The game plan was simple. Not for the Super Bowl, but for judging the ads:
Cranford Co. and the Peacock Group held a pregame party the Friday before Kansas City’s victory over San Francisco, offering early viewing “bragging rights” to Arkansas advertising pros and friends.
Waymack & Crew, the commercial makers just down Main Street, hosted an Arkansas Business postgame ad review on Monday. Time will tell if the ads prove worth their air time, $187,000 per second.
“One 30-second commercial was $5.6 million, far and away the most expensive 30 seconds on TV,” Jay Cranford said.
So why spend it, with the audience of some 100 million down a bit over the past decade? “It’s a good buy,” Stone Ward Creative Director Danny Koteras said. “The audience that you reach is tremendous, with every demographic possible.”
Bentonville’s Walmart and online rival Amazon jumped in for the first time, joining a parade of ads with movie riffs, humor and sentimentality. “Big stars” and “cars, cars and more cars” abounded, Cranford said, and the NFL delved into social issues, drawing applause but also criticism. (See NFL's Botham Jean Ad Brings Backlash.)
Jeep scored laughs with Bill Murray reprising “Groundhog Day” in an ad from the Highdive agency of Chicago, which also produced a disturbingly funny ad for Rocket Mortgage with Jason Momoa. In contrast to the “Groundhog Day” movie, Murray’s days grow exciting and new after he commandeers a Jeep Gladiator. “It was a great flip of the script, and it shows off the Jeep,” said Jay Stanley, another Stone Ward creative director.
Veteran Little Rock filmmaker Gary Jones called the ad an “inspired concept,” and Brooke Vines of Vines Brookshire praised coordination between the media and creative teams. “Somebody had to realize that Super Sunday was also Groundhog Day,” she said. “I’m betting that wasn’t anybody in creative.”
A gut-wrenching ad made in-house for Google features the voice of a widower recalling “Loretta,” who hated his mustache and loved saying “tickled pink.” In the end, Google is asked to “remember that I’m the luckiest man in the world.”
“If that spot didn’t move you, you have no heart,” said Koteras, who gave it a 10. Stanley was glad for a silver lining at the end. “It’s good that the guy calls for his dog,” he said. “I thought it sort of saved the commercial.”
Oher emotional ads featured Katie Sowers of the 49ers, the first woman to coach in the Super Bowl, and Budweiser, a “typical beer” showing off “typical Americans” achieving greatness. Kama Johnson of Waymack & Crew appreciated both spots, but warned that advertisers run a risk of being accused of pandering.
Other Arkansas favorites included Snickers’ spoof of the 1971 “Buy the World a Coke” ad, feeding the earth a giant candy bar dropped into a huge hole, and Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi speculating on how folks survived before Alexa. (A Victorian maid throws a flaming log out a window to adjust the heat; a frontier Al plays a favorite tune on his jug.) Martin Thoma of Thoma Thoma in Little Rock said the spot did “a clever and memorable job portraying how Alexa has transformed the notion of assistance. The ad underscores the notion that if you’re buying the Super Bowl to sell something, you’re in the wrong buy.”
Hyundai’s “Smaht Pahk” ad had stars ramping up their Boston accents, and Doritos’ “Cool Ranch” spot featured a dance-off rather than a gunfight between Lil Nas X and Sam Elliott. “I hope Elliott was paid a ton of money,” Jones quipped.
Porsche stole filmmakers’ hearts with its electric vehicle ad, “The Heist,” with classic cars tearing up the landscape in a chase around Stuttgart (the one in Germany, not in Arkansas County). MC Hammer and a man with orange fingers gave “Can’t Touch This” a new meaning for Cheetos’ new popcorn, a favorite of Koteras and Johnson.
Walmart spent at least $20 million, Cranford estimated, on its spot for Walmart Pickup. Images flew by in a rush of movie references, including R2-D2, the Starship Enterprise and two Bills from “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”
The linkage to pickup service, several reviewers said, was tenuous. Koteras likened it to a couple of ads, Momoa’s and one featuring John Cena and Jimmy Fallon, that he said failed to hammer home their branding.
“Both commercials got big laughs at our house, but when the break was over and the game was on, I asked them who those commercials were for,” Koteras said. “Not a single person could say Rocket Mortgage or Michelob Ultra.”
Culpepper, MHP Weigh In
Chip Culpepper, creative chief at Mangan Holcomb Partners in Little Rock, reviewed Super Bowl ads with his team last Monday morning, but his emailed analysis was noticed after the column above was filed for print publication.
Here were his thoughts:
“Consensus ‘Top 5’ among our highly diverse group were the ‘Groundhog Day’ revisit starring Bill Murray for Jeep, the emotionally charged ‘Loretta’ from Google, the Boston-heavy all-star cast ‘Smaht Pahk’ for Hyundai; ‘The Cool Ranch’ from Doritos with the iconic moustache of Sam Elliott doing the caterpillar, and Jason Mamoa getting ‘Comfortable’ in his own skin for Rocket Mortgage. Perhaps most telling from this list is that the products/brands being advertised were not lost in the message... Jeeps can drive in the snow, Hyundai has a new feature that helps you park in tight spaces, Google's logo was on a computer screen the entire time, and people get comfortable in the homes they buy with a mortgage. Oh, and Doritos taste good. Messages received.
"Last year, there was an obvious leaning toward all things A.I. or robotic. The theme of the class of 2020 clearly was the ascendance of the social media influencer fully into the mainstream. Sabra, Genesis, Olay, Turbotax and others included subtle nods or clearly included influencers and/or influencer tools like Tik Tok. There was a lot of diversity in casts and efforts to be not only inclusive but empowering — some of those efforts worked better than others.
"Another trend was overt nostalgia: MC Hammer, the aforementioned Bill Murray & Sam Elliott, Molly Ringwald, Winona Ryder (and dozens of other "past" celebrities in two spots for Discover alone) all brought throwback recognition and borrowed interest for their respective brands."