Superbowl Commercials, Viewer Disappointment, and the Widening Gulf Between Broadcast and Narrowcast

We stand smack in the thick of big-event live television viewing season; first the Golden Globes  and the NFL Championship games three weeks ago, then the Grammy’s last week, the Super Bowl yesterday and this Friday, the Winter Olympics start. The unique thing about all of these events is that people watch them live–they are widely considered DVR proof.Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

Huge, engaged viewing audiences? That is great news for advertisers. But judging by last night’s commercials, creating spots for big, broadcast audiences really trips up advertisers and agencies.

Make no mistake–as thrilling as it is to know your work will be seen by hundreds of millions of people, the downside is all those eyeballs and all that money create outsized pressure. And so you get tripe like the annual slapstick of the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl crowdsourcing… The universally acceptable ‘salute the troops’ platitudes… And puppies–lots and lots of puppies.

The hard reality is that communication has evolved since Apple’s “1984” ushered in the modern era of Super Bowl commercial spectacle. We tweet and post and text while we watch, breaking down a massive single audience into a collective of nearly infinite subgroups, each with their own values and language and points of view. Freed from the dominance of three networks and a primetime schedule, our daily media consumption happens in the narrowcasts we choose: the news with the political spin we favor, the blogs that speak to our personal interests, the entertainment feeds that match our senses of humor. Oh and whatever we deem worth collecting on our DVR’s.

Given this context, the challenge of sweeping up a massively diverse audience with a single, surprising idea is extremely daunting. And increasingly unlikely.

If you are too subtle, like Chevy’s incredibly quiet ‘World Cancer Day’ spot was, people don’t even notice.

If you come too late in a bad game, like Budweiser’s “Puppy Love” did in fourth quarter garbage time, you get ignored (of course, thanks to pre-release, it had already earned over 36 million views before kickoff).

And if you, like an embarrassing handful of advertisers, decide to promote a ‘banned’ version of your work online, you’re condemned to failure; in a platform as awash with readily available pornography as the internet, the idea of seeking out ‘racy’ ad content is more than a little dopey.

The state of modern communication demands re-thinking beyond “spend big and pray.” At the very least, it requires a remarkable idea (Radio Shack outing itself, T-Mobile with a truly groundbreaking offer, the post-game ad for esurance with its big giveaway and hashtag activation).

Either that or advertisers have to enlist the single creative resource that has consistently delivered wildly-popular, broad appeal creative…

Pixar. Those people are crazy good at broad populism.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

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