The Good, The Bad and The Inane: The Super Bowl Commercial Appraisal

February 13, 2024
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Advertisers received the best value for their money ever this Super Bowl, with the largest audience ever to watch an even since the 1969 Apollo Moon Landing.  Over 125 million people tuned in!  What an opportunity!  How did the advertisers fare?

How did advertisers capitalize on the “Swifty Effect”?

Attempting to recover from controversy, Budweiser went on a campaign to rebound from their disastrous foray into wokeness.   They rolled out Cowboys, Clydesdales and Canines.  Did they think that Miles Teller and his wife Keleigh Sperry would help people forget Dylan Mulvaney and recoup the 30% market share it lost last year?  For the light version, they enlisted Payton Manning and Post Malone.

The NFL continues to encourage public amnesia from the disrespecting our National Anthem and CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy issues with emotional and deflecting ads.  No one better than a football coach knows the art of misdirection.

Healthcare professionals know the studies that document the deleterious impact of traumatic brain injuries.  In one study, 90% of former NFL players showed signs of CTE. In another 41% of athletes younger than 30 (71% non-professional), showed damage from CTE.

The charge to “follow the money” was popularized by the movie “All the President’s Men”, about the Watergate scandal during the Nixon era.  When it comes to Football, it seems that same command holds true.

As for the money, it seemed that TEMU spent the most on the number of commercials (I counted 4) while others invested in celebrities and fancy productions.

TEMU is a Chinese owned company and features products directly shipped from China.  Along with TikTok, the penetration into the the US and onto US smartphones is significant.  Recent bad press and concerns about Chinese infiltration for potential nefarious purposes might be the reason for the investment.  Did their investment pay off?  Time will tell by activity on their app, if that information is ever made available.

Star power costs money.  So, who got the most bang for the buck?

Was it State Farm with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Booking.comwith Tina Fey and Glenn Close, Bet MGM with Tom Brady, Vince Vaughn and Wayne Gretzky, ELF with the cast of “Suits”, M&M’s with Scarlett Johansson, Terrell Owens and Dan Marino, Michelob Ultra with Lionel Messi, Dan Marino and Jason Sudekis, Paramount+ with Patrick Stewart, Drew Barrymore, or Verizon with Beyoncé?

How can you judge?

For me it’s a matter of analyzing how the money helped fulfill the Message-Market-Media paradigm.  After all, the goal of a commercial is to influence a reaction, hopefully one that benefits the advertiser with a Return On Investment (ROI).

With that in mind, the clear loser was T-Mobile, who had Jason Momoa, Zach Braff, Donald Faison and Jennifer Beals in a skit that smacked from “Dirty Dancing” and totally overshadowed any message about the product.   Sometimes star power can actually detract from the message.  In contrast, the Google Pixel phone had NO stars but emotionally played on a new feature that would be of value to the visually impaired.

Another loser was Uber Eats, who deployed Jennifer Aniston, Jelly Roll, Usher, David Schwimmer, and David and Victoria Beckham.  That must have cost a pretty penny! Worse, was thatthe message was a negative one; In order to remember one thing, you have to forget another?  Is that a message that resonates with anyone?  And how insensitive was it while we’re debating the mental acuity of our 80-year-old leaders?

Anthony Hopkins might be one of the scariest actors on the planet.  Few people will forget his performance in “Silence of the Lambs”.  Why then would one want to believe that STOK coffee is good for anything but a chaser for liver and lava beans?

Does anyone seeking to use Squarespace even know who Martin Scorsese is?

Does anyone care who Michael Cera is?  And, how many of the men watching the football game are concerned about the moisture of their skin?

While I enjoyed the Christopher Walken commercial, I wonder how many people will remember that the commercial was forBMW’s EV?

One winner was Dunkin’.   A company with New England roots, they deployed the Boston Boys, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Tom Brady, with Jennifer Lopez as the icing on top.

Apparently, the marketing research showed that stuff that’s bad for you is still good business.  Alcohol, Soda, Chips, Cookies, Chocolate, Pizza, fried chicken, were prominently featured.  Great news for dentists and cardiologists!  Business should boom.

Unlike previous years, emotion was not a major theme.  The exceptions were Kia, Dove, Google and Microsoft’s AI companion.

Religion played its role with Scientology and several Hobby Lobby backed messages of “he gets us.”  I’m not sure the “washing the feet” message resonated with anyone unfamiliar with the New Testament narrative.  I can imagine a non-bible reader watching and just shaking their head.

Did a 5 second ad for a language app really pay off?  Did anyone who didn’t know what Duolingo was prior even get it?

The Dinamita Doritos ad confused me.  Are elderly superheroes that endearing?  Who’s the market?

I appreciated the use of Dr. Cialdini’s principle of “Scarcity” that was deployed by Reese’s PeanutButter cups, which threatened to only make a limited number of the “new” caramel coated diabetes enhancers.

Notable were advertisers that were missing.  Chief among that group were the US Auto makers.  Not a one had a commercial.  The opportunity to encourage patriotic purchasing was absent except in one commercial.  The Discover Card ad promoted US based customer service, a nod to the frustration many experiencewhen speaking to people with thick, foreign accents.

All in all, my take was that for the first time in a while, the game itself was more exciting than the commercials.  While humor was a theme in many commercials, was brand recognitionpromoted?

My vote for the best confluence of Message, Market Media was… Lindt.  The chocolate maker used the proximity of the Super Bowl to Valentine’s Day to deliver a message that women associate chocolate with love.  That might have been, the best investment of the evening.

The Message-Market-Media paradigm is, yet again, apparently lost on many of the advertisers.  Big dumb companies can afford to squander millions.  You cannot.

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Dr. Michael Goldberg is one of the leading educators on dental practice management in the United States.

Michael ran and sold a prestigious group practice in Manhattan and has been on Faculty at Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian Medical Center for 30 years including Director of the GPR program and Director of the course on Practice Management.

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