.

I doubt advertisers could ever show a measurable ROI. But for this expense, agencies will do their best to show raw impressions, social media buzz and reach while using some alien technology to create a number that makes everyone high-five and pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

But I ask you, “Who really cares?”

We don't always watch the Super Bowl just for the game itself.
We don’t always watch the Super Bowl just for the game itself.

InBev has purchased at least seven spots, which seems a little excessive. If it had purchased five, would fewer people drink Bud Light? What if it didn’t purchase any? Couldn’t the $30 million it spent have been used for something more persuasive?

And that is the thing. It is really not about persuasion. Consumers will forget most of the ads before they stumble to the TV to turn it off. Loctite, which makes glues, is spending its normal annual ad budget on one ad. Do you buy super glue often enough that you will remember one ad in a four-hour game filled with ads? BMW, Kia, Lexus, Nissan, Mercedes, and Toyota all have purchased ads. Will anyone remember which car company did which ad?

So to the advertising agencies, the network and the NFL, I say congratulations on selling that ad space. To the consumers, enjoy the entertainment. To the brands, I know it makes you feel good to see your ads on the Super Bowl telecast. But if you are trying to persuade consumers with this ad spend, you might as well just flush your money down a different kind of bowl.

Lance Armstrong finally admits the truth about the NFL

So when asked, if he had to do it all over again, Lance Armstrong admitted that he would have doped all over again. This, of course, was in the context of an era of doping.

So what does this all have to do with the NFL? Oddly enough, they are both quite linked because both Lance Armstrong and the NFL are simply saying, in the words of Vince Lombardi, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Who would have thought that this revered coach’s words would become such a sad commentary on the nature of sports?

Lance is just letting us all know that if, in an era of doing and cheating, he had to do it all over again that he would have doped and cheated. You see, cheaters seem to pay no price in sports and what Lance is really saying is that his cheating brought him all the fame and privilege of the entitled and those gains were worth the price of sacrificing his own integrity. For the hapless fan, there is really no way to vote and be counted on the continued hubris of Armstrong. His money is already in the bank.

There's only one way to vote against the NFL. Don't watch.
There’s only one way to vote against the NFL. Don’t watch.

The NFL is another story. Everyone here in the office is angry with me because I tell everyone that nothing will happen as a result of the Patriot’s cheating in Deflategate. My coworkers protest that “lots of changes will take place.”

Ridiculous. You see, you still have the right to voice your opinion on the NFL and its total disregard for human decency. You can stop watching the games (like the upcoming, soiled Super Bowl). You have within your power to remove the possibility of the NFL being akin to the gloating Armstrong (who plays contrition as he goes to the bank).

We have learned a few things about the NFL. It is not a sport, it is a religion. There are no NFL fans, just NFL adherents. What the adherents are willing to forgive the league of is a long list. Forgiving the torture of animals. Turning a blind eye to a guy who cold-cocks his wife in an elevator. Ignoring the permanent brain damage caused by just playing the game. Widespread steroid use (Lance would be proud). Keeping a commissioner in his high paying job precisely because he puts financial gains ahead of principle. Moving teams from one city to the next in the dead of night. Refusing to acknowledge responsibility for the dementia that the game causes and cheating to win at any cost.

So don’t complain about winning being the only thing when you ask no pound of flesh for the grievance. The NFL can do anything and get away with it because it is a super brand. It knows that the only thing is money and no one will make them pay. You know what? Lance Armstrong might have been a great football player had he taken a slightly different direction.