Point of View

Super Bowl Commercials: Advertising, Entertainment or Other

by Michael D'Antonio

As I watched the Super Bowl on Sunday, it occurred to me that it has become much more than a football game – it’s a platform for us to embrace, grieve and celebrate human emotions. With this in mind, I watched the commercials through a different lens.

There are many definitions and objectives of advertising. By way of most traditional models, it starts with “awareness” and ends with “action.” Translation - the desired result is sales. However, not everyone has the same goal, and this is necessary to understand prior to fairly judging any commercial. Unfortunately, it is not disclosed by advertisers.

It is true, more times than not, commercial viewers will not remember the brand, not to mention the product. Hell, in many cases, it’s difficult just to make an intuitive connection. And to the extent recall exists on both levels, when is the last time a Super Bowl commercial gave you any real reason to purchase? Given this bias, it seems producing sales may not be the intent of some advertisers at all.

Further, on this certain day each year, to break through the clutter and make an impact, brands feel they have to outdo everyone else, or themselves, and be outrageous. In fact, they feel compelled to be outrageous merely for outrageous sake. The problem, of course, is that outrageous has many contexts – from shocking to shameless, hilarious to horrendous.

It is also true that the Super Bowl provides a unique opportunity to reach an unparalleled cross-section of audiences. In a landscape of media and consumer fragmentation, it is no wonder why so many covet this property and no doubt why the commercials are so big and lofty. Even those commercials that “score” poorly gain increases in traffic (awareness) – affirming the investment – and making the advertisers’ case indeed. Certainly conventional wisdom tells us that awareness precedes action, as people have to know you exist before they know why you exist. But how many tell us why they exist? Consumers are ultimately inspired by truth and vision. Considering the 100+ million Super Bowl viewers, is there a better place to articulate this? Sometimes the messages are seen as opposite or confusing – potentially alienating those very consumers intended to be inspired.

Having said that, I’m suggesting another methodology in which to grade these commercials. Instead of critiquing in a vacuum, you really need to understand how brand managers, company executives and/or CEO’s are making such decisions – what ulterior motives they may have – how they may be measured in their own jobs – how they may be building their own personal brands. Corporate America, in some cases, does not foster the right environment or reward its people for doing the right thing. But, in fairness, sometimes we as consumers don’t either.

In other words, if the goal is to create awareness irrespective of any strategic foundation, and those responsible are rewarded based on the amount of buzz they generate (good or bad), accolades and awards they receive or legacies they leave, then it seems the more outrageous, the better. Congratulations to many are in order. However, if the goal is smart, authentic and inspiring advertising – organic, relevant and valuable story telling that articulates a brand’s vision – some may need to re-evaluate.

My purpose is not to opine on any specific Super Bowl spot, rather provide you a different foundation from which to do so yourself. Whatever the brand’s goal, my concern – my disdain, as should be yours – is with companies who abuse this bully pulpit to cover-up their real issues and/or mislead audiences with disingenuous communications. You can judge for yourself but life experiences have taught us time and again, good, honest and generous people/brands never exploit such a platform to make their case. They simply demonstrate it in everything they do and let others sing their praise. Besides, no company in their right mind would spend several million dollars for self-serving interests only, would they?

In my view, the Super Bowl, intentional or not, has provided a platform for many stars to reveal themselves. While some choose the path of mere outrageousness, others have figured out that advertising and entertainment are not mutually exclusive. If done with the right perspective, they are great by any measure.