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What Do Super Bowl Ads Say About America?

What will Super Bowl ads say about us when cultural anthropologists in the future view them? They will discover we love beer, cars and our digital assistants and don’t like the smell of poop.

What will Super Bowl ads say about us when cultural anthropologists in the future view them? They will discover we love beer, cars and our digital assistants and don’t like the smell of poop.

If future cultural anthropologists only have Super Bowl ads to analyze, they may draw some interesting conclusions about American lifestyles in the 21st Century. They might conclude we’re schmaltzy nut cases addicted to beer, cars and movies who fret over the smell of poop and when our digital assistant goes mum.

The NFL’s Super Bowl, despite concerns over concussions and players kneeling during the National Anthem, has achieved (or assumed) the status of a national gathering, celebrated with chips and salsa and spicy hot wings. Many people curl up on their couch to ensure the game so they can watch the commercials, which have achieved their own legendary status, at an average cost of $5 million per 30 seconds for advertisers.

While sports announcers breathlessly described each play, others were quietly rating the commercials. One team wins the football game. Five advertisers win the Super Bowl of ads.

Fans question officiating that can turn the fortunes of the game in one team’s favor. Judging Super Bowl commercials has some of the same subjectivity. Here is how CBS sports writer Pete Blackburn judged the winners and losers of Sunday’s big ad game:

Amazon may have scored the most game-day views on YouTube AdBlitz with its “Did Alexa Lose Her Voice” spot. CEO Jeff Bezos is confronted with the news Alexa, the uber-digital assistant, has lost her voice and his aides are ready to plug in replacements that range from Cardi B to Anthony Hopkins. It’s pretty funny, but also like a bad dream because Alexa returns by the end of the commercial.

Heartstrings were plucked by ads from Budweiser and Toyota. The “Stand By You” Bud ad starts with a company executive awakened from sleep to head to the brewery where he turns beer production lines into water dispensers to send to areas impacted by hurricanes, floods and wildfires. Budweiser says its Cartersville, Georgia brewery produced 2 million cans of water last year from people in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and California.

Toyota’s “Good Odds” ad celebrated the perseverance of Canadian alpine skier Lauren Woolstencroft, an eight-time Paralympic gold medalist, who was born without legs below her knees and only a partial left arm. No Toyota vehicles appeared in the ad, which instead leveraged the car company’s sponsorship of the upcoming Winter Olympics. “Stand By You” received the tenth most views during the game. “Good Odds” wasn’t in the top 10.

The other “winners” declared by Blackburn were Tide’s “It’s a Tide Ad” featuring David Harbour and the NFL’s “Touchdowns to Come” that starred Eli Manning and Odell Beckham. Neither of those ads made the top 10 viewership list.

Blackburn ranked movie trailer ads separately, and they were four of the most viewed. They included HBO’s “Westworld Season 2,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” Marvel Studios’ “Avengers: Infinity War” and Prime Video’s “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.”

Topping the loser list was the Ram Truck ad “Built to Serve” that used a voiceover from a Martin Luther King speech about the value of service. Even though the MLK Estate approved the use, critics said the ad was in poor taste and, ironically, exhibited the kind of “deceptive tactics by advertisers” that King warned of in the same speech.

The Bud Knight” was judged a jousting dud, with too little of Bud Light’s new “Dilly Dilly” slogan and an underwhelming amount of humor that has become the hallmark of its previous ads. Based on the comic reputation of earlier ads, “The Bud Knight” was the fourth most watched ad of the night.

Hyundai’s “Hope Detector” centered on bringing together car buyers and cancer survivors in what Blackburn panned as faux sentimentality. While Hyundai didn’t picture any of its vehicles, Blackburn said the well-intentioned ad turned people into props.

Febreze’s “The Only Man Whose Bleep Don’t Stink” ad, according to Blackburn, actually did stink. It could be Blackburn just disapproves of bathroom humor.

He also panned another car ad, Kia’s “Feel Something Again,” which shows Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler driving and aging in reverse, so when he exits the car he is greeted by an adoring groupie. Blackburn said the ad was creepy and promoted a lot of online questions on Google about how old Tyler actually is.

Other “insights” shared by Blackburn:

  • YouTube viewership of Super Bowl ads increased 16 percent over last year, but “viewership in the living room” popped up by 52 percent.
  • Justin Timberlake’s half-time music on YouTube peaked at more than 500,000 views per hour during the game. Timberlake also was the subject of many online questions, including about his age and marital status.

 

Touching and Tasting Real Things in a Digital World

In a digital world, people still want to touch, taste or smell real things before they buy them. Brands and nonprofits would do well to remember to include real experiences in their marketing outreach.

In a digital world, people still want to touch, taste or smell real things before they buy them. Brands and nonprofits would do well to remember to include real experiences in their marketing outreach.

In our digital world, we often overlook the potential impact of physical objects that people can see and touch.

A great example are the 58 benches in Manchester, UK that are designed to look like books and have been decorated by schoolchildren with scenes from their favorite titles, such as “How to Train Your Dragon” by Cressida Cowell. Spread around Manchester, the 58 eye-popping benches are hard to miss. And they are serving their purpose – to encourage young kids (and their parents) to read, increasing the community’s overall literacy level.

It would not be hard to conceive of a similar campaign on digital or social media. But the physicality of the benches are more than subliminal reminders that books are something you hold in your hands while sipping a cup of hot chocolate.

Brightly decorated book-shaped benches invite young children in Manchester, UK to read and Girls Build holds summer camps in Oregon where young girls can learn how to hammer, paint and solder. Both are examples of using real experiences to achieve community objectives.

Brightly decorated book-shaped benches invite young children in Manchester, UK to read and Girls Build holds summer camps in Oregon where young girls can learn how to hammer, paint and solder. Both are examples of using real experiences to achieve community objectives.

The benches will be focal points this summer in Manchester for a series of literacy-related events, storytelling sessions and book swaps staged by more than 20 collaborating cultural venues. For some and maybe many children, it will be their first encounter with these venues. Ditto for their parents.

The Manchester book benches should inspire others to consider how they to take advantage of experiencing real things. Girls Build runs summer camps that give girls from age 8 through 14 the opportunity to work with real construction tools. They wear hard hats, safety glasses and ear protection as they build a playhouse.

Like the Manchester book benches, the Girls Build playhouse has layered impacts. Girls experience using real tools to hammer, paint and solder. The experience gives them a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. Even though only a small fraction of girls who attend the camps in Portland and Grants Pass will go on to become tradeswomen, all of the girls who attend the camp say they feel more self-confident they could take care of a home repair problem.

There is also a Kids Culinary Camp in Portland that gives youngsters a chance to learn how to cook food, from pastries to pasta, as well as safely handle knives in the kitchen.

Touching and seeing is equally important for adults. Many retailers – even Amazon – see the value of combining a brick-and-mortar presence with online sales. It is has become common for customers to try on clothes or shoes in a physical store to see how they look and feel, then order them online while in the store.

No question that the digital expands the reach of individual consumers and gives them access to consumer information not available in a physical store. But, at least so far, you can’t feel a fabric or check out the fit online.

Costco recognizes the power of tasting things before you buy them as it regularly offers aisles full of samples. Auto dealers rarely sell cars without a test drive. Jewelers under the magic of putting a sparkling diamond into a handsome setting and then slipping on someone’s finger. Ice cream parlors let you taste different flavors. Experiencing the real thing matters in the consumer journey.

In the rush to embrace digital media marketing strategies, brands, nonprofits and public agencies shouldn’t forget the irresistible urge people of all ages have to touch or taste the real thing. Someday virtual reality may include touch, taste and smell, but not yet.

Amazon and Customer Relationship Management

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos claims he does not recognize the Amazon depicted in the New York Times story, which described the company as a "bruising workplace."

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos claims he does not recognize the Amazon depicted in the New York Times story, which described the company as a "bruising workplace."

A Facebook friend posted, "Just purchased items today from Amazon before reading about how it treats its employees. This will be my last order from Amazon."

The post succinctly captures the challenge Amazon and other businesses with questionable workplace standards will face as consumers act on their "relationships" with these companies. It is the downside, if you will, of customer relationship management.

You can spend a lot of time and energy currying relationships with customers, only to see it flash away with a "crisis of confidence" in the relationship. Amazon offers great customer service and value, but it it comes at a price of running the equivalent of a huge sweat shop, then no thanks.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has mounted a vigorous defense of his company and its culture, which the Times' story headline called a "bruising workplace." In a communication to Amazon staff members following the New York Times exposé that relied on interviews of 100 former company employees, Bezos said he wouldn't want to work for a company with the traits described in the article. But he also said that isn't the company he knows as Amazon.

While wise to engage quickly and unreservedly about the issue, Amazon will have to do more than talk about the true nature of its culture. To win back some disenchanted customers, it will need to demonstrate that isn't the company's culture – or won't be any longer.

The distasteful picture of a day in the life of an Amazon worker was magnified by a contemporaneous Netflix announcement that it would grant up to a year's leave for new fathers and mothers. This employee decision was designed in large part to retain and recruit top-flight young talent. But it also showed a positive face externally to Netflix customers. The decision aided customer bonding.

Even by Bezos description over the years of what makes Amazon tick, it is clear the company places innovation and customer service above all else. It may not quite as simplistic as Donald Trump's "I'm a winner and you're a loser" mantra, but it isn't warm and fuzzy either.

Perhaps you can't become the world's largest retailer by being warm and fuzzy, but by the same token you may not keep all your customers by telling a woman who suffered a miscarriage to go on a work trip the next day.

Amazon is extraordinarily true to its brand promise. But as Wal-Mart has discovered, what it takes to achieve your brand promise can get in the way of customer relationships.