Yep, once again the Super Bowl stuffed us with new ads: Betty White and Abe Vigoda took turns getting stuffed on the playground gridiron: Budweiser vacillated between celebrating their brand’s glorious past with another Clydesdale ad, and it was nicely done, and celebrating the dumbest party scenes imaginable with Bud Lite (full disclosure: Bud Lite is my favorite summer beer for closing out weekend chores in hot weather, the main advantages being that it is cheap and watery); and Danica Patrick helped GoDaddy.com dose us with really low level sexual humor.
But two ads stand out in my mind as something special and, even though the ads are built around huge brands, they teach what small business can do in advertising; David Letterman and Google.
This is simple, and that is the Google ad’s strength. Google told us a story, a very familiar love story, and demonstrated how their product helped this story happen. With only a simple music track and some background sounds (check the baby giggle at the end of the ad), a quiet track compared to the rest of the overblown loud ads, Google told the story through the search field of their own home page. They kept their brand in front of the audience during the entire commercial and showed how their suggested search terms lead the protagonist through an entire love story, first meeting through married-with-kids, set in Paris. The whole ad demonstrated Google’s effort on keeping things simple, staying centered on search, and on being relevant.
Google’s ad was an obvious response to Microsoft’s Bing ads showing how Google’s search can bring up too broad a response. Google showed how that broad response can bring serendipity. What will be important is seeing whether Google will follow this up with more advertising to counter the Bing ads, one ad will not hold back the tide (Apple’s “1984″ ad notwithstanding).
Why David Letterman?
Because each ad for these two large brands worked on a human scale, they told a story, and they were smart.
Personally, I am no fan of David Letterman’s humor. I am more of a Leno-O’Brien-Fallon kind of guy, I like the positive. To me, Letterman just has too much of a nasty side to his humor. But this ad was smart, it used surprise, and it used a pretty negative situation and turned that into a positive. Jay and Oprah appeared with Dave, they even appeared on the same couch.
My wife and I looked at each other in shock and swore that Oprah and Jay were celebrity lookalikes, but that theory was dashed almost immediately after the game when a promo came on confirming that all three people were the real item and not dubbed or faked in any way. Jay and Dave together on the couch, after the internecine war when Dave was passed over to Jay almost 20 years ago, still passing barbed comments with Oprah, the queen of togetherness, sitting frustrated between them.
Who wins with this ad? Everyone. David Letterman wins by having himself linked with Oprah and Jay while he is sitting atop the heap of late night television (although Conan was giving him a good run for his money that last two week before he bowed out of NBC and the Tonight show). Oprah wins because she is winding down her show and preparing for some future that will probably not involve her sitting on an island counting her billions, she is too motivated and engaged to waste her time lounging around (I am waiting to her about her second act). Jay wins because he got great publicity on the competing network that might help pull back some of the audience NBC lost with their business-busting moves.
So what did we learn?
Keep it simple. Tell a story. Demonstrate your product or service. Be smart and respect your audience. Stay true to your brand. When everyone else is yelling, consider whispering.
The Losers? (according to me, anyway)
Dockers and CareerBuilder.com. Really guys? The best you both can come up with is people in their underwear? Seems like both creative teams got lost on the No Pants Day public transit movement. At least the creative teams have not seen a Naked Bike Ride (no link, too NSFW, but you can Google it).
Intel. A sad robot? What about the other sad robot commercial that appeared about an hour later? I forget what the second sad robot advertised, but it was a complete parallel.
Punch Buggy? Gee, when I was a kid the VW Beetle was called a ” slug bug”, and for good reason since it came stuffed with some 40 horses in the trunk. Actually, I liked the ad and I think it communicated the brand pretty well, but where did this punch buggy term come from? Maybe it’s one of those “Hellman’s” versus “Best Foods”, or “soda” versus “pop”, geographical differences.
Oh, yeah, that was a great Super Bowl, too. I actually watched the whole thing through without switching channels this year!
UPDATE (2/8/2009): You can get the full story on the Dave-Oprah-Jay ad from the NY Times.