Monday, June 25, 2018
  • Monday, Feb. 8, 2016
Agency Creatives Assess This Year's Crop Of Super Bowl Commercials
Jim Elliott, global chief creative officer, Arnold Worldwide
Monday morning quarterbacking provides reflections on ads that hit, missed, creative and strategic trends
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The Denver Broncos’ win over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 was a tight game most of the way, holding viewer interest and rife with storylines including the contest likely representing the swan song of future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.

However, it’s debatable as to whether this year’s lineup of Super Bowl commercials lived up to the game. To get a better handle on this, SHOOT sought feedback from several agency creatives. As in years past these respondents are with agencies that did NOT have any spots on yesterday’s Super Bowl, meaning they had no particular axe to grind when sharing their considerable expertise on what ads hit and missed on Super Sunday. They also provided their takes on creative and/or strategic ad themes or trends, if any, that emerged during the Big Game.

Here are their assessments which amount to informed Monday morning ad quarterbacking:

Matt Bijarchi, CEO, blend
In terms of which commercials he liked most, Bijarchi shared, “For me, it was Bud with Helen Mirren, Mini, Heinz and Bai.  I thought the Helen Mirren Bud ad was great.  Difficult messages are best delivered by Helen Mirren. I also thought the Bai spot was really funny--especially with the horse doing gangham style.  Mini was just fresh and smart and nicely targeted while still feeling broad and big brand.  Heinz was just impossible to resist.  Just makes you feel good watching it."

On the flip side, Bijarchi related, “Hyundai’s spot in the first quarter just missed the mark for me completely.  I thought it was a feel good GE spot about extending human life. Nope.  Just brand loyalists sporting surgically implanted Hyundai branded heart monitors!  I thought Hyundai missed the mark throughout the game.”

Bijarchi added, “I like the use of high brow celebrity across all the brand categories.  Anthony Hopkins for was hilarious.  It was vintage Hopkins.  “There’s nothing to sell.  It’s free.”  Who didn’t love Helen Mirren admonishing us not to drink and drive?  William Dafoe as a hungry Marilyn Monroe and Eugene Levy at the end--Snickers did not disappoint."

Jim Elliott, Global Chief Creative Officer, Arnold Worldwide
“I gotta say that, overall, I wasn’t blown out of my recliner by the lot,” said Elliott. “Broadly speaking, the ad show fell flat for me this year. Usually there are a few that command a good amount of post-game conversation, and I just didn’t feel it this year. That said, I think the automotive industry did a good job of toying with our emotions. I thought Audi’s “Commander” was a nice story, beautifully told, with culturally poignant music in Bowie’s “Starman.” Jeep’s “Portraits” was a nice change of pace and format, but it would have been a lot more powerful had they held the car shot until the end, rather than showing it throughout. And on a pure irrational, “whatever” weirdness level, I gotta give it to Kia’s “Walken Closet.” Oh, and my wife thinks Ryan Reynolds is cute, so I’m throwing Hyundai’s “Ryanville” in just for her. (Really, honey? That Ryan? Gosling maybe, but Reynolds?) Others: I thought the writing was sharp in Amazon Echo’s “Baldwin Bowl” and the idea itself behind the NFL’s “Super Bowl Babies Choir” was pretty cool, though the song/spot dragged on too long. And you gotta give it to Mountain Dew’s “Puppymonkeybaby” for shamelessly going for the ad-gag jugular, along with Doritos’ “Ultrasound” for knowing how to game the Ad Meter with a calculated blend of shock, awe and vulgarity. I give major props to brands that understand this venue is about entertainment – brands that try and take risks, eschew decorum and hold nothing back on the day. Like ’em or not, those two certainly aimed for that.”

As for commercials that missed the mark, Elliott noted, “Well, with Valeant’s ‘Xifaxan’ and ‘Jublia’ and OIC’s ‘Envy,’ the pharma sector certainly missed a chance to transcend itself, though ‘Jublia’ certainly tried. A mix of regulation, compliance and familiar gimmicks seemed to drag it all down in the usual ways. Persil’s ‘The Professional’ was completely unremarkable. Schick’s ‘Robot Razors’ was typical CG wank, while Fitbit’s ‘Dualities’ was typical too-cool-for-school-athlete-montage-yadda-yadda. Michelob ULTRA’s ‘Breathe’ took itself way too seriously with its attempt to be the athletic apparel of beer ads. As a candy bar ad, Butterfinger’s ‘Bolder than Bold’ was simply obnoxious when it could have been wildly daring and entertaining. SoFi’s ‘Great Loans,’ Quicken Loans’ ‘What We Were Thinking’ and SunTrust’s ‘Hold Your Breath’ were way too corporate-dry and tame. I guess anything finance related is no laughing matter these days (unless you’re TurboTax, with Anthony Hopkins as your unapologetic shill). And Dollar Shave Club’s ‘Zeke’ really missed a chance to maintain the brand’s challenger swagger and, instead, tried unsuccessfully to fit into the occasion."

On the trend or theme front, Elliott observed, “Overall, it seemed like this year saw a return to humor as the prevailing vibe. And that humor tended towards self-deprecation: acknowledging the fact that the commercial was on the Super Bowl and, in a way, taking the piss out of itself for being there. And aside from the Squarespace online ‘Real Talk’ show with comedians Key & Peele (which I found pretty funny as an exercise in marathon improv skills), it didn’t seem like as many brands were pushing to second screen content as in the last couple of years. I’d also say this year was particularly celebrity-filled--a tour de force of expensive talent, in fact--more so than in previous years, it seemed. Which means brands have robust budgets to spend, and high-profile celebs don’t consider selling on the Super Bowl selling-out. It also probably means that brands are wanting to tap celebs’ enormous social media followings."

Judge Graham, Chief Digital Officer, EVP, ansira
“I loved all the Hyundai spots,” assessed Graham. “All the spots were very entertaining and all tied directly back to the technology benefits of Hyundai.  Very well done.”

In terms of what missed the mark, Graham cited, “Squarespace--hard to follow...they tried too hard and did not do a good job selling Squarespace. I feel users who were not aware of Squarespace are still not aware of Squarespace after this ad.

“No real trends, besides every spot was trying to be as witty as possible,” continued Graham. “I think Hyundai did the best strategic job by having four completely different spots all circling back to different technology benefits that come with owning a Hyundai. They to me were the clear brand Super Bowl winners."

Gary Koepke, Chief Creative Officer, SapientNitro
“The Super Bowl was weak for advertising this year,” assessed Koepke. “I would say that the best of the lot would be the following:

“Helen Mirren for Budweiser and drinking responsibly was well written and produced. Finally, someone said what so many have wanted to say about irresponsible people drinking and driving. I also thought that the Acura spot with David Lee Roth’s singing voice was well executed as well as the Mini ads. Mini although wearing its strategy in its execution was, at least, a fresh approach to auto industry ads. The Amazon Echo was the most sophisticated humor and well produced of the bunch. When it all comes down to it, the brands that sold themselves the best at the Super Bowl were Lady Gaga and her amazing National Anthem and Beyoncé who not only stole the half-time show away from Coldplay along with Bruno Mars but her world tour ad that followed the halftime show was elegant and mesmerizing. She won owning the halftime."

On the flip side, commented Koepke, “Many commercials missed the mark by borrowing from past successes of gags and schtick of certain brands that should not apply to any brand. SoFi missed big by ‘not being great’, when you want to express greatness one needs to execute greatness, and they came up short as did Toyota and Honda and their over produced story lines that in the end had no apparent interest to anyone. The Honda ‘sheep’ spot left me wondering why? I was confused by Audi as well; I thought I was watching a spot for Alzheimer’s sickness that turned into an ill-timed use of a song by the recently passed David Bowie. Many of the ads felt amateur-ish at best and overwrought with focus group feedback. Speaking of such, the T-Mobile ad with Drake was humorous to me in that it spoke to what I feel was the problem with the ads in the Super Bowl this year--that the focus groups and strategy were interfering with the story and execution of potentially great adverts. So it was funny when they ask Drake to add all of these pitch lines to his song and he is just saying, 'genius idea.'

“I guess at $5 million for a :30-second, I would be nervous as well, but the craft of making good commercials is not always best left up to a democracy or focus groups.

“The trends and themes that were evident was comedy. All I have to say on this is Puppy, Monkey, Baby. Go figure.”

Chris Lange, Founder/Managing Creative Director, mono
Identifying commercials he thought worked best, Lange cited, “The spot from Kia featuring Christopher Walken was executed brilliantly. The strategy itself, positioning a mid-size sedan as more exciting than it’s bland competition is nothing new, but Walken’s dramatic delivery of the analogy of beige sock vs. socks with pizazz was unexpectedly entertaining.

“The commercial for Death Wish Coffee was a refreshing twist that captured my attention. This was a smart move by Intuit to meaningfully demonstrate its commitment to small businesses by turning the spotlight over to this small, independent purveyor of strong coffee. It would be great to see more brands put their money where their mouth is.”

On the other end of the spectrum, work that missed the mark, according to Lange, included, “The campaign themed Bud Light commercial featuring Amy Schumer and Seth Rogan effectively aligned the country’s best selling beer with Millennials’ most detested topic, politics. Thinly veiled penis jokes aside, even these two talented comedians can’t turn this concept into something that can reverse the declining sales of Bud Light.”

Relative to trends or themes, Lange said, “Overall, there seemed to be a mundaneness to this year’s collection of spots. Nothing was over the top funny or emotionally moving. There seems to be a safer middle ground being established in what was once an all-out, gloves off creative battle ground. Celebrities, animals and familiar concepts were all too prevalent. I found myself wanting more original ideas.”

Blaine Lifton, founder/CEO/creative director, Hyperbolous
“I thought the “Super Bowl Babies” spot for the NFL was a wonderful surprise — a simple concept delivered in a charming way,” noted Lifton. “I liked the Audi R8 commercial with the former astronaut because it delivered an emotional message about sheet metal. Wonderful editing and production values in that spot. Humorous commercials sometimes have trouble delivering a product benefit but I thought the Amazon spots with Alec Baldwin did a decent job of threading the needle, as did (oddly enough) the Honda commercial for the truck bed audio that was mimicked by the singing flock of sheep. For sheer humor, the Doritos “Ultrasound” commercial was a laugh-out-loud spot.”

On the flip side, “For me, the spot for with Jeff Goldblum was a giant waste of money--on the production and the air time. I have no idea what I was supposed to take away from the spot other than confusion. Sadly, there was nothing compelling about the message in the spot for LG featuring Liam Neeson. It looked nice and the acting was fine, but it didn’t work for me as advertising. The point about OLED being a superior TV viewing experience seemed a bit muddled. The two commercials that left me speechless were “puppymonkeybaby” for Kickstart and the alien museum for Avocados from Mexico. In both cases, the connection to the product was quite distant.”

As for trends or themes, “Other than humor (which is more of a tradition than a trend), there seems to be a greater effort towards depicting ‘real people,’ or just plain old diversity. It’s refreshing to see people in commercials that look like the ones we see in real life. There was also a lot of powerful editing and sound design in this year’s crop. It seems that rock/metal music was a bit of a creative trend as well. So was the use of celebrities. Strategically, some of the car commercials used a big production or a concept to highlight a product feature. This was the case with the Hyundai spot featuring Kevin Hart (Car Finder Watch), the Honda spot with the singing sheep (Truck Bed Audio), the Toyota spot with the rock-singing driver (Automatic Braking) and the Hyundai spot with Ryan Reynolds in all of the males roles (again, Automatic Braking)."

Paul Renner, Executive Creative Director, KBS New York
Renner cited four commercials that resonated for him on Super Sunday:

“Snickers ‘7 Year Itch’--A great insight backed by perfect casting and execution. Again! I will never get tired of this campaign.

“No More/domestic violence PSA--With the mayhem of big budget, celebrity riddled Super Bowl productions filling our brain one after another, this simple execution stood out and demanded everyone’s attention for this serious issue of domestic violence and sexual assault. This spot really grabbed my Super Bowl party guests when it came on.

“Budweiser ‘Not Backing Down’--Badass Clydesdales? No puppies? Hell yea! Grab me a Bud. While the film looked amazing, edit-wise it felt a little familiar and like a mood film for testing (I bet those test scores were through the roof). Bud has a little more swagger in its step this morning.

“Audi ‘The Commander---This is a perfectly executed piece of filmmaking. The simple story, the gorgeous film and David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ make this an instant classic. Just like a great defense wins championships, a great story wins hearts."

As for which commercials missed their mark and how were they lacking, Renner listed:

“Budweiser ‘Simply Put’--A powerful way to talk about such a serious issue on one of the biggest beer consuming days of the year. Be blunt and to the point. Drinking and driving is dumb. It’s interesting to see how it goes over with the party crowd. I wished it ran earlier in the game to maybe deter people from drinking too much. By the time it ran, party goers were probably already crocked. Hopefully it resulted in people staying overnight instead of driving home drunk. Super Slumber Parties. Bud might be on to something.

“Michelob Ultra--The beer category is a sea of sameness. So I applaud Michelob Ultra for trying to own a totally different segment in athletes. But I just don’t think this will connect with the Super Bowl audience as we all stuff our pie holes with snacks and real beer.

“Axe--Honey, what happened to my Axe? I left it right here by the sink. The spot was well written and executed, but not sure celebrating male individuality is the best strategy change for Axe to connect with the big game crowd.”

Regarding creative and/or strategic trends or themes, Renner related, “Maybe since it was Super Bowl 50,  the game seemed to bring out nostalgia in most brands this year. Classic rock songs (Bowie, Van Halen and Freddy Mercury must have been turning over in his grave last night with two Queen songs on two different car brands), classic movies (The Seven Year Itch) and shows (The Jeffersons), legendary movie stars (Liam Neeson, Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, Alec Baldwin, Arnold) and athletes (Odel Beckham Jr., Dan Marino) filled the commercial breaks. But all in all, it was kinda like the Queen-celebrity-talking animal-puppymonkeybaby-car show last night.

Online pre-game exposure
Today’s norm is clearly to have commercials previewed online prior to the Big Game. Several of our respondents shared their takes on this prevalent practice.

Bijarchi of blend shared, “I’m torn on this.  I love seeing them in advance, but I also like to be totally immersed in the game and commercial breaks and that requires seeing spots I haven’t seen before.  I think that brands don’t have much of a choice--they have to share ahead of time.  They can air slightly different versions in the actual game itself and they can also use Easter eggs more often.  Anything to reward the consumer for watching in real time.

Arnold Worldwide's Elliott related, “To me, the Super Bowl is where suspense and surprise should live--both in terms of the game itself and the commercials throughout. It is a beautiful few hours that should unfold live and in all its unpredictable, unrehearsed glory, in every way, start to finish. That’s the magic of the event. So I’m more for debuting the ads during the game. However, I do like the idea of teasing the spots with additional content in advance, which, when done well, only adds to the suspense leading up to the game.”

Lange of mono said, “So much of the value of the Super Bowl comes from the press coverage of the commercials themselves. While debuting a spot before it airs takes away some of the initial suspense, brands are foolish not to capitalize on the additional exposure that comes from the hype leading up to the game.”

Hyperbolous’ Lifton observed, “It’s always great to see the commercials in advance, particularly if you have an interest in advertising. Plus you don’t have to stay glued to the game every minute (sometimes nature calls or a beverage has to be refreshed). That said, I think the best strategy is to create an online teaser for your big game spot. I thought TurboTax did this brilliantly with their online video featuring James Lipton. It was a very entertaining and watchable teaser, yet it didn’t spoil the commercial they decided to actually run during the game.”

KBS’ Renner commented, “I get why advertisers want to pre-release their spots early: They could get millions of more eyeballs on their product by doing so. I think most of those eyeballs may just be advertising industry professionals’ eyeballs, but more eyeballs just the same.” Renner noted that his Super Bowl gathering of neighbors ranged from teachers to bankers to sign makers--and that none of them watched the spots earlier in the week.

Embedded Video Credits: 

Client NO MORE Agency Grey New York Andreas Dahlqvist, chief creative officer; Leo Savage, Jeff Stamp, executive creative directors; Joe Mongognia, group creative director; Evan Benedetto, creative director. Production Brand New School Jonathan Notaro, executive creative director; Devin Brook, managing partner; Jeffrey Welk, art director; Angela Bac, designer; Jim Forster, lead 2D animator; Julie Shevach, head of production. Johnna MacArthur, producer. Audio One Thousand Birds Andrew Tracy, sound design/mix; Calvin Pia, sound design.

Embedded Video Credits: 

Client Snickers Agency BBDO New York David Lubars, chief creative officer, worldwide; Greg Hahn, chief creative officer, NY; Gianfranco Arena, Peter Kain, executive creative directors; Scott Mahoney, Dan Oliva, creative directors; David Rolfe, director of integrated production; Amy Wertheimer, group executive producer; Alex Gianni, executive producer; Melissa Chester, executive music producer. Celebrity Talent and IP Rights Acquisition Brad Sheehan, The Marketing Arm Production O Positive Jim Jenkins, director; Ralph Laucella, Marc Grill, exec producers; Mauro Fiore, DP; Jason Edmonds, production designer. Editorial Mackcut Ian MacKenzie, editor; Sasha Hirschfeld, exec producer; Sabina-Elease Utley, producer; Mike Leuis, assistant editor; Sam Shaffer, sound design.  Audio Post Heard City Keith Reynaud, mixer; Gloria Pitagorsky, exec producer. Music Storefront Music Adam Elk, John “Scrapper” Sneider, arrangers; Darien Scott Shulman, Doug Katsaros, composers; Alex Fulton, producer. Post/VFX The Mill New York Adam Isidore, exec producer; Michael Scarcella, producer; Nathan Kane, VFX supervisor/2D lead artist; Heather Kennedy, 2D artist; Aran Quinn, designer; Fergus McCall, colorist.

Toolbox: Flame, Nuke, After Effects, Baselight

Embedded Video Credits: 

Client Kia Agency David&Goliath David Angelo, founder/chairman; Colin Jeffery, chief creative officer; Mike Geiger, chief digital officer; John O’Hea, Brandon Davis, creative directors; Shaun Wright, Mike Cornell, art directors; Joe Shaner, Andy Sciamanna, copywriters; Bernice Chao, Matt Koulermos, sr. digital art directors; Katherine Ahn, sr. designer; Frannie Rhodes, director of creative services; Kemit Ray, sr. project manager; Paul Albanese, director of broadcast production; Christopher Coleman, executive broadcast producer; Andrea Mariash, director of art production; Justine Kleeman, digital producer. Production MJZ Matthijs Van Heijningen, director; Joost van Gelder, DP; Eriks Krumins. sr. exec  producer; Donald Taylor, producer. Editorial Cut+Run Steve Gandolfi, editor; Sean Fazende, assistant editor; Michelle Eskin, managing director; Carr Schilling, exec producer; Amburr Farls, head of production. VFX/Post MPC Paul O’Shea, VFX creative director; Karen Anderson, VFX sr. producer; Mark Holden, VFX sr. compositor; Ricky Gausis, colorist; Meghan Lang, color exec producer; Rebecca Boorsma, color associate producer. Music & Sound Design stimmüng Cyrus Melchor, composer; Gus Koven, sound designer; Rory Doggett, creative director; Ceinwyn Clark, exec producer. Audio Post Margarita Mix Nathan Dubin, sound engineer.