For once, Sunday’s Super Bowl game was exciting enough to compete with the commercials, with Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes leading the chiefs to 17 fourth-quarter points and a heart-pounding 38-35 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
The big winner in the ad game, according to Arkansas advertising professionals, was Farmer’s Dog, a dog food brand that scored with a heartfelt story of a girl and her dog growing up together, and the dog growing old as the girl starts her own family.
Myron Jackson, president and CEO of The Design Group in Little Rock, wasn’t alone in calling the commercial the best of the night. “Beautiful visuals coupled with powerful soulful vocals [“Forever” by Lee Fields] births great storytelling that makes an emotional connection and leaves the viewer smiling. Whether you’re a dog lover or not, you got it, and will remember the feeling, and the brand.”
The game was a nail-biter for the 50 million people betting on the game legally online, up from 36 million last year. A projected $16 billion was bet on the game online, but the stakes were also sky high for advertisers, who spent $7 million for a 30-second spot this year to reach more than 100 million viewers worldwide on the Fox Network. Local spots during the game were expensive, too, averaging $15,000 to $20,000 for 30-second commercials during the game, according to Jay Cranford of the Cranford Co. in Little Rock.
KLRT, Fox 16, was Little Rock’s affiliate for the game.
“You’ve got to get the most for your money,” Cranford said at the annual pregame ad-watch party that he hosts with Denver Peacock of The Peacock Group every year at Cranford Co.’s offices on Main Street in Little Rock. “It’s gone up again, $500,000 [above] last year’s 30-second cost,” Cranford said.
And that doesn’t even factor in the money companies put into production of their campaigns, which often are previewed before the game and carry on long after.
Celebrities and Nostalgia
Cranford noted that Budweiser lost its exclusivity for Super Bowl beer ads, and that common themes included celebrities, nostalgia, and musical numbers. A new trend was brand partnerships.
“Several brands decided to work together,” Cranford said. “Probably one of my favorite examples is Chevy and Netflix.” Netflix has agreed to feature more of Chevrolet’s electric vehicles in its shows. “So Will Ferrell gives us kind of a fun tour through some of the Netflix shows driving his Chevy electric vehicles kind of fun.”
The ad wasn’t universally admired, but it drew appreciative laughs at the gathering.
The Farmer’s Dog ad got “A” grades from Chip Paris, the Fort Smith advertising executive, and Chip Culpepper, principal and chief creative officer of MHP/Team SI in Little Rock.
“Great production value and high emotion,” Paris said. “Connects with anyone who has ever had a dog and experienced that relationship.”
Culpepper said his consensus with his co-workers and creative team pointed to the Farmer’s Dog spot as “the clear winner” of the ad game. “It ably filled a void of emotion that we could, in years past, count on the absent Budweiser Clydesdales to plug with warm tears and Kleenex tissue. The spot was sweet and touching and tugged on all the feels.
“The only other contender for that emotional headspace was Amazon – who frankly got ‘out dogged’ – with their ‘Saving Sawyer’ spot about the pup who acts out his separation anxiety when his people have left his cozy Covid bubble until the family brings in an apparent mail order buddy and travel kennel.”
Jackson’s vote for worst ad went to Remy Martin’s “Inch by Inch” featuring Serena Williams, which The Design Group leader saw as a “classic example of a celebrity appearance on steroids.” Williams was asked to carry a message of triumph over adversity, Jackson said, but “the visuals took the viewer to a place reminiscent of a sportswear commercial.” Associating Remy Martin with athletic prowess was absurd, Jackson said, “and the brand is left to simply become an afterthought. Literally, insert brand logo here.”
Paris liked a Sam Adams beer ad that Cranford wasn’t crazy about, “Brighter Boston,” praising the ad’s humor and quality. “I loved having the ‘real Boston’ show up at the end.”
Cranford didn’t get the appeal of “brighter beer,” but conceded there’s a lot of subjectivity in the commercial derby.”
Paris applauded an Uber One ad loaded with celebrities, featuring a “funny concept” that “kept your attention through the whole spot,” followed by Bud Light’s spot featuring a couple dancing and having fun during an on-hold phone call. “Who hasn’t experienced bad on-hold music? Again, great execution taking a simple topic that everyone can connect with and making it humorous.” He didn’t like Michelob Ultra’s nostalgic Caddyshack concept, featuring former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, or Downy’s Unstoppables commercial, which forced its humor with slapstick.
Peacock agreed on the Uber One ad, saying its “catchy set of famous jingles” reinforced its sponsor’s benefits. But experts can disagree, as an old TV ad once said, and Peacock liked the Michelob ULTRA spot, which he said brought back Caddyshack’s “nostalgic fun.”
Culpepper grew a bit weary with the “nostalgia train,” suggesting a lack of execution hurt some ads and others lost their way trying to cross age demographic lines. “From recasting ‘Caddyshack’ for Michelob ULTRA, and ‘Clueless’ for Rakuten, or the various musical remixes offered up by Sean Combs for Uber One, the reliance on the borrowed interest of a pop culture reference often overshadowed who was advertising what. An exception to that might be PopCorners’ near-perfect mini episode of “Breaking Bad” to push a new snack food.”
Culpepper said he felt most advertisers played it safe this year, that the crop of ideas was “remarkably ordinary,” and that he didn’t laugh out loud at a single commercial.
“This may be the first time I can say that,” he said.
He said he almost laughed once in the Will Ferrell ad, when he “showed up as Dustin from ‘Stranger Things’ in the Netflix-driven GM EV mashup. “That tag-teaming of advertisers apparently sharing the multi-million dollar price tags of media placement and production cost is a trend that’s clearly here to stay.”
Jackson said the lifestyle experiences depicted could have displayed far more diversity. His wish list would have also included “more stories about the current state of America, and how for a brief four-hour window of time we find a moment to pause and attempt to celebrate hard work, fair play, and love of the game.”