Super Bowl ads used to be awesome. Now they’re horrible mix of CGI effects, chimpanzees, fart jokes and a half dressed Danica Patrick. Anyone who has worked with me has heard this rant before. I suggest the rest of you strap in — it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Problem #1: Everyone sets out to create THE Super Bowl ad.
The single fastest way to shoot yourself in the foot artistically is to set out with the intention of creating a masterpiece. When you set out to create the greatest ad EVER, there’s no room for mistakes, goofs or dumb ideas. You wind up censoring the creative process because nothing is ever good enough. The creative process can be sped up, but you can’t skip steps — and exploring the wrong direction is one of those steps.
Problem #2: Advertising creatives need parameters and rules to break.
Creatives are a moody lot. Tell us the budget has been cut; the client doesn’t like yellow; or the production time has been cut in half; and we act like it’s the end of the world. The truth is that’s when we get really creative. There’s some sort of cheap thrill in figuring out a way around the rules. Super Bowl ads are expensive and come with a budget to match. This leaves the creative team with not many parameters and a deer in headlights look.
Problem #3: Creative for the sake of creative doesn’t work.
Who needs strategy when you have Joan Rivers in hot pants? AARRRUUGGGHH!! Some creatives see strategy as limiting. Great creatives see strategy as the only possible starting point. Strategy is a target. The more well defined the target the better the creative.
I know what you’re thinking. So Miss Cranky-pants are there any Super Bowl spots in recent memory that you do like? Yes, and here are three of my favorites.
2008 Coca-Cola: It’s mine.
It’s the classic tale of good vs. evil with the product as the McGuffin. There’s only one underdog bigger than Underdog who can save the day — Charlie Brown. Look for Lucy around :48.
2007 Pedigree: Dog Adoption Drive
Not a Super Bowl ad, this one aired during Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl. A relatively simple spot, it’s just a montage with a voiceover. It’s the writing that delivers an emotional sledgehammer. I still can’t watch this one without tearing up.
2006 FedEx: Caveman
Most people interact with the FedEx brand at the office. This spot grabs your attention by presenting a modern day situation in a completely different context. The use of CGI makes sense here. It adds to the plot. CGI should never be the plot.
2011 Volkswagen: The Force
One from this year just to prove I’m not a hater. Super cute ad that positions a product feature as the punchline. Is it just me or does this kid have more acting ability in an oversized Darth Vader helmet than Mannequin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace?