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Battle of the 2017 Super Bowl Ad Reviewers

Battle of the 2017 Super Bowl Ad Reviewers

Last year The Armchair MBA presciently foreshadowed our country’s potential slide into anarchy – – and we take no pride in noting that we appear to have been right.

Be that as it may, this glass case of emotion that we call the US must go on, and of course the Super Bowl is still the tentpole of our national identity.  So in the spirit of national unity, we herewith put forward our ratings and reviewer compilation of the advertising from this year’s Brady Bowl (or as some might call it from the Falcons’ perspective, the choking chickens Bowl).

super-bowl-montage
And as a perfect reflection of society, there is very little agreement among the dozen major reviewers we looked at.  This year we’ve added a feature of averaging the critics’ scores so you can see how YOU stack up.

At the bottom of this post is a chart comparing major reviewers for all the spots run during last Sunday’s game.
NOTE: ads are grouped by my rankings of green/yellow/pink and are now ranked by the reviewers’ average within those groups.

A few observations (all Super Bowl ads can be found here):

NO ANIMALS THIS YEAR!  Unless you count the dead (Spuds McKenzie), the 2-dimensional (Yellow Tail wine) or the sidelined (Rob Gronkowski).  I miss these furry diversions and was hoping the lack of reliance on a lowest common denominator would indicate lots of great spots.  Alas, twas not to be.
But there were some themes at work…

itsa10

High concept does not necessarily make for great advertising. The Armchair MBA is not a fan of co-opting a high-minded theme just to make a statement- often comes off as stilted or forced.
– Audi, 84 Lumber, Budweiser, AirBnB, and It’s A 10 Haircare (I know – who, right?) all went for the high road by tying into the topical (often sideswiping the President, the Real DJT).
Unfortunately, for this image-driven work to be effective it needs to create a strong link to the brand among a group that might be interested in the product (this is advertising, after all).
– It’s A 10 Haircare is a new brand and while their ad was cheeky and visually interesting, they could have done more to tell us why we should care.
– 84 Lumber is a regional competitor to Home Depot and Lowe’s and ran an emotional immigration spot that, partially due to network censorship, required a visit online to see the conclusion.  The average demo for this vertical is male/50, not necessarily a strong bet for following up online or changing their go-to building supply outlet without a reason. It did generate brand awareness, though.
– Audi made a passionate pitch for gender pay equality (with no apparent reason given for why this is related to Audi), then undermined the message by putting Dad (not Mom) in the hot sports car.

walken-timberlake

You simply cannot go wrong with Christopher Walken. He did it for Kia Motors last year, and this year changed sponsors to team with a deadpan/mute Justin Timberlake for one of the best-received spots – for Bai Antioxidant Drink.

mccarthymalkovich

Actually, celebrities were out in force, probably to the greatest degree ever, and generally to good effect.  In this high-stakes, high-octane environment, celebrities provide one of the only reliable ways to guarantee eyeballs. In addition to Walken:
John Malkovich’s arresting visage gave Squarespace breakthrough
– The Coen Brothers directed a Mercedes-Benz spot featuring Peter Fonda
– Kia traded Walken for Melissa McCarthy (and a few draft picks) for a generally entertaining spot for the new Niro
– A newly nerdly Justin Bieber drew attention for T-Mobile in his own polarizing way
– Other celebrities included Terry Bradshaw (Tide), Cam Newton (Buick), Kristen Schaal (T-Mobile), Lady Gaga (Tiffany), Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg (T-Mobile), LeBron James (Sprite), Morgan Freeman (Turkish Airlines), Tom Brady, even Bill Nye the Science Guy!  And the list goes on (including a slew of very amusing high school yearbook celebrity photos in a Honda spot).

honda-yearbook

Generally well-accepted spots had breakthrough and were straightforward (usually with some humor)
Honda, Bud, Avocados from Mexico, Skittles, Ford made this list.  Inexplicably so did a Bud Light spot featuring an exhumed Spuds McKenzie.

bieber

There were also some universally unloved spots, mostly due to lack of wit, relevance or originality.
American Petroleum Institute (paaaarrrty!) headed this list, followed closely by the generic twins Fiji Water and LIFEWTR, Yellow Tail Wine, KFC and Michelin.

Finally, our annual check-in with Weather Tech – for this, their 4th effort, they did kick back and have a beer (not while driving) and the result was a looser, more fun spot.  Well done.

This table compares 12 major reviewers, who clearly do not all see things the same.  (did you really expect Vogue to feel the same as the WSJ?) 
Simply click once or twice on the table
 to make it readable.

superbowl2017

Footnotes:
My evaluations are generally based on the Kellogg ADPLAN approachAttention
–Distinction
– Positioning
– Linkage
– Amplification
– Net Equity – – along with some personal gut feel.

Reviewers and links to reviews (if you were involved in any of the reviews and feel I got something wrong, let me know):
Kellogg Graduate School of Business – Northwestern University
Adweek
Ad Age
Bleacher Report
Chicago Tribune
Entertainment Weekly
The Guardian
New Yorker
USA Today
Variety
Vogue
Washington Post
Wall Street Journal

That’s it for this year – – as always, with The Armchair MBA, you get what you pay for!

Plus, I want that new Alfa Romeo.

See you next year!

First Ever Battle of the Super Bowl Ad Reviewers!

Ever wonder why you never totally agree with Super Bowl ad reviewers?
Well, other than for a few good ads* they mostly don’t agree with each other either.  

Doberhuahua

The Armchair MBA has selflessly taken on what is certainly is a vast unfulfilled need and compiled a comparison of 9 disparate SB ad reviewers just for you!   Wow!   Almost as much fun as being a Broncos fan!

Just click on the chart below to see that while there is some consistency, in the end advertising is still an art and everyone’s got their opinion.  (You can click on the chart twice to make it even more readable.)

(*Generally universally liked:  Budweiser, Cheerios, Radio Shack, Microsoft – – although I’m not in the bag for all of them)

The reviewers:

Kellogg Graduate School of Management
Advertising Age
Wall Street Journal
Chicago Tribune
Entertainment Weekly
Variety
Slate
Yahoo Sports
New Yorker

I’ve provided my own opinion, to make it an even 10.

SuperBowl2014

Green/Yellow/Red ratings were my best interpretations of what the reviewers meant.   White means they didn’t review this particular ad –  – which in itself tells you something.  They are grouped based on my ratings, on an alphabetical basis by brand within ranking.

My evaluations are generally based on the Kellogg ADPLAN approach, which is becoming the standard:
Attention
Distinction
Positioning
Linkage
Amplification
Net Equity

However, I also incorporated a liberal dose of my visceral reaction during the game.

Quick commentary:  The Super Bowl is a unique marketing environment where stakes and expectations are high, and the bar for breakthrough is considerably higher than any other day.
Advertisers use the SB for much more than the eyeballs – – as a way to make a corporate statement, introduce something new, reposition themselves, set up other promotional activity, and many other things.
So these spots can be seen through many different lenses, which is why reviews often differ dramatically.

Having said that, sometimes an ad just sucks any way you look at it.

Not included in my ratings (but increasingly important) is how long of a tail these ads might have – – what their viral reach, impact and duration becomes.

Maybe next year.

Top 10 2013 Mostly Accidental Marketing Lessons

This is the time of year where instead of being productive, people put together lists.
So here’s my look back at 10 events in 2013 that provided (purposely or not) great learning.

2013  Lesson 1:  Measure Twice, Cut Once.  Make that: Measure three times.
Healthcare.gov rollout
(honorable mention for Chicagoans:  Ventra public transit card rollout).
– So many lessons here.  It’s the lesson that keeps on giving.  Reminder: even if your brand isn’t one-sixth of the national economy you probably still want to test a new e-commerce site.  Test, test and then test again.

jon_stewart_obamacare

2013 Lesson 2: A brand CAN do a 180 in a Single Day 
Miley Cyrus
– And in this case it took about 5 minutes.  The recipe: take one tweens’ idol named Hannah Montana.  Remove most clothes, liberally add makeup, a big foam finger and nationally televised awards show; mix aggressively using the body and add a large dash of idiot grin.  Voila!  You’ve now transformed from Hannah Montana into what looks like the love child of Gene Simmons and Dita Von Teese, without the charm.
The winner:  probably Miley and her handlers, but hard to know yet.  The clear losers: Millions of formerly innocent Hannah fans.  Also, the general cultural level in the US.
So yes, it is possible to completely change your brand’s image in a day.  But it might involve twerking.

Hannah to Miley

2013 Lesson 3: There is such a thing as too much transparency
Lululemon
– Due to quality control snafus, Lululemon’s yoga pants delivered a little more than was supposed to meet the eye.  The media, always a model of sober restraint when it comes to high-minded topics like see-through clothing, did its best to spin this story as salaciously as possible.  Ultimately it went viral, resulting in loss of gobs of market value, as well as Lulu’s top management. At least they kept their sense of humor about it. (actually, there is a real lesson here: at the end of the day it’s about the product – and you can never take your eye off the ball).

Lululemon Store Window

2013 Lesson 4:  The early bird still catches the worm – – if he tweets about it.
Oreo cookies
– We now live in an era that enables, and requires, real-time marketing.  As has been reviewed ad nauseam (guilty!), Oreo slam-dunked it with a timely tweet during the Super Bowl blackout.  Meanwhile, given the opportunity of Marco Rubio’s magic cotton-mouth TV moment, the Poland Spring ad team not only didn’t stick the dive, they missed the pool entirely.

oreo-super-bowl-tweetMarco Rubio drink

2013 Lesson 5:  When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  When your meatball supplier tries to slip you some horsemeat, clean house IMMEDIATELY.
IKEA
– When IKEA learned that some of its famous meatballs (150 million annually!) might contain traces of horsemeat, it immediately got rid of all meatballs in inventory, whether suspect or not.  Cost of write-off?  Probably pretty high.  Benefit to reputation by immediately taking action?  Priceless.  Sales of meatballs since then?  UP.

IKEA meatballs

2013 Lesson 6:  Hint: ‘Fail Fast’ is really just a euphemism for Test and Learn.  It doesn’t mean your goal is actually to fail fast.
JC Penney
– Here is a retailer that tried to do a 180 without twerking.  Or more importantly, without considering that its customers preferred periodic discounts.  Boom.
Easier to adapt to customer preferences than to try to force them to adapt to you.

jcpenneymadnessJCP quarterly

2013 Lesson 7:  There is No Such Thing as Bad PR (at least for Jeff Bezos)
Amazon
– Amazon’s eerie delivery drones cleverly debuted on ’60 Minutes’ the day before Cyber Monday.  Never mind that if you give it about 5 seconds’ thought, the barriers are significant (snow? wind? power lines? privacy issues? teen boys with slingshots?) – what it really shows is that in addition to any product you can think of, Amazon’s mission apparently also includes delivering PR to all homes.

Amazon drone

2013 Lesson 8:  If you go for the ‘wink-wink, joke’s on me’ approach, and people don’t get it, then ‘wink-wink, the joke’s on you’.
Honda/Michael Bolton Holiday campaign
– If you didn’t see them, these spots feature the man of the strained tenor and shorn mullet singing soulful holiday-esque tunes from atop a Honda, next to a Honda, in a Honda showroom, behind a piano, behind a guitar, all to the indecipherable reactions of surprised, baffled, younger presumed car shoppers.  It’s difficult to tell what the point is.  The obvious assumption is that this is a quid pro quo: the 60-year old Bolton (perfect for a younger target!) has a new album that needs promoting (true) and Honda needs some breakthrough quality in the holiday car ad environment that generally features obnoxiously gift-wrapped luxury cars (true again).
But what’s Bolton doing up there on that car?  Apparently, according to Adweek, this campaign is ‘poking fun at itself with melodramatic guitar solos and idiotic lyrical gems like “This special time of year, it’s filled with joy and cheer, for me and you and you and you, too’.”  Well, I know something about misplaced melodrama and idiot lyrics and I didn’t catch it.  If there’s a wink in there somewhere, it’s subtle enough as to be invisible.
So we’re left with a spot with bland cars, being promoted by bland music – – a perfect match, but I suspect probably not what they were going for.
The American public as a rule doesn’t respond well to ‘subtle.’   Witness, if you will, Ron Burgundy for Dodge – – a more effective celebrity hookup.

Bolton on car

2013 Lesson 9:  When in Rome, do as the Romans do.  When trying to break into Southern California, and your name contains the word ‘Fresh’, don’t pre-wrap the fruits and vegetables.
Tesco Fresh & Easy
– This one already has a coda. Big UK retailer Tesco created its Fresh & Easy chain in late 2007 to penetrate the Western US market with a fresh new smaller format store, famously after significant consumer research.  The experiment failed when consumers didn’t respond well to new formats, new food presentation, and in some cases, truly foreign concepts.  Ultimately F&E was sold to Yucaipa, which has added “competitive pricing, improved hours, fresher foods and assisted checkout” according to management.  Everything, it appears, has been changed except the name.
– The obvious lesson – – listen to your customers (see Lesson 6).

fresh and easy vegetables

2013 Lesson 10:  You can say Social Media and B2B Marketing in the same sentence
Maersk Shipping
– Maybe it’s the exotic locations where its ships are shown.  Or maybe it’s just the fact that deep down we’re all little kids and are awed by really cool big boats.  Whatever the appeal, big freight shipper Maersk found a way to go from zero to one million+ in Facebook likes in about a year (good Forbes article here).  Of course, no one places container orders on a Facebook page, but for very little cost (repurposing archival company photos) this enhances the Maersk brand, distances it a bit from its competitors, and likely provides meaningful recruiting and morale benefits.

Maersk Facebook

Probably the big lesson for 2013 has been that while many old conventions are being challenged (e.g. static campaigns, role of social media), the key marketing fundamentals are still alive and well:  understanding your customers and their needs is the surest way to success (or at least avoiding being in next year’s write-up).

Happy New Year.