Let Me Ad a Word...
A friend sent me an article on thrillist.com that rated all the Super Bowl ads, and he asked for my comments about them.
Though I’ve written TV ads, I’m hardly an expert. But (and this doesn’t make me an expert either), I’m named after a relative who was an expert. Really. Isadore James Wagner, and I’m Robert James Elisberg. That’s why I always write professionally as “Robert J. Elisberg,” as an homage to him. He was one of the “pioneers” in using singing commercials on radio. I have an excellent book on old-time radio, The Big Broadcast, sort of an encyclopedia, which has a section on commercials. They give about a dozen examples of famous radio jingles, and two of them are his. (One was used for many decades and even I got to hear it on TV, the “What’ll you have? Pabst Blue Ribbon” jingle.) He also gave Studs Terkel his first break on radio – and in Terkel’s two memoirs he always give Iz credit. When I read an interview with him giving credit to “That adman I.J. Wagner,” I ran to tell my mom, and she said, “Oh, yes, I know. When Iz died, Studs spoke at his funeral.”
A story about him and advertising which in a way relates to commenting on Super Bowl ads. Years back I was talking with an elderly screenwriter, David P. Lewis, who used to write ads in Chicago. I mentioned having a cousin who did that, I.J. Wagner. He said he didn’t know him, but worked at the agency where he had worked. The story is that when he got hired there, he was a know-it-all kid, and when he was told that one of their clients was Thomas J. Webb Coffee (very big in the Midwest at the time), and one of Iz’s big ads, David said he went on a know-it-all rant about how he hated the ad because it was so annoying. The supervisor went and got a rate book and let him read it – it showed that the ad was WILDLY successful and incredibly well-remembered. The point being, he realized, that you’re not writing art but trying to get the public to remember your product and then buy it.
(The ad – not one of his singing jingles -- was an annoying woman’s raspy voice calling out, “Morrrrrtimer!! Don’t forget to get the Thomas J. Webb Cofffffffff-eeeeeeeee!!!!”)
Before I looked at what Thrillist wrote, I passed along my two favorites. (I should add that I didn’t think most of the ads were all that wonderful, and there were the only two which, for me, leaped out. I liked others, but in fairness I didn't see all the ads, and the ones I did see didn’t strike me as great ads, just sort of fun.) My favorites were --
The NFL ad, promoting the upcoming documentary on the history of the NFL. It wasn’t really a “product” and didn’t make the point of what it was promoting all that great, but I just loved the ad.
The Microsoft ad for its usability features for disabled kids.
As a special mention, I liked the ad for Bubly soft drink with Michael Buble.
As for the Thrillist article, you can check it out here -- which has the added advantage of embedding all the commercials so you can watch the ones you missed list or check out those you did like again. My own comments aren't comprehensive, so I just skimmed the article, but these are my random thoughts, following the Thrillist order from worst to best.
And first of those is that their comments seem to be that if a commercial isn’t all that funny it should be downgraded. While I understand that to a degree if a commercial is trying to be funny, they seem to miss that the point of a commercial isn’t to be funny but…to sell a product. And sometimes being “too” funny is felt to detract from the product.
While they rated the Jason Bateman/Hyundai commercial as the worst, I thought it was wonderfully produced and great fun. However, I think it was a lousy ad for selling their cars. (In fact, I didn’t remember if it was for Hyundai or Honda.) So, I don’t know if that should make it it high on the list or low -- but definitely higher than "worst."
Their comment about how one of the reasons they didn't like the WeatherTech ad was because they felt the cellphone holider should be higher so that you could actually see the phone was idiotic. The whole point of the product is that so you keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. NO, they don’t want you looking at the phone.
I like the Stella Artois ad, though because I've never seen Sex in the City, and don't think I've seen The Big Lebowski in 15-20 years, I didn't quite get all the references, but I thought it was well-done and fun. And think that Thrillist missed the point of why it worked. And I liked, too, the quick but great use of "The Most Interesting Man in the World" -- not just because it was a nice addition and a tweak to another beer company, Dos Equis, but I suspect there was a bit of joyful comeuppance by the actor, Jonathan Goldsmith, who had been let go by the ad agency for being too old.
I didn't think the Pepsi ad with Steve Carell ad was all that effective in selling the product especially well, but I thought he was great fun in it.
Though I don’t watch Game of Thrones, I thought the Bud Light crossover ad with the TV show. was AWFUL. Not just because the two styles didn’t mesh, but Budweiser thought it was a great idea to have one of its iconic characters, the Bud Knight, get killed in a battle and then decapitated. Seriously????
I thought the Alexa ad was well-produced and fun, but thought it lost its focus on what it was selling. What I think they were trying to sell was how great and versatile Alexa is, and that it can do SO much, though some efforts were misguided because Alexa shouldn’t be used for that. A good point in theory, but it doesn’t come through properly, instead it looks like they’re saying Alexa doesn’t work well.
How weird that they describe the Mr. Peanut ad as “it’s all pretty stupid,” but rate it as #15.
I dislike the Verizon ads that have been running for the last few weeks – with the First Responders, and the tag line about how “They save everyone, and we make sure they got the call.” The ads themselves are good – but I hate the tag line. If the ad was the same and they ended with “Verizon salutes those who put themselves out to save others,” then that would be just fine. But to suggest that Verizon deserves to be part of the First Responder “team” and deserves part of the praise and thanks, simply because they connect the phone call is bothersome. Furthers, as far as I know, there isn’t an issue with any other service not being able to connect to 911 and First Responders. Besides which, how do we know that in these cases the call to the First Responders was made using Verizon service?? Maybe it was, but maybe not. Either way, though, they are NOT part of the team.
I can’t say that that Bo Jackson commercial for Sprint was very good, and they even say so, too, yet make it #11 best simply because they like seeing Bo Jackson!
Thrillist saying that “Obviously, it’s hard to get too outraged over a clip of Andy Warhol eating a burger” misuses the word “outraged.” I thought the ad was fairly effective in getting your attention, which is a critical aspect of any ad, though I can assure you there were people at our group who were indeed close to outraged by it, thinking it boring, a bit creepy and inexplicable. But at least them making it #4 made my point to those “outraged” folks that the ad was effective in getting attention and being remembered.
Okay, two of my favorite three made their top three, so I can’t complain about that – the Microsoft ad and the one for Bubly. Though I wouldn’t have put the Bubly ad #1. But – but – they completely ignored and left out the NFL promotional spot. Perhaps because it was just a “promotion” and not a tradition ad per se, but so what? It was great. And even if one didn’t like it, you at least include it!!!
And that they thought the avocado ad was the second best is bizarre. Among other things, it didn’t do much to sell avocados (focusing mostly on the unrelated, goofy antics of the humans) …which is the point of an ad.
Well, it’s all personal taste. And I admire that Thrillist took the leap to rate them all in order.
I think your recommended tag line for the Bob Dylan “Blowin’ in the Wind” ad is a perfectly good one for commenting on Dylan’s song, but not an especially good one for selling the product.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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