A wise upperclassman at Ole Miss gave me a much-needed piece of advice during my sophomore year of college when he found me defeated and sitting alone at a local watering hole.
“Don’t talk about politics or religion at a bar. Especially not with strangers.”
The first Sunday in February is akin to America’s biggest night at the bar. We all gather, crack open an astronomical number of cold ones, and sit back and watch sports and laugh at funny videos. It’s all very American.
If my friends could be considered a stand-in for the American populous, it was also a time everyone was hoping would be strictly fun. It was a reprieve from the last two years of political infighting – a chance to fight over something meaningless with real, undisputed metrics and a clear outcome.
There was a time when every Super Bowl ad was funny, but in the last few years ads have become more and more sentimental and heavy-handed.
Simple Was Best
This year we saw a few funny and lighthearted commercials, but we also saw five or six heavy-handed ads.
The successful commercials were the ones that kept it simple and made me laugh.
Bai’s juice ad featuring Christopher Walken and Justin Timberlake was pure gold, Squarespace’s John Malkovich made me laugh; Honda’s yearbook commercial was inspiring and relevant without being heavy-handed and tone deaf; and the Mr. Clean commercial was definitely something—I’m just not sure what yet.
Bai’s ad was pretty great because it’s a brand consumers can easily mispronounce. By pairing it with nostalgia for NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye,” they achieved memorability and correct pronunciation.
I also thought Busch’s throwback commercial was the most underrated of the night.
The Heavy Hand
The problem with the more serious commercials was less the politically or socially controversial content but the heavy-handed nature on top of the fact that we just left one of the most divisive political seasons on record.
These advertising firms would benefit from the friendship of a wise upperclassman. You don’t talk about religion or politics at a bar, and what is the Super Bowl if not a bar?
No matter where you fall on issues of immigration, togetherness or the wage gap, you probably felt less like your humanity was appealed to and more like you were being preached at.
Budweiser and 84 Lumber made commercials that would be better as compelling films. Audi would be better served to work on closing the wage gap themselves than talking about it. The NFL talked about coming together as a country in spite of years of controversy over brain trauma denials and domestic violence accusations.
I am all for these companies partnering with advocacy groups of their choosing and equally for the rights of consumers to support or boycott the companies of their choice, but again, this is the Super Bowl.
Trying Something New
While the Tide and Snickers ads didn’t do it for me, I have to tip my hat to their willingness to try something new.
When I realized the stain on Terry Bradshaw’s shirt was a part of a larger Tide advertising effort, I was very impressed, and Snickers’ purposely terrible live commercial was clever. I’m excited to see how brands respond to these more immersive/interactive ads next year.
To the brands reading this at home, make your social impact through action and make your Super Bowl commercials funny.