Monday, February 2, 2015

Reviews of Super Bowl XLIX ads from A to Z

I’ve done it. I’ve reviewed every damn one of the Super Bowl ads. Sadly, these Super Ads didn’t have the stopping power of Terry Tate and years past. The old surprises are gone; we’re expecting the crotch shots, the celebrity appearances, the jerked tears and the sexual in-your-endo.  The thing that did surprise me was the tone—heavy. This is a football game, yet these marketers are coming at me with some heavy stuff: sexism, domestic violence, tragic accidents—all important issues. But gosh, I'm in my let’s-watch-the-game and do-they-still-do-the-bud-bowl, happy fun place. Which I don’t want to leave. This is supposed to be the ultimate bacchanalia of sportsdom. Marketers took me out that mood this year. 

Another thing that surprised me is the laziness of copywriters. It shouldn’t because my own laziness is renowned. Muhammad Ali, JFK, great speeches adapted, appropriated to pitch cars, and cruises and whatever the hell else.

Fine print:
Until I’m not too lazy to embed them, see all the ads reviewed here:

Of course, advertising is subjective, the opinions expressed are only my own, no hard feelings to those torched.

Let’s go:

Always “#LikeaGirl”
Leo Burnett
This one hit an emotional mark. It made me grateful I don’t have daughters. That line, “A GIRL’S CONFIDENCE PLUMMETS DURING PUBERTY.” It isn’t clever. It’s not funny. But it’s so strong. Every word tells. It hit me hard. Just when it did, the second line “BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO” brought me back up, right into a heart-breakingly real response from a child. The line “Let’s make #LikeaGirl mean amazing things” is softer and less effective, and the bridge to the brand “Rewrite the Rules” is less than seamless. The call to action “Share what you do #LikeaGirl” feels superfluous.

Bud Light “Real Life PacMan”
Energy BBDO
How fun was this? It seemed awfully authentic, but the creative in me couldn’t help but ask myself — is this guy an actor? How are they managing these perfect “hidden” camera shots if this is a real, in-the-moment hidden camera spectacle? Questions the millions of viewers enjoying this minute-thirty-second thrill ride probably weren’t asking themselves. I was right there maneuvering along with the guy through the Pac Man maze. When Pinky and Inky cornered him I felt that crushing anxiety. The art direction too! Everything from the giant quarter to the digital ghosts and game board were on point. The hashtag #upforwhatever works well and the tagline “The perfect beer for whatever happens” makes perfect sense — he wants this beer, he’s “UP FOR WHATEVER” and “whatever” happens.

Budweiser “Lost Dog”
A star-crossed story of forbidden love between horse and puppy. The wolves, the puppy in danger, the towering Clydesdales to the rescue. This one hit me right in the feels. Budweiser has enough equity in these Clydesdales to make this moving (if manipulative) story, the brand’s story. A win.

Budweiser “Brewed the Hard Way”
A fearless, direct shot over the bow at hipsters, along with the bold proclamation: BUDWEISER PROUDLY A MACRO BEER. We see scenes of soft men with overwrought facial hair “fussing” over craft brews in small glasses contrasted with regular, hardworking folks drinking Budweiser at the super-cool-imaginary-party-of-your-dreams. “LET THEM SIP THEIR PUMPKIN PEACH ALE” feels a little mean-spirited. But relighting “THIS BUD’S FOR YOU” is more social than the old imperative, “GRAB SOME BUDS.”

Avocados from Mexico “First Draft Ever”
In a mock draft hosted by football icons Mexico plucks the avocado and is praised for their pick. It never dips into the unexpected or roaringly funny. Admittedly a national fruit consortium has a tough road to hoe. The caveman does bear fruit for a light chuckle.

BMW “Newfangled Idea”
Unsophisticated show hosts Gumbel and Couric reprise their viral video, by still "not getting it" with BMW’s latest offering. Somehow Gumbel’s face distracted me, and the little Hyundai-looking car didn’t meet my brand expectations. The line “BIG IDEAS TAKE A LITTLE GETTING USED TO” and obligatory hashtag #HelloFuture felt disconnected. The “twerk”-reference at the end just seemed desperate.

Carnival “Return to the Sea”
BBDO, Atlanta
JFK romances the sea over beautifully shot seascapes. The line “COME BACK TO THE SEA” reminds me of drowning and that huge fleet of cruise liners also scares me. The logofarm has me thinking this consortium came together to try to overcome the recent PR and shipwreck disasters. I think I’d like to someday take a cruise. Less so after seeing this.

Dodge “Wisdom”
Richards Group
Centenarians share wisdom. Then a Dodge peels out. Love the cinematography and sound design. “YOU LEARN A LOT IN 100 YEARS. HERE’S TO THE NEXT 100.” I’ve been on a personal quest to root out the ambiguous phrase “a lot” in my writing, but here is a good, simple idea with great execution.

Fiat “The Fiat 500X Blue Pill”
Richards Group
An Italian couple’s sexual interlude is interrupted by an errant blue pill. The pill lands in a Fiat gas tank and, er, the car swells. Women swoon. The hyper-sexualized title card copy “Coming this spring. Hold out a little longer.” barely qualifies as double-entendre. Beautifully shot, funny and memorable, even if the product benefit tank reads empty.

Jeep “Beautiful Lands”
Richards Group
Did Richards group do every auto commercial this year? “This Land is Your Land” plays over beautiful, iconic and unexpected world landscapes. Tired tempo and left-field tagline “THE WORLD IS A GIFT. PLAY RESPONSIBLY.” make me wonder why this couldn’t be a spot for Toyota, Land Rover or any sport utility vehicle. Finding out the product is America’s smallest, lightest SUV doesn’t help much since the preceding scenes were decidedly global.

Coca-Cola “Make it Happy”
Wieden & Kennedy, Portland
Dark scenes of cyberbullying, angst and growing anxiety are preposterously transformed into sunshine and tickles by a splash of soda on the Internet’s mainframe. “The world is what we make it” does feel like a relevant, universal truth, and #MakeItHappy” follows logically and grammatically. +1 for “Success Kid” cameo.

Discover “Surprise”
The Martin Agency
A man at Discover helps his twin who hates surprises avoid credit surprises. That man is subsequently surprised by a goat. The pre-roll ad I was served (shoutout to iProspect) before I rewatched this spot was better than this spot.

Doritos “Middle Seat”
An everyman in an aisle seat goes to great lengths to avoid giving the middle seat to an undesirable seat partner by making himself seem like a comically undesirable seat partner. Until he sees an attractive woman. But she has a baby. The baby conversation button after title adds a light smile. Low brow, high chuckles.

Doritos “When Pigs Fly”
Farmer won’t share (a single fucking) Dorito with a kid until pigs fly. Then of course, with the help of that kid, pigs fly. Hammy and off the mark for me.

Dove Men+Care “#RealStrength”
The Marketing Arm
Kids call for their dads. The question is posed, “What makes a man stronger?” and answered “Showing that he cares.” The transition into brand and dull line read are a stretch, but there’s real emotional content here.

“Sorta Pharmacist”
Heisenberg is sorta like your pharmacist, reminding us “sorta you isn’t you.” Esurance makes sure you only pay for what’s right for you, not someone sorta like you. I think this spot infers a high understanding of how insurance and actuarial tables work by viewers here to watch the game and some fun commercials. +1 for Breaking Bad.

GoDaddy “Working”
Barton. F. Graf
Ode to a business owner working through the big game. But... aren’t the business owners that are seeing this… watching the game? Also, there’s a surprising lack of skin for a GoDaddy spot. Admittedly, the young entrepreneur has his sleeves rolled up.

Intuit (TurboTax) “Boston Tea Party”
Wieden & Kennedy
The Boston Tea Party is in progress—action, fire, aggression—all come to a surprising stop. There's a marvelous facial performance by the Loyalist soldier who asks, “What if it were free to file your taxes?” The stunned patriots, of course, think this offer is a good one, and the civil war comes to a halt over the dulcet tones of Bob Dylan. Each scene better than the last. Of course, and I hate to point it out, but it’s always been free to file your taxes.

Jublia “Tackle It”
Harrison and Star, NY
Illustrated pharmaceutical commercial. A foot is a football player. We’re encouraged to “Tackle Toenail Fungus.” Blegh.

Kia “Unexpected”
David & Goliath
Pierce Brosnan is pitched a film. The details are not what he expects. He’s driving through snow in a Kia to “fireworks” with a woman at a cabin. Because Kia is the “THE PERFECT GETAWAY VEHICLE.” I’m embarrassed to say I don’t get the sideshow. What is this fake film? Why does he want to keep the car? I think “Unanswered” might be a better title than “Unexpected.”

Lexus “RC Illusion”
Team One
Rad stunts that appear to be done by a small radio-controlled Lexus are actually performed by a full-size car. Wordless and neato if selling the vehicle a tiny little bit small. Like many of these spots, we’re invited to see more online. I won’t.

Lexus “Make Some Noise”
Walton Isaacson
A group of great-looking African-Americans get in a group of great-looking cars. Mirrored footage. Percussive music. Strange wet hair whipping and splashing. “Be seen. Be heard. Make some noise.” What the hell did I just watch?

Loctite “Positive Feelings”
Fallon, Minneapolis
Built to be bizarre, this fanny-pack wiggling, character casted, reggae dancing, product demonstrating, lyrically pitched, eccentric spot was given the same name as the brand strategy. I know I for one, walk away with some oddly born “positive feelings” toward Loctite.

McDonald’s “Pay with Lovin”
Leo Burnett
Another “hidden camera” piece, McDonald’s charges customers by asking them to call mom, or say something kind, or hug or dance. “Pay with Lovin” is a neat idea that fills me up with warmth if not a desire to eat at McDonald’s.

Mercedes “Fable”
Merkley & Partners
The tortoise and the hare go at it again. The hare squanders his lead (a la Seahawks) and the tortoise wins by driving a Mercedes to the finish. Fun, but the “hair-raising” pun from Don Draper’s mouth did make me cringe.

Microsoft “Estella”
A real story from Microsoft’s quest for impact. Estella takes technology to the inner city. I think. “Empowering us all” Wait, what? Too often it seems like when a brand does advertising in house, it comes out sounding like they are talking to themselves.

Microsoft “Braylon”
Child amputee straight going after it—with the help of Microsoft technology hits harder. Another spot in the campaign, with a better story and better connection to brand here. Stronger impact too.

Mophie “All Powerless”
Deutsch L.A.
Natural and unnatural disasters reign the earth. Penguins fly. Dog walks man. “WHEN YOUR PHONE DIES, GOD KNOWS WHAT CAN HAPPEN.” God’s phone, evidently, has died. Brings humor to a truly frustrating problem and offers an answer, themselves. As a brand introduction (as it was for me), it’s really well done.

Nationwide Insurance “Invisible”
Mindy Kaling thinks she’s invisible, but when she tries to kiss Matt Damon she realizes she isn’t. It just seems that way — but Nationwide won’t treat you like that. This one works for me because of my awareness of Mindy and Matt. If you don’t share the same background with the actors, this piece could fall flat.

Nationwide Insurance “Boy”
Ogilvy, NY
A kid laments all the things he’ll never do. Because he died from an accident. Cut to overflowing tub, and a dark pit in the center of my stomach. Congratulations Nationwide, you’ve made me feel shitty. I don’t want your help Nationwide. I’m not crying, you are.

NFL “Super Bowl Rally”
Team-agnostic montages of pregnant moments in football. Cheers from all over. Lots of cool cameos. “TOGETHER WE MAKE FOOTBALL” Dramatic, relevant and fun. -1 for not enough Steelers.

Nissan “With Dad”
TBWA/Chiat/Day, LA
Saccharine “Cat’s in the Cradle” plays over a darkly shot and somewhat absentee racecar-driving father. Kid grows up. Dad works his way through crashes and danger to find success on the track. He finally comes home, tears in his eyes to pick up his son from school. I had to watch this a couple of times. I’m still not sure what’s going on. Dad was there throughout the years. Huh. Stumper. Anyway, it did hit me in the feels.
C+ “No more”
A 911 call disguised as a call for pizza delivery. We pan through the house, see signs of violence, but no people. “WHEN IT’s HARD TO TALK IT’S UP TO US TO LISTEN” A subtle and nuanced message to report domestic violence and sexual assault. Some dark shit here. Thanks a ton Ray Rice.

Pepsi “Half Time Touches Down”
A Pepsi machine is lifted up into the air. A Pepsi Truck. Cans. Guitars. A wig. A space stadium comes down from above. Halftime begins. Overproduced nonsense that feels more like a CBS segue than a Pepsi ad.

Skechers “The Hall”
Slitanen & Partners
Finally, Pete Rose is in the hall. Where he’s not supposed to be. This corny fifteen-second spot got my attention and I actually checked the shoe styles. Effective if not high concept.

Skittles “Settle It”
DDB, Chicago
A duel for the last lemon Skittle is settled "the usual way." In a town of folks with hugely pumped right arms, they arm wrestle. The dog was a nice touch. Skittles' wacky shenanigans always give me a smile.

Snickers “The Brady Bunch”
The tried and true concept of “you're not you when you’re hungry” gets inserted into the Brady Bunch. I think this spot falls flat without the right casting. Fortunately, they got it exactly right.

Sprint “Apology”
Deutsch LA
Adult Swim-style title cards and music cut to the second screaming goat we’ve seen tonight. More title card messaging, and bring out the bleating ass (not Collinsworth). “CUT YOUR BILL IN HALF” got my attention, but this is another example of a commercial more effective than interesting.

SquareSpace “Om”
Wieden & Kennedy, NY
Jeff Bridges meditates with one of those singing pots over a sleeping couple. DREAMINGWITHJEFF.COM I like how they opened up the kerning between the words in the url. "A website built with SquareSpace." Not quite enough bewildering intrigue to get me to the site. 

Supercell “Revenge”
Barton F. Graf
Liam Neeson loses a mobile game called Clash of Clans to BigBuffetBoy85. He promises revenge in the menacing way he does in the film franchise Taken. AngryNeeson52’s tirade is interrupted by a barista announcing a scone is ready for "LI-am". This one works well for me because it borrows the power of his past performances. Again, acting talent, not a big idea, is what elevates this spot.

T-Mobile “#KimDataStash”
Publicis, Seattle
In the style of a SPCA fundraising commercial, Kim Kardashian laments the lost data that could’ve been used to look at her, forgive me here, assets. “IT’S YOUR DATA. KEEP IT.” T-Mobile promises to let you keep your unused data for a year. Real problem. Real benefit. I personally prefer to use my data on Kate Upton, but I cannot hate on those who’d rather download Kim. Not funny exactly, but smart.

T-Mobile “#One-Up”
Publicis, Seattle
Sara Silverman and that other comedienne go “and one” against each other reporting on call sound quality in increasingly bizarre and impressive places in their home. The comedy is cute but unsensational, ending on a flat note with that other comedienne in the crawlspace under her house face-to-face with a "rabbit" that looks curiously like a possum. “CALL AND TEXT WHEREVER THERE’S WI-FI” from T-Mobile, the “Uncarrier.” Not a super interesting commercial, without a super interesting benefit.

Toyota “How Great I Am”
Saatchi & Saatchi, LA
Another famous speech repurposed to sell product. Another double amputee going after it hard. Inspiring. But what in the everloving fuck does any of this have to do with a Toyota Camry? Calling the Camry bold is bold in itself. You’ve got to prove that, or else I’ll continue to think of the Camry as a great car for a lot of reasons, but not boldness.

Toyota “My Bold Dad”
Saatchi & Saatchi, LA
Dad monologues about fatherhood. We see him being a good father over the years. Then his daughter leaves unexpectedly for the military. You got me, I felt it. A visceral swelling of pride and fear and admiration. But I still don’t think the Camry is remotely in the ballpark of bold. Sorry.

UCool “Heroes Charge”
Animated fantasy heroes battle for 5-seconds. Now download a video game. No thanks. Telling me to download this game without getting me emotionally invested is simply unsmart. I don’t understand why they chose to keep their Super Bowl spot in house.

Victoria’s Secret “Let the Real Games Begin”
I do understand why they kept this one in house. How could you ever give this job away to someone else? “OK, let’s do super hot women in lingerie cut with title cards about how the brand is known worldwide, finish on a long pan up on tremendous boobs. And “LET THE REAL GAMES BEGIN” to let people know we realize this spot is in the Super Bowl”. I gotta say it works.

WeatherTech “America at Work”
Pinnacle Advertising
Floormats. Straight talking product benefits and USA manufacturing. Boring and without concept, gets completely lost in the spectacle of one hippopotamus huge ad after another.

Weight Watchers “All You Can Eat”
Wieden & Kennedy, Portland
From the opening line, “Wanna get baked?” you had me. An explosion of food products, gluttonous and grossly marketed this ad shreds the rampant food consumerism that plays all around it. Finishing on a clean empty plate underneath the line, “It’s time to take back control.” The spot plays like a drug-addled anti-drug ad and is unlike any other spot of the night. It's conscientious without being condescending, offering a hand without being heavy-handed. Despite a slight tinge of hypocrisy, this is for me, the best ad of the Super Bowl.
A “#itsthateasy”
Committee LA
Reprising his role from Entourage, Ari’s high-strung secretary advises ball-slinger Favre to build himself a website. After all, Terrell Owens did it with T.O.’s Humble Pie, Franco made a wedding site called “Immaculate Receptions” and Emmitt Smith makes the improbable “Double Deuce” cowboy-themed club website. Cut to the future where we see Brett’s “Favre and Carve” site he did all by himself. #ItsThatEasy. Cute and effective, but relies on star power rather than an idea that engages the audience.

Monday, January 12, 2015

An expert's guide to failure and defeat.

Education exacts a cost. Failure is tuition.

The stakes of enterprise is falling down.

Low, into speechless sorrow and rankling remorse.

In every saddening soul. In my own write.

But if you’re breathing, things can always get worse,

And if you wallow, things certainly will.

Way down on the canvas or mud or gutter. Listen.

Through every silence, every breath, every sigh,

Though all ambition, meek or soaring, cracked,

And deep-sunk in a growing darkness.

Where even allies gape down in pity

Offering gut squeezing limericks of regret.

The murmuring crowd idly passes sentence,

You can’t. I told you so. You’re finished.

Listen. Over the clattering bells of finance,

And the roaring engine of continuous commerce,

A persistent voice.

Quiet, but perfectly clear.

Get back up.