This year’s Super Bowl ads were the best ever…

…at making the argument that wasting millions in thoughtless brand advertising has become a “worst practice.” 

Whether you love football or love someone who loves football, I’m willing to bet you have a few opinions on the ads.

Like you, I watched the Super Bowl, and I, too, have my fair share of opinions. However, I feel it’s my duty to call something out. We, as marketers (I think it’s safe to assume like 98% of the people reading this consider themselves marketers), are hyper aware of marketing and advertising in our lives. So while my experience as an audience member for advertising messages is very different from, say, a mother of two who works as a tax lawyer, or a 22-year-old marijuana trimmer (we are in Colorado, after all), I tried to reflexively disabuse myself of that hyper-awareness as I prepared to write this blog post.

I truly hope that comes through.

But before I launch into some Internet screed about my peers’ creative work, let me preface with this: Brand advertising has a very real value, especially when it comes to the funnel-focused work we do at ID.

True, our flavor of revenue-focused (and dare I say, highly accountable) marketing calls for different tactics than awareness/brand messaging. We routinely work up-funnel from our clients’ unique value propositions, and find a way to tap into existing conversations with a highly targeted audience.

We don’t normally focus on purely brand-level messaging, but believe me, we can feel it when the brand messaging upstream from our campaigns isn’t right—or when it’s completely absent.

So yeah, it’s important stuff. And this year’s Super Bowl simply reminded me of how crappy a lot of it can be. With that in mind, I’ll share some of my opinions about how to avoid wasting your brand-messaging investments.

1. Making me feel a random emotion has little affect on your brand equity.

So daddy wasn’t there, Nissan? If I didn’t have a father, I’d think, “Man, I wish daddy was here.”

But what was I supposed to come away with from that commercial?

A. Nissan gets that I want my father around.

B. I wonder if this particular make of vehicle might give me plenty of headroom to cry about missing my own dad

C. I’m glad Nissan took on the deadbeat dad trope. And it shows some courage that they took it on in a realistic enough way to factor in that when the dad finally gets around to pick up his kid after missing years of his life, the kid just immediately forgives him and hops in the car without even a curt, “Hey, dad. Where the f#@k have you been?” Us sons let dads get away with everything, don’t we?

D. I wonder why Cathy didn’t have a beer when I offered her one. Is she pregnant? Oh look, a Nissan. I guess that’s still a thing. Why are those sharks dancing behind Katy Perry? Wait, do those trees have smiley faces? Maybe Cathy didn’t drink the beer because she dosed it. I’m scared. Is this going to last forever?

In the end, I really can’t understand why the inconceivable message of this daddy-centric particular ad would be coming from a Japanese car company known for fuel efficient, low-performance vehicles (excluding, of course, the amazing GT-R).

I happen to love my dad, so maybe this ad wasn’t for me. Or was it? Either way, I don’t think anything different about Nissan except for possibly, “Wow, the advertising agency that pitched that idea and got it made must have had a silver-tongued creative director.”

2. Showing us a moment in time in someone’s life and leaving us without any calls to action is a profound waste of my time and your money.

Dear GoDaddy, where are the women in bikinis? I mean, you were the king of combining a product with imagery that had no earthly connection. You had almost turned bad advertising into a kind of sick art. What happened?

We go from sexy web hosting to a guy in his office? Why do I care about him or you? And what on earth are you helping him do? And what on earth should we do? You’re a company who exists solely on the web. Tell us to go somewhere, click on something, learn the story of why you thought running this ad was a good idea, maybe point us to the LinkedIn profile of the guy who gave this ad the green light—anything.

Also, I just want to point out that this ad targets people who are missing the Super Bowl, and I can’t help but notice they ran it during the game—the exact place their audience isn’t.

3. Sometimes, taking a stand only matters to those that already stood with you.

I get it, Budweiser. Craft beer—you know, the stuff that’s made by hand and not in a decommissioned oil refinery—is crap.

Snooty beer drinkers and their pesky taste buds that connect to the pleasure centers of their brain—am I right?

So what if I agree? I’m already the person that drinks your swill. Enjoy your market-share increase of none.

4. Humor is no a replacement for actual messaging

Instead of picking on a particular ad, let me just say that the idea that a funny idea is any kind of replacement for a good idea is what kills me about this industry.

There is such a glut of creative, talented people in marketing and advertising that should be making narrative films in Hollywood. They aren’t because, let’s be honest, it’s a safer bet to go into advertising than trying to become the next Joss Whedon.

For this group, advertising is their creative output to the world. I sometimes wonder if they actually care about the brands with which they work at all. Based on the work, it feels like they are far more concerned about getting their ideas made and distributed to the public.

Although some of those ideas are brilliantly funny, they exist as mini skits in the world. They make us laugh, entertain us briefly, and then they’re forgotten. The final message is, ostensibly, “X Brand brought you a funny message.” But is that any reason to buy X Brand? 97% of the time, it’s not.

Which brings me to my primary point.

A message that isn’t, at its core, rooted in a company’s unique value proposition is just creativity for creative’s sake. It’s not marketing. It’s not advertising. And, in the end, it’s not worth the investment.

That’s why we don’t create a single sentence of messaging before we understand our clients’ unique value proposition. How could we? Without that information, we’re just telling stories about a vague solution to a group of uninterested potential buyers.

How does ID create messaging for our clients? Reach out and ask. Short answer is, we dig in. Drop us a line to get the long answer.

Theo Romeo

Author Theo Romeo

More posts by Theo Romeo

Theo oversees ID’s Creative Department. His team, made up of people more talented and smarter than he, is on a crusade to make B2B creative more compelling and engaging. You can routinely find Theo standing in front of a whiteboard, arguing on behalf of storytelling and challenging the sacred cows of B2B content marketing. Once the culprits responsible for all the high-volume, low-performing content flooding everyone’s desktop and mobile devices are vanquished, you will find Theo quietly staring out onto the waters of the pacific northwest, calm, fulfilled. But in the meantime, when Theo’s not chasing windmills or trying to find less patronizing ways to tell his team how amazingly proud he is of them, you can find him making croissants for his wife and daughter, while listening to black metal and sipping a Sazerac. His personal motto: “Empathy is the shortest path to happiness.”

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