On Monday afternoon, I gathered a cross-section of Core employees from different departments to share their thoughts on the ads from the big game. Our panel included: Senior Designer Doug Birling, Public Relations Specialist Colin Deval, Creative Director Jerry Higgins, Art Director Tom Ketterhagen, Marketing Coordinator Chelsey Orlikowski, Digital Project Manager Stacy Sandee, Marketing Specialist Saige Smith, and me.
We covered a lot in our two-hour discussion. The major trends we noticed were:
1) Brands are trying harder than ever to get an emotional response from the audience.
2) We saw big shifts in strategy from a lot of big players. For some it was simply updating an outdated scheme. For others, it was going back to basics.
3) Many brands seem to be viewing these Super Bowl spots as one cog in the wheel of a greater social strategy, rather than the main event of their advertising year. Buying a Super Bowl ad just gave them something to talk about in the social space.
Here are some of the highlights from our conversation.
IMITATION IS THE MOST SINCERE FORM OF FLATTERY
DAVE: So, what big trends stood out to you this year?
TOM: Long copy with beautiful cinematography. That was definitely “The thing.” Lots of big emotional ads.
DOUG: I noticed that too. I wonder how much of that is a reaction to the top ads from the past couple of years, like the “God Made A Farmer” and “Halftime in America” spots.
JERRY: I think with so many advertisers doing it this year, it just loses its effectiveness after a while. Jeep did one, Maserati did one, and Coke did one ….
TOM: Chrysler did it, too!
DAVE: Did anybody really nail this type of spot?
STACY: Chevrolet really did a great job with the “World Cancer Day” spot. It was really simple. I don’t even think they said anything. Maybe that’s why it stood out.
SAIGE: I thought that was really interesting, and I’d like to dig in and find out what they’re actually doing to support it.
TOM: Jeep’s spot was interesting too, from a messaging standpoint.
DAVE: It seems like strong strategy to me. Jeep has always been an adventurer’s vehicle. It’s a back-to-basics approach.
DOUG: I agree.
JERRY: Do you think the new Cherokee was the right model for them to use with that message?
DAVE: The spot would probably work a little better with a Wrangler.
DOUG: Exactly. I doubt they had much of a choice … they’re really pushing the new Cherokee. I feel like this was a good spot in a vacuum, but got a little lost among all the other long copy spots.
TOM: I think you were really on to something with your earlier point, Doug. These spots really feel like a reaction to the “God Made a Farmer” spot from last year.
TAKING RADICAL NEW DIRECTIONS
DAVE: How about overall winners?
DOUG: I actually really liked the Radioshack spot with the 80’s characters. If you watch the spot on their YouTube Channel, you can see all these other segments with the Radioshack guy helping Alf with his cell phone, or showing Jason Vorhees a 3D printer … tons of cool stuff. They’re extending the message well.
JERRY: I think it was really effective. It reminds me of the Dominoes commercials from a few years ago where they admitted their pizza wasn’t good and they needed to do better. Radioshack used the humor of the 80’s characters really well and then showed you the transformation of the store … I thought it was really well done.
DAVE: Jerry, did you have any favorites, purely as TV spots?
JERRY: I really liked that Hyundai “Dad’s Sixth Sense” spot. It was really well done. It was sort of shocking in many ways, it was funny… but in the end, the concept came together on a feature that a lot of parents can really relate to.
SAIGE: What did you guys think about the Microsoft spot?
DAVE: I liked it.
SAIGE: I really liked it too. It made me feel like part of something bigger than me.
DAVE: I love what they did with the music composition. It goes from something funky, glitchy and technological sounding to something that’s warm, uplifting and playful. It’s like the Microsoft you know and then the Microsoft you don’t.
DOUG: It becomes more human.
SAIGE: That’s interesting … it’s like at the beginning they’re technologizing humans and in the end they’re humanizing computers and technology. It’s a cool switch.
DAVE: Now Tom, you used to be part of the freelance creative group that worked on the GoDaddy ads. What did you think about their new direction this year? Are you relieved that they’ve finally stopped doing the soft porn ads?
TOM: Well they have a new CEO now, and he really wanted to take it in a new direction. A lot of folks felt their ads were pretty sexist, and that’s fair to say. But they were also incredibly successful for them. They would sell millions of URLs in just a couple of hours. Overall though, I thought the shift was a good turn of events.
COLIN: I’d be really curious to see statistically how the results of that campaign shifted in the last year or two. I think the consumer conversation kind of turned on them and people just got offended. People started saying don’t go to GoDaddy, go to these other places.
TOM: Yeah, I don’t know what they did last year. I did the storyboards for about three or four years in a row. Sometimes they would produce 10 or 12 different TV spots… shoot them and everything. Then they would submit 3 spots to the network, knowing that one version was too racy, and then the network would usually let them go with the one in the middle. But I think the shock value thing eventually caught up with them and resulted in a lot of backlash.
TOM: I liked the “Spray Tan” ad. The other one felt too staged.
DOUG: I agree. It was trying to be real, but just wasn’t.
JERRY: I felt the same way, too.
SOCIAL MEDIA IS THE NEW COMMERCIAL BREAK
DAVE: Let’s shift focus to what happened outside of the commercials. I feel like this was the year of the teaser. Everybody was either leaking their spots online, giving you a behind-the-scenes sneak peek, or running teaser spots with Schwarzenegger in a weird tracksuit. Is this the new reality in a content-driven landscape?
COLIN: I think what was interesting for me was that we knew what was going to happen before it happened. It used to be a big surprise. Now, the experience has moved off the TV and these brands are giving us opportunities to connect with them in ways that make us want to keep getting more of the story. The ones that “went social” weren’t necessarily socially engaging opportunities, but they went social in that they wanted the story to be told by the media about their spot. They went to social media to get traction for their spot, as opposed to airing it and driving back to social media for the conversation. It was sort of the antithesis of what social media typically is.
DAVE: It’s like you used to produce the commercial so people would see it and go talk about you, now it’s like you buy the spot and use the production of the commercial as a reason to talk about yourself.
SAIGE: You take the Budweiser Clydesdale spot for example. It didn’t actually run until the 4th quarter, and I saw people buzzing about it on Facebook, wondering if they missed it, even though everyone already saw it.
DOUG: Yeah, that ad is totally built for social: Puppies! Horses! Look how cute!
DAVE: While we’re on the topic of things built for social, did anybody see Newcastle’s “If we made it” campaign? They actually did all the outreach and promotion for a Super Bowl ad, without actually doing a Super Bowl ad. I think this was probably the most interesting campaign we had this year.
DOUG: Oh man, that was great.
SAIGE: So funny.
DAVE: I thought it was interesting that their media plan was basically to wedge spoofs of the other ads onto those brands respective social media feeds: GoDaddy, Pistachios, Chobani, Jaguar, etc. Brilliant placement strategy.
COLIN: So the thing that I took away from that is, yeah, it’s fun and interesting and keeps you watching, but they keep coming back to that idea that “Newcastle makes everything better” in a really clever way. It’s not just entertainment, they go in and make the other spots better and more extreme, and then it comes right back to the strategy. And it’s all in an environment where people can engage with it and share it.
SAIGE: It’s really smart.
DAVE: It’s interesting how they seized the moment. They used the early release of the teasers to put together a relevant rapid response. They did their homework, nailed the creative and delivered a brilliant postmodern campaign.
COLIN: I think this campaign is going to end up being more and more significant as time passes. I think this is just terrific, not just because it’s innovative, but because it’s so on message: Newcastle makes things better.
JERRY: It reminds me a little bit of when High Life had the 1-second Super Bowl ad a few years ago.
DAVE: Yeah, that High Life spot was so brilliant because they were really selling themselves as the blue-collar brand. The 1-second media placement went along with the strategy. I think we’re seeing the same thing here with Newcastle. The Super Bowl is a cultural phenomenon and they’re using the fact that they’re not running an ad to fuel a campaign based on countercultural satire.
JERRY: It’s engaging because you find out about something like this and now you’re an insider. I think that’s an interesting trend: it’s sort of “anti-advertising” – like you’re an exclusive insider to the brand.
DAVE: So, in the social space, who else did a stand out job yesterday?
SAIGE: I know I’m biased, but I thought Taco Bell did a great job by just empowering other people to tell the story yesterday by throwing those parties.
JERRY: I thought Coke did something interesting with their #AmericaIsBeautiful spot. Wow, did that ever go up like wildfire…
CHELSEY: It certainly got people talking about them, which is probably exactly what they what they wanted.
JERRY: Is it? Because if that was the goal, it was genius. Social media exploded. Everybody had an opinion.
DAVE: How about other winners?
CHELSEY: It’s interesting actually, if you look at how brands were using twitter, I read earlier that the ones who were posting their Super Bowl ads early were having better response rates.
DAVE: Fascinating. Did anybody follow that DiGiorno hashtag?
SAIGE: YES! #DiGiorNOYOUDIDNT
COLIN: This is great. Look at this “Twenty Minutes” tweet. They’re promoting their brand in a way that’s both genuinely entertaining and relevant to the moment. It’s totally opening the door for their followers to engage and participate.
CHELSEY: Speaking of twitter, we have a request for our top Super Bowl spots. Is anybody feeling brave?
SAIGE: I have to say, I think that Newcastle campaign takes the cake.
DAVE: Yeah. I have to agree with Colin’s earlier comment, if anything significant happened in Super Bowl Advertising this year, it was Newcastle’s non-Super Bowl commercial campaign. I mean there were some good spots in the actual game, but that’s the one thing that made me step back and say, “Wow, this is really, really smart.” I wondered if anyone would do something like this after the whole Guinness campaign with the Olympians the other week … but I was expecting it to happen next year. This one was way ahead of the curve.
JERRY: How about the actual broadcast spots … maybe a top five?
DAVE: Time to break out the ballots.
So without further adieu, here are our top 5 2014 Super Bowl spots, in no particular order:
Chevrolet: World Cancer Day
Everybody was doing the big emotional spots. But this one really made us feel something.
Hyundai: Dad’s Sixth Sense
Funny, relatable and high concept. Just solid advertising.
Emotionally engaging and wonderfully executed from the music to the visuals.
Simple, but clever spot that kept us laughing.
Radioshack: The 80’s Called
Great spot. Cool new positioning. Outstanding extension online.
Cheerios just missed the cut, as did Bud Light’s #upforwhatever campaign, which we seemed to agree was the most “Now” Super Bowl campaign of 2014 (Teasers! Social components! Immediacy! Surprise celebrities! A popular band!).
But the real winner, in our mind, was the ingenious “If We Made It” campaign from Newcastle. The creative titans at Droga5 have an incredible talent for taking a 360-degree view of a problem and then figuring out a way to outsmart everybody. Without an actual spot in the big game, they launched a big campaign for Newcastle that disproves the old adage: you can’t win if you don’t play.
What do you think? Do you have a top 5 of your own? Share you list with us in the comments section below.
Core Creative is a branding agency that specializes in telling the life-changing stories for mid-market healthcare systems and the emerging med-tech world.