I’ve long argued that most Super Bowl ads were cheap and essentially ineffective for brands wanting to tell their story. Mostly glitz and little substance, Super Bowl ads were and still are the TV medium equivalent to oversold click-bait. Our memories serve as the ideal market research data, as the better ads of the past still resonate with us (including this ad by Volkswagen, one of my all-time favorites), and the less effective ones are about as memorable as the cheap guac dip you bought at the grocery at the last minute (these cheap Go-Daddy.com ads look especially flavorless in hindsight).
This year we were treated to especially bland flavors of million-dollar ad spend, largely due to the prominence of the current political climate, with brands tip-toeing around themes which effectively suffocated their creativity. The ad which “won” the award for most backlash this year came from Dodge, in a poorly constructed spot echoing a speech from Dr.Martin Luther King about the definition of greatness. It served as a poster piece of how an ad can be both politically moderate, yet tone-deaf at the same time.
Being real vs being correct
So with this dichotomy of political correctness versus an original point-of-view, what is the correct tone companies should choose if they wish to stand out, yet not incur the wrath of social media backlash? The answer is to be genuine, without pounding yourself on the chest (which means understanding who the real hero of your story should be). The Dodge ad didn’t work, because Dodge saw themselves as the epitome of what MLK stood for, whereas the truth is that being great has nothing to do with the kind of car you drive (and I don’t think MLK Jr. had much preference one way or another).
I thought one of the better ads this year was this ad by Squarespace, featuring a death-defying motorcycle stunt by the One himself, Keanu Reeves. The call to action was strong, and Squarespace centered on the roots of their brand-which is about creativity and self-expression. Understand your brand identity, and the values that make up what your company stands for, and your ad will stand out in a way that is real, and won’t leave bad tastes in the mouth for the inevitable water-cooler discussions the next morning.