The Super Bowl is a large and multi-faceted event that will almost certainly be the largest viewing audience for a single television program this year. While it is ostensibly the NFL’s championship game, the other items surrounding it bring in the larger audience, including the pre-game ceremonies, the celebrity singing the national anthem (this year: Carrie Underwood), the halftime micro-concert (this year: The Who), and, of course, the commercials. Advertising for the Super Bowl is always a hot topic, and a common denominator to bring non-sports fans to the viewing party. As a case in point, at my family event we have two determined non-sports fans in attendance who ignore the game as best they can, and tune in when the commercials start.
For the 2010 game, the estimated cost was $3.01 million per 30 second spot for advertisers. Tech companies are among the best positioned and least affected by the global recession (although no market is truly recession-proof this time around), so I was anticipating quite a few tech companies to spend money. The Super Bowl and its unbelievable global stage is a world-class opportunity for large companies to make a splash. In a related note, it was reported that advertising took up 48 minutes of the Super Bowl broadcast, which was a new record.
With that in mind, here are the tech (or somewhat tech) commercials and some thoughts on them:
The Boostmobile Shuffle — The first real tech commercial of the Super Bowl was a spoof of the original Super Bowl Shuffle, which was performed a quarter of a century ago by the 1985 Chicago Bears. The Shuffle has not exactly aged well, so I have no idea why Boostmobile thought it had cultural currency with today’s audience, besides some sort of kitsch factor. While I loved the original Super bowl Shuffle, I was also 9 years old at the time and still eating my boogers. It is interesting what 25 years of amassed debt will do to a person’s willingness to sell out, although I don’t think that original team had much personal shame to begin with. This is not a strong beginning for tech ads; I had a hard time not typing the words “utterly horrifying.”
GoDaddy.com — The domain company has been a regular Super Bowl advertiser for the past several years, and has decided to remove all ambiguity in how they choose to sell their product. Here we see race car driver Danica Patrick getting a massage from an attractive blond woman who is surprised to discover Ms. Patrick on her table, and yet somehow already has a GoDaddy tank top underneath the shirt she tears away. I rolled my eyes at this doubtful coincidence at the same time Amy/The Wandering Moose, a trained massage therapist, said disdainfully: “She would NOT be massaging in those high heels.” I think we both missed the point.
Monster.com — So… a violin-playing beaver? That’s what Monster.com is going with this year? At the risk of over-analyzing an advertisement about a musical beaver, this spot makes no sense to me. If you take the literal translation: why would a violinist beaver need to work its way up from passing the hat in the subway to playing on some sort of high-class stage? I think the sheer novelty of the beaver would make it an immediate success. If you take the figurative translation: why would anyone relate to a violin-playing beaver? What is the beaver supposed to represent? Is he just an ordinary Joe looking to pursue his lifelong dream of being a violinist? When he ends up in the hot tub limousine with the blond woman at the end of the commercial, has that ever happened to a real violinist?
Cars.com — This ad is a more over-the-top rehash of a Cars.com commercial that debuted at a previous Super Bowl and has been running since. The protagonist, “Timothy Richmond,” is confident because of his vast breadth of knowledge, even from a young age. He accomplishes things like putting out fires as an infant and delivering a Bengal tiger cub while on safari. I thought the original ad was clever and thought provoking, and I did get a cheap smirk out of this version. I like the message that everyone is nervous when they go car shopping — even the inestimable Timothy Richmond — so there is no shame in doing research. The commercial does not teach us anything about the website, which is a calculated risk. Cars.com wants the viewer to be curious enough to visit the website, but by not describing their service, they may not give enough information to generate that curiosity.
careerbuilder.com — I would pick this as my favorite commercial of the Super Bowl, or at least, the one that made me laugh the most. While this is every bit as absurd as the violin-playing beaver from above, it makes a good point about someone not being suited for a particular office environment, and does so without being confusing. This ad was surprising, funny, and memorable with a simple message: Casual Friday does not mean the same thing to everyone.
teleflora.com — This commercial plays on the cliché about a rude, arrogant girl who gets some overdue comeuppance. It is an old (and growing older by the minute) staple of movies, TV shows, books, and, in this case, commercials. The story is so familiar to us that there is no need to delve into the rude girl’s personality to understand why she is cruel, and we identify at once with her aggrieved colleague. While it is a good commercial for tugging at the heartstrings/insecurities of the female Super Bowl audience, my question is: when are we going to stop believing in the “mean person gets what is coming to them” story? Because that never seems to happen in real life.
Intel — Intel has made some very funny recent commercials under their “Our X Isn’t Like Your X” campaign. Although I enjoyed this story about a robot overhearing someone talking about Intel’s new processors, it did raise a few questions. If Intel really had that sort of interactive robot running around their office, why would anyone label a new processor as their most amazing technological achievement yet? Also, how did the robot come to have feelings in the first place? Why would the programmer give it feelings to be hurt, and possibly exploited? Hasn’t anyone seen any of the movies where robots cast off their human masters and take over the world? Lest anyone accuse me of over-thinking a 30-second commercial, let me offer a reminder that it was Intel’s message to begin with, and I am just asking that they think these things through. (Pause) Okay, fine. I am over-thinking it. But you are all going to wish you had listened when we are bending to the lash of our robot overlords.
FloTV — “Hello friends, we have an injury report on Jason Glassby. As you can see, his girlfriend has removed his spine, rendering him incapable of watching the game.” I would find this commercial much funnier if I did not identify with it so well. In related news, I hope Amy/T.W. Moose does not read this part.
tv.com — This commercial is the definition of a “teaser,” where they give you just enough information to figure out what is going on, but not enough to evaluate it. My impression is that tv.com is a competitor to Hulu, and a quick visit to both websites reveals this to be the case. In a strange twist, the Hulu and tv.com websites look so similar that it makes me wonder if they are operated by the same parent company. It makes sense: both websites can “compete” against each other for a few months until tv.com becomes sufficiently large, then they can join forces to become one mega-website in a highly publicized merger that blows any tertiary competition out of the water.
HomeAway.com — The movie “Vacation” came out in 1983, two years before the Super Bowl Shuffle, so this commercial reaches back even farther in time to try and interest an audience. Although the point of this ad was to drive viewers to the HomeAway.com website, it did nothing to tell us about their service and painted hotels in a bad light. A clear miss, in my opinion, even if it did have a good line about the bottle of water being “complementary because it complemented the room.”
KGB — This was an amusing take on an interesting mobile service, although I have seen more interesting commercials from KGB in the recent past. The setup of “Paul” and “Mike” looking up how to say “I surrender” in Japanese made me roll my eyes a bit. Wouldn’t they both just run away? And wouldn’t “Mike” repeat what “Paul” said, even if they did stay in the sumo ring? But, I tend to be a little too literal when evalutating commercials, in case anyone has not noticed.
eTrade — Wow, so eTrade is rolling out a whole new generation of the weird “talking babies” commercials. I found this reluctantly amusing, and it had the somewhat funny “milk-o-holic” line, but the gag has a very short half-life for me. In the spirit of full disclosure, I did enjoy most of the previous eTrade/talking baby commercials (as a quite guilty pleasure), but the entertainment level is running low. It could be the new baby.
Google — Most companies use humor when they want commercials to be memorable, which is why all of the tech ads so far have been funny. Making us laugh is an easy way to elicit a response, because it does not have to be perfect to be entertaining. Creating a meaningful and moving commercial is more difficult because it has to be powerful enough to touch our emotions, and yet not so much that it becomes syrupy. The payoff can be worth the risk because everyone else is still making funny commercials. This simple ad from Google describes a vacation in France in which a traveler meets someone, gets to know them, develops a relationship, and ends with marriage and a baby, all described through searches in Google. It is both thought-provoking and interesting; the best “meaningful” commercial I have seen in a while.
Roundup — So, I know this is not a tech commercial, but Roundup paid Super Bowl ad money to tell the world about their weed spray? Spray that everyone knows about already? A strange decision, I have to say. Then again, it caught my attention; and what do I know, anyway?
Vizio — If you are the ad director for Vizio and you have 30 seconds of Super Bowl time to let everyone know that your televisions are now internet capable, how would you go about telling that in a compelling fashion? It is a difficult concept to visualize and demonstrate, and I think Vizio did a pretty good job of it. This commercial probably did not attract the interest of many older viewers, but Vizio is clearly going for a younger demographic. The appearance of the mechanical arms dropping Beyonce, zombies, etc. into the Visio box reminded me of the Motorola Droid commercials, somehow. It was also further proof of the whole robot revolution thing discussed under the “Intel” entry above. Consider yourself warned.
Audi — Another non-tech commercial, but I really enjoyed this sharp and funny commentary on a hot button topic. The “Green Police” summed up a certain attitude that has been gaining popularity in the world as the global community strives to become more environmentally aware. I have not seen much of the Green Police in my home town because I live in a high mountain valley on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains, and we still love our pickup trucks and SUVs here. I am sure the revolution is coming, though; particularly when we get tired of periodically having the worst air quality in the United States.
GoDaddy.com — Has GoDaddy gone too far? Does anyone really care anymore? Her GoDaddy contract was a good deal for Danica when she was trading just on her looks and nobody knew who she was. Now she is a rising star and a legitimate contender as a race car driver, and she is too big of a name to be doing ridiculous commercials like this. It would be like seeing Dwyane Wade in one of those late-night Enzyte commercials: your friends would never believe you, and you would end up convincing yourself it was a dream.