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 NFL, The Viral Audience, and Rapping White Guys

The NFL is big, big business. Two weeks ago, Forbes pegged the average value of its 32 teams at $1.17 billion dollars and its operating margin at 15.4%. Those are huge numbers, reflecting just how pervasive professional football has become in our culture.

At the same time, the best way to make branded content shareworthy is through specificity–engaging a select interest group with their own special language, symbols and values. Where broadcast television pitches brands to the largest possible audience, successful brand content intentionally seeks out smaller, more defined groups that are more likely to self-select, share and act. In this way, great content works like a heat-seeking missile, earning forwards only among a brand’s most relevant and valuable audience.

So how do you make shareworthy content for a subject with a very broad target? In DirecTV’s case, you make a three minute commercial with rapping white guys. Celebrity white guys. The family Manning…

Rapping white guys has become a genre onto itself; it’s been done well and done painfully. But it’s now a comedy vein that’s been over-mined . As great as Peyton Manning’s comic timing is–and I honestly believe it is great–even he can’t lift this one from humorous to hilarious. Certainly this clip is well written. It has some lovely moments and the wigs are funny–although Archie’s seems oddly reminiscent of Brian Jones. Yet in the final tally, it doesn’t really make the shareworthy bar for any reason other than the Manning family’s football celebrity. Moreover, it features classic broadcast product copy at both the beginning and the end–actions that would alienate an online audience were it not for the general likability of its stars and topic.

Given the NFL’s enormous influence and the success of viral seeding, this clip has and will get plenty of views. With pre-season anticipation and excitement this high, anything solid that fills our demand for football will do the trick.

This piece is definitely solid, if not overly original. Then again, this is brand content as broadcast. So in this instance, that’s probably enough.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

The Ever Observant Alan Spindle Posted This During Yesterday’s Broadcast

NFLHe captioned this Facebook update with: “I must say, this Houston Texans logo is quite groundbreaking. I have no idea what inspired them to create such an out-there design.”

Sometimes social media’s biggest reward is a smart observation or witty bon mot. You know, just like you might overhear in some other social situation.

Because engagement strategies notwithstanding, with Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, Instagram, it’s always social first.

Good one Alan…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson


This Monday Night’s Football: Are You Ready For Some Backstory?

Since it’s debut in 1970 on ABC, Monday Night Football has been a storied franchise. With nearly forty years of TV ratings success, that would be inevitable.  Week after week, the nation tunes in to watch the NFL in it’s most deluxe packaging–extra cameras, ever more innovative graphics, and a palpably higher level of excitement that only a two team national telecast spotlight can provide.

scaled_jpg.phpTonight, the Green Bay Packers visit the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field.  But that’s not the story. The story is Brett Favre vs. the Green Bay Packers.  People want to watch the perennial-retiree face the team he lead for sixteen seasons and by extension, the state that welcomed him deep into their hearts.  Green Bay and Favre were a storybook relationship that ended with feelings of betrayal and recrimination.  And it’s an awkward situation made worse because Favre ended up with Minnesota; these are two northern states with a deep-seated professional antitpathy.  Tonight’s game has so much interest, officials pushed back the Tigers-Twins one game baseball playoff game at the Metrodome til Tuesday.

I like the NFL, but I’m much more of a Saturday football fan.  Still, like every other person on the planet, I can’t resist a good story.  And tonight’s game features a terrific one, one that I’ll still care about even after every analyst and promo spot hammers it into overkill.  Stories matter, and the NFL brand seems to have an intuitive sense of that.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

It’s Super Bowl™ Weekend. And Yes, I’m Using That Term Without Permission.

Aaron Draplin's Broad-Shouldered Super Bowl Logo Redesign

Aaron Draplin's Broad-Shouldered Super Bowl Logo Redesign Idea

As the national conversation builds to a fever pitch over this Sunday’s championship NFL game, maybe you’ve noticed this little oddity in radio and television commercials: the stilted, decidedly-awkward manner in which advertisers must refer–or more precisely NOT refer–to the Super Bowl as “the Super Bowl.”  Because unless you are all paid up as an officially-licensed affiliate, you can not utter those two words in any commercial capacity. That’s why so many radio ads refer to this weekend’s contest as “the Big game.”  Get a TV for “the Big Game,” order in some pizzas for “the Big Game,”  drink yourself into a puddle during “the Big Game.”

I guess it makes sense.  And I guess I understand.  The NFL trademarked the phrase, but given how the general public’s television viewership built this league and our tax dollars underwrote their stadiums, this kind of verbal parsing seems a bit precious.  

At this point, those two words should be public domain.  This Sunday is all but a national Holiday (and would be if the NFL played more games on Mondays).  “Super Bowl” has entered the native lexicon–legislating this phrase into private property doesn’t make sense.  If someone mentions the Super Bowl as an ideal occasion to enjoy some product, that seems like free publicity.

And goodness knows this event could use a bit of hype…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79