The Super Bowl Ads That Should Have Run

Originally posted on

I suspect 2014 will be one of the last years that Super Bowl commercials have the cultural power they do. As our consumption patterns move away from must-see TV and all-uniting cultural events toward streaming, digital, on-demand entertainment, there’s not much left that everyone is going to tune in to en masse.

To be sure, the Super Bowl is bound to be one of those last real-time mass-consumed events, and it reportedly had the chance to break the 2012 record for viewing audience of 111.3 million people. But the Ad Bowl—which has long been the main draw of the game even for many folks who aren’t in the ad business (who cares about football when there are ads to watch?)—got under way very early this year, and the ads broke with huge drama (read: buzz on steroids). And even though the Los Angeles Times reported in December that the average TV spot went for about $4 million (a number Forbes staffer Mike Ozanian reported could deliver less bang for the buck than last year’s audience-per-ad-dollar decrease of 84 percent since 1967), it seems as if no one waited for last night to see or discuss them. The Web lit up with synopses, conversation, buzz and even videos of the commercials themselves weeks before the big game. (Bleacher Report had good previews here and here.)

We even knew all about, and saw, a commercial that ended up not running: the one with Scarlett Johansson shimmying out of a bathrobe and sipping fizzy water made with a SodaStream machine, because her lines dissed Coke and Pepsi. The story of that unaired ad and how it became “marketing gold” even landed in Harvard Business Review.

Here’s my short list of the ads that should have aired—even with that $4 million price of entry:

  1. A spot from advising people to adopt pound dogs of all ages when they fall in lust with all the #bestbuds on Instagram.
  2. An ad from BluePrint Cleanse promoting its three-day juice cleanses, because when is there a better time to wipe the toxins out of your system than the Tuesday to Thursday after the mania and gluttony calm down? (Seriously, Forbes staffer Kurt Badenhausen pointed out in an entertaining stats-filled post last week that Super Bowl Sunday is the second-biggest day of food consumption in the U.S. after Thanksgiving. The National Chicken Council estimates that 1.25 billion wings will be eaten during the game, with Denver residents 5 percent less likely than the national average to consume wings and Seattleites 44 percent below the average. And a projected 48 million takeout pizzas were to be ordered last night. I wish a pizza had advertised and shared a metric showing which ZIP code is most impressionable—most likely to get on their phones or on Seamless when they see a cheesy, gooey, gluten-rich pie.)
  3. A spot from the game’s host, the State of New Jersey, explaining that despite the lingering damage from Sandy, and now having its governor embroiled in a scandal (making another Jerseyite—Richard M. Nixon of Saddle River—seem like the Mr. Rogers of politics), the beaches have reopened for tourism.
  4. The announcement of a new online dating service that matches sports lovers with one another and ad lovers with those who prefer the Ad Bowl to the headbangers on the field.
  5. A PSA on traumatic brain injuries.
  6. An ad for the Affordable Care Act, to see if the government can sell Americans on something good for them in 30 seconds—and to watch it cascade the messaging through all the surround-sound channels as it broke the ad. (I’d also like to see a PSA for civility in everyday life, so if you disagree with Obamacare, you do so thoughtfully.)

Of course, some of these are just wishful thinking, but others seem like no-brainers to me. And although we might be in one of our last years of the cult of the $4 million Super Bowl ad, those ads are still very influential in 2014. The leaks and the buzz are making them even more so.

The companies that don’t pony up the dough for spots and can’t figure out how to crash through the clutter need to realize that these weeks are all about staking out a share of something. I reckon we need a new metric: share of chatter. That’s why I’ll be eavesdropping this morning and counting who is talking about what—and why I’ll be even more interested in what trends on Twitter, Google, Reddit and the like.

And that brings me back to my wish list of ads we should have seen. Last but not least, I think the 4A’s—the American Association of Advertising Agencies—should have had a spot during the game, staking a claim to its magnificent role in shaping culture and highlighting the role it will continue to have as we move away from must-see real-time TV into a viral future. Just think where everyone in my profession would be, let alone what the Super Bowl would be, if it hadn’t been for Steve Jobs, Chiat\Day, Lee Clow, Steve Hayden and Ridley Scott. Their brilliant “1984” ad foreshadowed the new social we think is oh so normal.

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