Category Archives: Corporate Identity

Can Super Bowl Ads Damage Brands

Well, tomorrow’s the big day – Super Bowl Commercial day. I know we all wait in anticipation to see who can be the most irreverent and irrelevant.

Commercials as entertainment, and hang the concept of product promotion.

The thing I can’t understand is how top management types allow this to happen. Is it because they get great seats in the VIP loges? Or is it because they get bragging rights at the next trade convention? Is it because their ad agencies have creative mystics working on their accounts and they can’t say “no” to them and be in the “know”?

Last night CBS aired a look back at old Super Bowl commercials. They even had a phone-in/text-in contest so viewers could select the best of the best from years past. Apparently they’ve been doing that for years, and seven years in a row the “Mean Joe Green” Coke commercials won out. This year’s runner-up, a sheered goat “streaker” at a “ball game” played by draft horses for Budweiser.

To my mind there was no comparison. The Coke ad, with a small boy offering a game-weary Green his Coke. After drinking it, Mean Joe threw his jersey to the boy. Both participants “won”, and we had a warm feeling about giving and sharing. It was a humanistic moment, sponsored by a company not afraid to be humanistic. And there was plenty of product displayed. There were associations there that Coke could be proud of: the warrior, the kid, the game, the compassion. I’m so glad this “outdated” messaging won again.

Contrast this classic with a streaker goat. Hard to relate to this piece of fluff. The only thing that even remotely was associated to Budweiser were draft horses. But instead of pulling the traditional beer wagon, they were playing football? Perhaps that’s as close to an association as Budweiser wanted.

I’ve long thought the Wannamaker’s quote that “half of my ad dollars are wasted, but I don’t know which half”, didn’t really approach the severity of the problem. I do consider it a problem. Agencies seem to thrive on being irreverent and irrelevant.

That’s one reason Al and Laura Ries wrote another minor classic book on marketing communications: The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR. They say it much more eloquently and with facts to back them up. I just know I’m glad that my agency experience (some of which I share with Al Ries because I followed him into Marstellar Inc. just after he left to form his first agency) occurred while we “creatives” were admonished to find differentiation and benefits within the offering, and to remember to respect the prospects we were attempting to influence.

I admonish advertisers: if you have a code of conduct for your employees…if you ask your customer service people to treat your customers with dignity and compassion…if you want to demonstrate fiscal responsibility to your share-holders…if your product or service has value and benefit, please find an ad agency that will honor those values and produce advertising worthy of the company and its stakeholders.

So go on and watch the commercials tomorrow. But ask yourself two    questions: Do you believe the advertising represents the advertiser’s brand well? Did they get their money’s worth?

Oh, and one more: do you remember the name, much less the underlying benefit, of the advertised product?

Martin Jelsema
Power 150: ranked 118

Brand associations: be careful of the company you keep

This week it was announced that a pilot program will allow advertisers to expose an ad message to airline passengers through the medium of airport security tubs that pass through the X-ray with your belongings. The message is silk-screened to the inside of the tub, so as you unload your computer, shoes and whatever else required by any given alert, you can read the advertisement.

Now I need to ask you, is this an appropriate medium for your brand to be associated with? Would you consider advertising in airport tubs if you had a relevant message?

If my pocket knive/nail file had just been confiscated, I might find an ad for Swiss Army Knives timely. But after that incident, I’m not in any mood to receive a message reminding me of my loss. I’d judge Victorinox (the company behind Swiss Army Knives) to be opportunistic and I’d resent that as much as the fact I have had to wait in lines, get to the airport three hours before a flight, and then have my property taken from me. I’m not in the mood. Being exposed to ads in this captive situation does not enamor the advertiser to me.

A lot of entrepreneurs have invented unique advertising media. Think public toilet doors, for instance. They’ver also promoted all sorts of opportunities for advertisers to “display their wares” – events, organizations, odd and unexpected “billboards”. It’s part of the whole “experential marketing” craze.

In just about every opportunity to either use a unique medium, co-brand, sponsor an event or associate with a personality, you have to ask, “Will this association be appropriate for the brand?”

Some associations might look great on paper, but a little digging might prove otherwise. Here’s an example: about a year ago, Sweet’N Low embraced the Pink Panther as its advertising mascot. But remember where that panter’s been – for many years associated with Owens-Corning insulation. So I begin to associate Sweet’N Low with asbestos. That’s where my mind goes. (Yes, I have a long and perverse memory.) I haven’t seen that campaign in several months now.

So before you sponsor or participate or advertise, think of the ramifications of the association. Be sure it fits your brand and its image, that it conveys the right message to your market, in the right context and with the right associations.

Martin Jelsema