'Wish I was asleep during this year’s Super Bowl,' says a disappointed Thomas Kolster as he reflects on the Super Bowl's advertising 'cuvée' of 2019.
When advertisers enter the world’s priciest commercial break during Super Bowl, you’d expect them to have a powerful message that would strengthen the brand like E-trade’s cute babies, relaunch the brand in a new courageous direction like Apple’s 1984 or simply be an attention grabber like WV’s Darth Vader ad, but this year seemed more like the warm-up for a high school football game. The commercials were a trip back to the nineties onboard the mad scientist Doc Brown’s time travelling car DeLorean (which actually featured in this year’s Wal Mart ad) where celebrities, Hollywood, dogs and bad jokes were dominating the TV screens. Pepsi even ran an ad that was one big excuse for itself: “Is Pepsi ok?”. Maybe Coca-Cola should put some ad spend behind it or send a thank you letter to Pepsi?
Playing it safe
Last year, I heard many advertisers and agencies voice concern about purpose-washing or Goodvertising gone too mainstream. On occasions I’ve even joined the critics but mostly when I see a purpose-pooh too smelly to ignore like an arms company promoting its contribution to society. But this year, even the most creative agencies and advertisers collectively decided to play it safe. The progress, we’ve seen earlier years from corporate America to stand-up for issues they believed in was almost non-existent, maybe after all, it wasn’t a belief, but an attempt to wow consumers into buying more? Or simply just another outlived trend like the yo-yo? Advertisers from Hyundai to Planters even ridiculed the advancements made into planet-friendly eating habits. Kale chips? Beetloaf? Seriously?
The few highlights
There were few highlights like Microsoft’s ad for game controllers enabling all kids to play – an uplifting technology message – or Google’s ad, 100 Billion Words, about how technology allows us to communicate more easily across cultures. Kudos to Budweiser for continuing to tout its societal commitment. I really admire their resolve, none of the challenges we’re facing as a society have quick wins. Last year it was about bringing water to those in need following horrible natural disasters like the one in Puerto Rico and this year Budweiser showcased to the beautiful chorus of Bob Dylan’s "Blowin' in the Wind" how they are part of a carbon friendlier tomorrow by brewing their beer powered by wind energy. This is an important message as politicians are trying to use climate change as a pawn in their political circus.
And some brands did dare to interfere with politics again this year although less openly. Desktop activism? Car brand Kia played the political card supporting the President’s US-First-agenda with an ad celebrating the ordinary people producing their cars but executed without the muscle from earlier similar messages like Chrysler’s Super Bowl 'Imported From Detroit'-2016-campaign. The Washington Post also lacked thrust with its 1-minute ad featuring live footage, but the message was important: "Knowing keeps us free." And maybe that’s all we can deduct from this year. We have to keep the discussion going about the role of advertising and the role of corporations in our society and how corporations should or shouldn’t use their voice to make us laugh, cry, think, act or buy. I feel like the guy portrayed in the Super Bowl Audi commercial, who drives an Audi e-tron GT only to wake up and sadly realize it was all a dream and he’s been rescued by co-workers from a near-death experience because of a cashew nut stuck in his throat. Please bring me back to a period before this year’s Super Bowl, where I naively thought Corporate America gave a shit.
Please, let me keep dreaming.
Thomas Kolster, aka Mr. Goodvertising is a man on a mission, one of the early pioneers in the do-good space coining the term Goodvertising to describe the changing advertising landscape that’s become a movement in itself.
As a seasoned advertising professional counting more than 16 years he’s a vocal voice for advertising and brands as a force for good and his book “Goodvertising”is the most comprehensive book to date exploring communication for good.