Will we ever learn that experience does not reliably inform expectation? Doubtful. And so year after year, we flock to the Super Bowl telecast, abuzz with the promise of hilarious, remarkable, breathtaking advertising that rivals the game for pure entertainment value.
And then ten hours later, we stumble away, bleary-eyed and frustrated, like high schoolers the day after a lackluster prom, chagrined at how the reality failed to measure up to the dream. Nonetheless, we will be back next year when we will be shocked to learn that the price of a :30 went up by two hundred thousand dollars. Again.
That has been the Super Bowl story for the past twelve seasons. Each year’s ads seem weaker than the last; the ideas more hamfisted, the extraordinary production less inspired.
Part of the issue is the over-hyped platform; our insider knowledge perverts how we experience the broadcast. When the sports pages read like the business section and we know every player’s salary, we can’t help but judge their performance through the lens of whether they’re ‘worth ten million a year.’ It changes how we watch the game.
It’s the same with Super Bowl ads. Everyone knows thirty seconds go for three million, so it’s hard to watch any ad without questioning whether every second was really worth one hundred thousand dollars. And yet, that misses the point. The cost doesn’t relate to the creativity; it’s solely because so many of us are watching. At the same time. In today’s media world, that is incredibly unusual. And valuable.
Of course you want to shine in this most public of forums. That pressure leads to the worst kind of creative sausage making: too many CMO’s sweat their investment and look for surefire ways to top the USA Today Ad-Meter. They gin up their own version of the ‘rules’ for winning this contest: use animals, use non-verbal physical comedy, use celebrities. And so same-ness becomes systemic.
Still, two ads managed to catch my attention through their singular voices. Alec Baldwin’s paean endorsing television’s brain-rotting qualities ran blissfully counter-trend, a sort of anti-Newton Minnow, ending with the most subversive tagline of the year: “Hulu: An Evil Plot to Destroy the World. Enjoy.” I also loved the simplicity of this hugely under-rated Hyundai ad, if only for the brilliance of its concise close: “Win one award and suddenly everyone gets your name right. It’s ‘Hyundai.’ Like ‘Sunday.'” Very fresh, though it tanked in the polls.
Oh, and Danica Patrick? Fire your agent. You look classless. You know, like that thug James Harrison.