The only thing worse than watching the call to pass up the middle at the end of last night’s Super Bowl was watching the ads with my young kids (okay, watching the fight at the end was worse – how lame). In 3 hours my kids saw more explosions and graphic violence, more over-sexed-up themes, and more sadness and angst than they have seen in their entire lives. After the Nationwide commercial (more on that in a moment), I got increasingly agitated about what other sights my kids had to see for the sake of advertising. Left me wondering what the heck is going on here?!
Super Bowl ads used to be a chance for brands and agencies to showcase cleverness, creativity, and humor. Here’s the “top” ad from 20 years ago, good old 1995:
Edgy, eh? Did it “raise awareness” of something? Nope. Did it tickle our fancies? Nope. In fact, it wasn’t really that funny at all. But it was original, it was light-hearted, it was memorable – it did everything an ad is supposed to do for its brand. So much so that if you talk to anyone over the age of 30 they can still quickly recall the Budweiser Frogs. And by the way, big thumbs up to Budweiser for maintaining a higher standard than so many others during their 30 second spots. BTW yeah, I’m praising Budweiser - that’s how bad things were this year.
Here’s a list of all of the 2015 Super Bowl ads, “ranked” in some way by USA Today (we can ignore the rankings, since, who cares?). How many were “clever”? A tiny handful - coincidentally I thought Nationwide’s “Invisible Mindy” commercial was one of the best of the batch. How many made you laugh, or even chuckle? How many left you feeling positive thoughts?
Now how many featured a little more “sexiness” than is needed for a Super Bowl ad? Do I *need* to explain to my 7 year old what the little blue pill falling into the Fiat is for? Do young women need to get exposed to Victoria’s Secret’s idea of what a woman’s body is “supposed” to look like (if one is genetically gifted, that is)? Is the fun of playing iPhone games the chance to win a Kate Upton? This isn’t a 9:30pm commercial on FX, this is supposed to be “fun for all ages”. As my friend Alan Wolk said:
[my son] is 16 now, but when he was younger and we’d watch games on TV, I’d cringe every time a Viagra or Cialis spot came on, thinking “please don’t ask me what an erection lasting more than 4 hours is.. please don’t ask me what an erection lasting more than 4 hours is…”
How about violence? I’m pretty sure that with Blacklist episode previews alone my kids saw more cars explode than they ever have – cumulatively (I like The Blacklist FWIW – but there’s a reason it airs late). The new Terminator movie preview shows a “skeleton robot walking through fire”. I love Mophie, but does God have to watch some bizarre apocalyptic thriller to be entertained?
Lastly, straight out morbid and depressing ads seemed to be the Super Bowl Ad Meme. Yes, I’ll cry for pretty much any use of Cat’s in the Cradle – as all dads do – but do I really think Nissan is helping the father-son relationship? And this year’s Budweiser entry, with “sad dog”, while it was certainly not one of the worst offenders, sure brought us all down a notch. But even that wasn’t nearly as bad as the Nationwide commercial. I won’t link to it, as I don’t want to give more views to a thing I found terrible. And terrible it was. So bad that numerous memes were instantly created on Twitter as a result, which in turned provoked a response from Nationwide – in which I found this little gem:
The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance.
Sorry, but I’m calling BS on that. No offense to the entire insurance industry, but yours is not one of altruism. I have no idea the true motivation behind the ad, other than to shock and awe. It was literally despicable at every level, and I’d rather see a thousand more wardrobe malfunctions than anything like this ever again during daytime sports television. In my opinion, the decision-maker behind that ad should be fired, and shame on NBC for allowing it to air. Per my friend and colleague Jesse Redniss (of BRaVe Ventures):
As a parent, it was very difficult watching a game of sport with a light hearted and fun Half time show and then explaining to my children what the #NationwideDeadKid Commercial really meant? “Daddy, Why did that boy die? “Dad, he looks so sad… why is the bath tub overflowing”
In some senses, it was like watching a scene out of True Detective. SB49 felt like advertiser ambushes. Taking advantage of these moments and literally sucking the life out of the family friendly entertainment value that many of us were expecting.
As a sports fan and parent, this year’s Super Bowl Ads will have an impact on how we watch it next year. I don’t need to be ambushed by advertisers, especially ones who want my business. The NFL, NBC, and brands need to think much more deeply about their audience – because we aren’t all 25-year-old boys drinking out of red cups anymore. There are plenty of ways to entertain, delight, and intrigue audiences without resorting to such tactics. I may sound stodgy and out of touch, but I also know how to tell when a line’s been crossed.