Not That You Asked…

My favorite part of the Super Bowl is not the commercials; it’s talking about the commercials on Monday with WGN’s Bill and Wendy. They’re not in advertising; they’re simply students of culture with curious, interesting minds, which means I’m never fully prepared for what they might want to discuss. They are also amazingly supportive and helpful, particularly if your voice sounds like you spent the morning gargling molasses and working on your Harrison Ford mumble…


And because it’s not really kosher to comment without sharing your own perspective for critique, here are my four top ads from Super Bowl LIII. Sure I loved Amazon’s over-the-top, super Super Bowl-y ad about Alexa’s mythical failures. I was also heartened by Google’s showcasing of data on the three most translated phrases worldwide (spoiler alert: “I love you” is #1). And who didn’t choke up at the emotional resonance of Verizon’s “The Coach Who Wouldn’t Be Here” ad honoring first responders? Still, you can only pick four in this totally arbitrary exercise I just dreamed up, so here goes:


I hate everything about Bud Light trying to conjure an issue out of corn syrup. As the category leader, these types of mean-spirited attack ads should be beneath them (did they learn nothing from the sweet Google Translate ad?). That said, the mash up ad with Game of Thrones was stupendous. It delivered what you rarely get in Super Bowl ads: genuine surprise. After an expectedly breezy dilly-dilly opening, the story makes a head snapping turn to the dark side that stopped me cold and was entirely brand appropriate for HBO.
And despite his gruesome death, I’m also certain the Bud Knight will be back in future ads with no explanation, kinda like Kenny in South Park.


This was pure fun; a playful, winning nod to the amazing personalities that have played the game over the years. How can anyone not love this? It sidestepped mountains of controversy surrounding the brand without appearing to be sidestepping controversy. Nicely done. And great to see Singletary again.


I haven’t read or watched “The Handmaiden’s Tale” but as an ad fan, recycling the Hal Riney-esque VO from the ad that got Ronald Reagan elected in 1980 was an inspired move. An amazingly simple, graceful idea…though admittedly, it probably spoke more to ad nerds than the general public.


Call me old fashioned, but I don’t believe the relentless attacks on the free press come from a place of selfless concern for the republic. Yes, both sides of the media aisle are complicit in exaggerating and framing facts to fit their frameworks; chasing clicks in a social media powered world does little to encourage centrist reporting. But the fact remains that Jamal Khashoggi was an American resident and father of three citizens yet we did nothing to hold the foreign powers who murdered him accountable. That’s weak. And wrong. And this spot does a tremendous job of speaking to a social issue in a manner relevant to the brand.

All in all, the general consensus seems to be that the crop of spots were disappointing, but I didn’t really find that anymore true this year than others. It’s nearly impossible to please all the people all the time, and this is the one few advertising platform where that’s still the job. It’s an unforgiving spotlight, and yet everyone in the ad game still wants to be there. That says something…


The Never Ending Quest for Quotability and Immortality

Whether or not you agree that a level of narcissism underlies most social media, the fact remains that pretty much anyone who goes through the effort to shape a thought into 140 characters and Tweet it does that with an implied hope that it will be deemed worthy of retweeting by someone, somewhere.  Twitter is built on sharing and so the idea that someone might validate your content fuels the participation on that very public platform.

But while it’s never been more immediately obvious. this phenomenon is not unique to social media.  Back in the pre-viral, pre-socially-networked ’90’s, we specifically recorded multiple dialogue options whenever we shot Bud Light spots with the hopes that one of those lines would–in the words of advertising creative and pundit Bob Merlotti–become a “popular culture catchphrase.”  And so phrases like “Yes I am” and “I love you man” became part of the culture, passed along on barstools and softball fields and even–in a few wonderful, halcyon moments–Letterman monologues.  Being quoted by others was and remains a very valid means of extending your brand message through a viral person-to-person network of individuals who find your idea worthy of sharing.

Bet You Know What He's Saying...

Bet You Know What He's Saying...

Which brings me to this wonderful YouTube piece a fan pieced together from the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 top movie quotes in history.  It’s ten minutes long, but the percentage of quotes even a passing movie fan will recognize is extraordinary.  These bits of movie dialogue form a shared cultural reference point for all of us.  We recognize them because at one time or another, we’ve quoted them ourselves.  The sheer volume of memorable quotes from across decades will amaze you with how a few simple nouns, verbs and adjectives can achieve immortality when uttered in just the right context.

Great brands have sharable stories–thoughts that merit passing along to others outside of paid media.  If it’s worth saying, it’s certainly worth saying memorably.  Enjoy the clip.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

EEK-Commerce! Or How The New Push for Personalized Display Ads Reveals Digital’s Hamhanded Direct Advertising Roots in the Most Totally Creepy Way…

I get it.  These days, everyone gets it.  Any time I’m on an e-commerce site, some unseen recommendation engine works to insure that I see listings that reflect my own tastes and interests, like say alternative music as opposed to polka classics.  And I appreciate that, in much the same way I appreciate when a salesman understands my taste in clothes or shoes or pinky rings.  Data enables remarkable things…

But a senior vice president of advertising for  a company called ChoiceStream recently outlined a disturbing vision for what she sees as the next frontier for her business: expanding personalization from onsite user experience out into the currently impersonal realm of offsite banner advertising.  In this piece from Behavioral InsiderCheryl Kellong sees this as logical progress and considering her title, I guess that’s her job.

“Most retailers by now have at least begun personalizing particular product recommendations and brand attributes for consumers who are on their site.  The problem is that that level of personalization is not followed through when it comes to delivering advertising messages to consumers once they’ve left the site.”

Eww.  The whole notion of customized creative and messaging feels way too Orwellian.  Can she really believe that personalized display ads will build any sort of real relationships between advertisers and consumers?  Seriously?  Because I certainly don’t. Back in the 80’s, we would placate regional beer markets through a more primitive version of this kind of personalization that we called ‘localization.’   This resulted in classic gems like “Hey Chicago, make it a Bud Light!”

Seriously, Do I Know You?

Seriously, Do I Know You?

Now a tree frog could tell you this exercise was meaningless and ultimately, these messages meant more to the local wholesalers than the consumers of the greater Chicagoland/Northwest Indiana market. Because they’re facile. And false.  I don’t doubt that gigabytes of sophisticated web data would allow a ChoiceStream powered banner ad to create a far more intimate overture to me, but the net result is the same–it’s not authentic. I know it. And resent it.

The fact that technology allows you to do something does not make it a good idea.  Frankly, I bristle when people I don’t really know approach me and adopt an attitude of false intimacy or bonhomie; why would I feel differently if your brand behaved that way?

The promise of the web remains the deeply intimate level of one to one communication it makes possible.  But just as in real life, you need to be invited in first.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79