Published 4 years ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: Budweiser's ad was one of only a few Goodvertising spots during this year's Super Bowl. | Budweiser (via YouTube)
Quick laughs, bad jokes, celebrities — but very few with a message.
When advertisers enter the world’s priciest commercial break during the Super
Bowl, you’d expect them to have a powerful message that would strengthen the
brand, like E-trade’s talking
baby from 2008; relaunch the brand
in a new courageous direction, like Apple’s
“1984”; or simply be an attention
grabber, like VW’s 2011 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 DeLorean (which actually featured in this year’s
Walmart ad), where celebrities, Hollywood, dogs and bad jokes were
dominating the TV screens. Pepsi
even ran an ad that sounded like one big justification for itself: “Is Pepsi ok?” Maybe
Coca-Cola should put some ad spend behind it or send a thank you letter to
I heard many advertisers and agencies voice concern about purpose-washing or
Goodvertising gone too mainstream. On occasion I’ve even joined the critics,
but mostly when I see a purpose-poo 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, in terms of standing up for
issues they believed
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
Kale chips? Beetloaf? Seriously?
There were a ew highlights — such as 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 Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico; this year Budweiser
showcased, to the beautiful sounds of Bob Dylan’s "Blowin' in the Wind," how
it is part of a carbon-friendlier tomorrow by brewing its beer powered by wind
energy — an important message, as
politicians are still trying to use climate change as a pawn in their political
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And some brands did dare to interfere with politics again this year, although
less openly. Car maker Kia touted
a 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 Audi’s Super Bowl
ad, 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 choking on a cashew. 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.
Published Feb 4, 2019 7pm EST / 4pm PST / 12am GMT / 1am CET
Thomas Kolster is a frontrunner and one of the most recognised thinkers globally where marketing, business and sustainability meet.