I have to confess that I don't really understand the whole Superbowl ad phenomenon. Obviously any event which exalts the creativity of our product is a good thing. And the buzz can only be good for those of us who toil to make ads which air the other 364 days of the year, right?
Consider the mere build up, the foreplay to the big day. The GoDaddy spot got some 3 million views based on not be allowed to air by CBS. The Focus on the Family spot got acres of coverage for their point of view for weeks before the actual game. After all that, the real live spots can only be brilliant, right? Well, of course not. Apart from the Snickers spot with Betty White and Abe Vigoda, which actually operates on the classical model of having a campaign theme and executing good creative that delivers against it, most of the spots seemed a little sad, like simple embodiments of the brief, or carny sideshow exhibitions, or spots guaranteed to be intertubed around the world... for about five seconds.
In some ways it's a wonderful synergistic model of consumer engagement across multiple media platforms. I know all the arguments about why something this big has to be good for clients. In other ways it's not good that much of the actual value provided by the millions being spent is not found in the TV eyeballs conjured up by the media buy itself, but in the cloud of accompanying hype and discussion and linksharing. How much lasting value are companies getting out of advertising like this? How much real consumer engagement is happening after you view a few of these things? How long until clients try to find ways of getting that kind of hype at a cheaper price?
It all feels somehow, well, wrong. People talk about the spots as a commodity, like race horses or chickens bred for cockfighting. The Betty White spot is well ahead of the field, with the guys staring at the camera spot a distant second and the talking babies lagging well behind...
The only thing that matters is being funny or weird or cute or stupid enough to be passed to your friends. The clients, apart from a few obvious exceptions like Apple with the 1984 spot, get forgotten, their logos and URLs slapped on for the last few seconds as a tip of the cap to the idea that advertising is supposed to convince consumers to feel something, as a means of getting them to buy something.
Okay, the Google spot is brilliant. Maybe even a little teary, in the way that the first 10 minutes of Up get you. (Or the whole of Thorton Wilder's Our Town. Go see it on stage some time.) Using their core functionality to suggest how two lives come together is really powerful. When we talk about branding in this crazy new modern century of ours, Google is the case study – they built their brand purely through their usefulness to consumers. Kudos to them for bringing that to life in a traditional brand spot.