Unless you were a Seattle fan, the 2014 Super Bowl wasn’t a super game to watch. The puppy bowl was more competitive. So that left a lot of pressure on the commercials to deliver some much needed excitement and entertainment. A few spots delivered but most were not very memorable. One thing that continues to make the difference between failure and success is the use of a consistent visual hammer. Here is my recap of the 2014 winners and losers.
Budweiser – Puppy Love.
The Clydesdales are instantly recognized as the visual hammer for Budweiser. Anheuser-Busch has been using the horses for 80 years since they were introduced after the end of prohibition as a promotion to deliver beer to towns. The Clydesdales reinforce the brand’s authenticity and credibility as the King of Beers. Every year Bud wins big time with creative storytelling involving the horses. How could you lose by adding a puppy? You can’t. The commercial made a heartwarming and loveable Budweiser ad.
Bud Light –The Llama and Schwarzenegger.
The Bud Light ads were less effective because the brand’s focus is weak and it lacked a visual. But you can’t find a visual hammer unless you have a verbal nail. What does the Bud Light stand for in the mind? Other than watered-down Budweiser, it doesn’t stand for anything.
The brand’s dilemma reflects a critical problem over at Budweiser. Bud Light is the leader in beer, but the category is slowly drying up. Beer drinking among 18- to 29-year-olds, according to a survey by Gallup, fell from 71% in the years 1992 to 1994, to 41% in the years 2012 to 2013. During that same time period, sales of liquor to 18- to 29-year-olds rose from 13% to 28%, and wine rose from 14% to 24%.
Advertising works best when it reinforces success. Advertising is not very good at changing minds. I doubt whether either the Llama or Arnold Schwarzenegger did much to change the perception in younger people’s minds that beer isn’t the go-to drink for a night out partying.
Doritos – Cowboy kid.
The addictive, crunchy, finger-staining deliciousness of Doritos continues to inspire creative people to greatness in their now legendary ad contest. Consistency is king. Crash the Super Bowl is at 8 years and counting.
Dannon Oikos – John Stamos.
The world’s largest yogurt maker was caught off-guard by the rise of Greek yogurt led by upstart Chobani. But the Goliath of yogurt isn’t going down without a fight. First they renamed Dannon Greek as Oikos giving it an authentic and separate brand name. Then in 2011, they hired Greek-American heart-throb John Stamos as the brand’s spokesperson. This is the second Super Bowl ad featuring Stamos. Advertising works best when it reinforces success. And Oikos has been successful. In 2013, Oikos sales increased 165% and its share jumped from 18% to 29%. (Chobani was up 20% and its share fell from 50% to 39%.) The Oikos ad was creative and brought out the best in Stamos’ personality and his chemistry with his Full-House cast mates.
Chobani – Grizzly bear.
Chobani also jumped into the game with a grizzly bear destroying a store in search of something with real natural ingredients. Really? I kind of thought grizzly bears would eat anything. When it comes to a visual hammer fight between Stamos and the Grizzly, I'll put my money on Stamos. The worst was Chobani’s new tagline. “How matters.” Greek-yogurt matters, as the Greek-yogurt leader should know.
Radio Shack – The phone call.
The 80’s called. They want their store back! The ad was hysterical. For those of us old enough, we fondly remembered the images and recall our shopping trips to Radio Shack. It was the home of the TRS-80 personal computer (lovingly called the Trash 80) and all things electronic. Unfortunately, what made the ad so funny and memorable is what makes the brand so pathetic. Radio Shack is an out-of-touch relic with little relevance to today’s consumer. In 2009, they tried to get cool and asked us to call them “The Shack.” Now they are running a Super Bowl ad to get us to laugh with them. We are laughing at them, not with them.
Audi – Doberhuahua.
Was the dog crazy, scary and funny to look at? You bet. Is it a visual hammer? No way. Does it relate to cars or Audi? Not in the least. Like many ads, it was entertaining but had nothing to do with the brand.
Volkswagen – Wings.
The Force was one of the most talked about Super-Bowl commercials in the new social media era. Unfortunately, the majority of people failed to remember it was a Volkswagen ad. They just think “cute Darth Vader kid with a car.” This is a common problem especially in Super-Bowl ads.
But there’s more is going on here. Volkswagen America is in trouble. Sales are slowing, the CEO has left. In 2013, VW sales grew 1% while the industry was up 7 to 8%.
As I said before, advertising does best when it reinforces success. When the screen says there are more VWs on the road with over 100,000 miles on them than any other brand, people don’t believe it. Maybe in Germany they might, but not in the U.S.
Hyundai Genesis – Dad’s Sixth Sense.
Moms and Dads alike couldn’t help but love the sentiment in this ad. Wonderful tribute to all the fathers and how they love, protect and look out for their kids. So while the ad connected emotionally, did it sell the brand? Hyundai built its brand by being the least-expensive car on the market and offering a 100,000-mile warranty. The Genesis is an expensive luxury model. If you are going to spend $45,000 for a vehicle, would you choose a Hyundai over a Mercedes, Lexus, BMW or Audi? I doubt it. If Hyundai wanted to go upmarket, it needed a new brand, not just a new model name. Nobody calls it a Toyota Lexus; they call it a Lexus.
Coca-Cola – Going All the Way. America is Beautiful.
Coca-Cola ran two ads. The first commercial showcased how beautiful and diverse America is. The second commercial told the touching story of a kid called off the bench who ends up making a touchdown and running all the way to Lambeau Field. Top notch production, emotional delivery, epic themes. But how does this sell Coca-Cola? How does this deal with the ever-dwindling market share for carbonated soda? America the beautiful? What about all the empty Coke bottles polluting the beautiful America? And after a football game what parent gives their kids a Coca-Cola? Maybe in 1980 you could get away with that. But today? Gatorade maybe. But sugary drinks have become public-enemy number one. Coca-Cola needs a way to deal with that issue first.
Go Daddy – Body Builder. I Quit.
You can’t talk about Super-Bowl ads without mentioning Go Daddy. After 10 years in the game, they have earned our attention even if it was in the crudest way possible. Fortunately, the internet super star is growing up thanks to a new CEO. As the world’s largest domain registrar, they have a lot to crow about. Unlike Radio Shack, if you are starting a business the first place you are likely to go is Go Daddy to see if you can get the URL. As the leader, Go Daddy is doing what leaders should do, promote the category. Both ads did a good job of this. The success of a Super-Bowl ad is in part related to whether it can generate PR. The “I Quit” ad was sure to do that. It created pre-game and post-game buzz. And you can see how that could be an annual promotion. The “Body Builder” ad told the story of how to increase your business with an online presence and ended with a humorous “It’s Go Time” and the spray tan gun. Finally they are empowering women to be strong successful business women.
Chevy – Romance.
A love story of a bull and cow. They don’t have the expressions that dogs, horses or even cats have. But it was told in such a romantic way. The only problem with seeing an ad like this is that it could have easily been a Ford truck commercial. After all, Ford is the leading truck brand.
Toyota Highlander – Muppets.
Don’t appeal to everybody. That approach works in marketing and in Super Bowl ads. First introduced in 2000, the Highlander was the first car-based midsize SUV or midsize crossover. Who is the target? Moms with kids. Comfortable, roomy and not too fancy since you’ll be hauling kids after all. Today’s Moms remember fondly the Muppets and this commercial uses them in the most adorable way. Then throw in Terry Crews, his dancing pecks and comedic timing and you have a total winner. Didn’t hurt that Crews is red-hot, also starting in the much talked-about new show Brooklyn Nine-Nine which aired after the game.
Sodastream - Scarlett Johansson.
Sodastream continues to rage against the soda giants. This year they added Scarlett Johansson as brand ambassador. As a result, the ad got our attention long enough to hear about the machines. Advertising works best to reinforce success and these machines are gaining in popularity.
T-Mobile – No contract. No problem.
Tim Tebow showed us he is man enough laugh at himself. Once the golden boy of football, winning the Heisman, college championships and being a hot NFL draft pick, he fizzled on the field. And now with no contract his days playing in the NFL are in doubt. Nice connection, however, to T-Mobile’s rebel position of no-contract cellphone service, including paying termination fees for new customers willing to switch. The problem is that T-Mobile is in fourth place behind giants Verizon and AT&T. Categories usually end up as a two-horse race. Not a lot of room for the No.3 brand, let alone No.4.
Wonderful Pistachios tapped Stephen Colbert. I’m sure the free PR he gave them on his show was an enticing part of the deal. But the ad failed to say anything about the nuts. And the sight joke of his head opening wasn’t all that funny. Opening them is the thing people hate the most about pistachios.
There were of course many other ads. A few final comments.
Maserati ran an ad, but I have no idea why. Maybe they thought it was worth $4 million to score better game seats.
Turbo Tax ran an ad, loved the prom theme and connection to the game. Just never got the tax connection.
Beats by Dr Dre featured Ellen DeGeneres dancing. Terrific, that’s her hammer. But she isn’t Beats’ hammer. Where was Dr Dre?
Cheerios caught a lot of flack for showing an interracial couple in a commercial last fall. Instead backing down from the controversy they brought them back for a Super Bowl ad. Well played.