“Our job is to bring the dead facts to life.” Bill Bernbach
Bill Bernbach never said bugger-brained. I threw it in here because he’s probably rolling over in his grave. Anyone figuring their advertising was worth $5.5 million a pop during Super Bowl LIV doesn’t need an advertising agency. They need psychiatry They need to know they’re bugger brained.
Sorry, Bill, but it’s appropriate here. The whole notion that a few stars, a few gags, a few Cheetos can turn dead facts into life is laughable. More than that, it implies we should be laughing — or crying in Google’s case — except, let’s be honest, it’s Google.
No offence to the Google employee whose grandfather was used in this spot. He was believable enough, possibly heart-rending in his own way, but DDB did it years ago before it was fashionable. Now we’re too cynical to know the difference between moving and malleable.
Those spots stuck to you like, well, Cracker Jacks (you had to hold onto them for a while, but they stuck).
Remember, Bill, when you used star power? Stars had never been used in television commercials before. You got Jack Gilford, a broadway man, and made Cracker Jacks a household name. They were simple spots, but Judy Protas and Bob Gage knew their business. Those spots stuck to you like, well, Cracker Jacks (you had to hold onto them for a while, but they stuck).
And, remember, Bill, when Roy Grace and John Noble brought you that idea for Volkswagen? It was just a Beetle sitting there with frosted windows. The door opens up and a guy steps out in a parka. Volkswagen. Now with air conditioning. So damn simple. You never forgot a Volkswagen commercial.
That’s the way it was back in the 60s, right, Bill? For 10 years, you and Jack Tinker and guys like George Lois, and a young upstart named Ed McCabe, just to name a few, defined this business and made commercials worth watching.
How worth watching were they? Even guys like Milton Berle and Dick Van Dyke worried the ads were funnier than the shows themselves.
Now it’s big money facing big money. Of course you want stars. Who else makes money like stars? You need John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, Jimmy Fallon and John Cena, John Krasinski, Chris Evans and Rachel Dratch.
Okay, the Boston accents in Hyundi’s “Smaht Pahk” were funny, especially since John, Chris and Rachel are all from Massachusetts, but it hardly has the sentiment of that wonderful old 1970s Ambassador spot, featuring a young Robert de Niro.
Not that Smart Park isn’t a great fact. Trouble is, the Boston accents overwhelmed the idea.
He comes home to show his parents his new car. “C’mon, ma,” he says, “let’s go for a ride.” “Dressed like this?” she replies. De Niro kisses her on the cheek. “You look beautiful,” he says, and every immigrant believed it.
Think of the growing immigrant population at the time. Think of the pride in owning things — especially things they couldn’t afford before. Making a commercial reflecting that pride of ownership—especially in the neighbourhoods themselves—didn’t just make that commercial believable, it brought those dead facts to life in a very real way.
Not that Smart Park isn’t a great fact. Trouble is, the Boston accents overwhelmed the idea. It became a gag. Gags only work if they’re selling, and this spot spent too much time gagging and not enough time selling.
Car companies as a whole relied too much on stars, and not enough on the product. When you’ve got nothing to sell, why spend $5.5 million? I mean, I like seeing Bill Murray as much as the next guy. It still won’t convince me to buy a Jeep (even with a groundhog).
Keep in mind, there were stars back in the 60s, some with more notoriety and sales experience (selling bonds during the war). Any one of them could have sold Cracker Jacks or an Ambassador. Bernbach — and others — saw more dignity and believability in characters like Jack Gilford and a young Robert de Niro. They never overwhelmed. They just sold the product.
It probably started on the Graham Norton Show when Jason Momoa admitted some of his tattoos weren’t real.
All that said, I liked the Rocket Mortgage spot. The writer probably got the idea from the Graham Norton Show when Jason Momoa admitted his tattoos weren’t all real. Hm, how do we turn that into a Super Bowl commercial?
Well, Momoa — like most of us — feels comfortable at home. And like most of us, he likes to strip off. Only he strips off his biceps, abs and hair. Now that you’ve got every ninety-pound weakling’s attention, how does that relate to mortgages, you ask? Well, it’s pulled together nicely with the announcer saying, “Home is where you feel most comfortable, and Rocket Mortgage makes you feel comfortable financing that home.”
Whether that’s true or not is anybody’s guess. They used their time ($5.5 million for a 30 second spot) to shock, amaze and amuse, something Momoa is pretty darn good at. The ending with him lifting a single weight poll is expected—but a nice touch.
No doubt he’s going to have a lot of people tugging at his biceps in the future — and possibly his hair. At least we know our own “getting comfortable” isn’t as weird as his (or maybe it is, I don’t know, my dog rolls on its back).
If Hulu had turned it into a gag, it would have flopped. Having him say, “Me? I’m not going anywhere” must have represented the greatest united exhale in Super Bowl history.
Tom Brady’s Hulu commercial isn’t bad. It kept everyone on the edge of their seats (including the Patriots). Everyone’s expecting him to announce his retirement. Instead, he reveals he’s quitting cable for streaming.
If Hulu had turned it into a gag, it would have flopped. Having him say, “Me? I’m not going anywhere” must have represented the greatest united exhale in Super Bowl history. It worked because we hate retirement.
One spot I can’t decide on is the WeatherTech commercial. David MacNeil, the CEO, wanted to recount how the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine saved his dog from cancer. For that, he forked out $6 million in advertising. Critics panned the spot, claiming $6 million could save a lot of dogs. McNeil defended the commercial, saying it was meant to drive donations to the Wisconsin Veterinary School.
The company can draw a huge mailing list from those donors.
My problem is, donations are made to WeatherTech.com.donate. The company can draw a huge mailing list from those donors. I know it sounds terribly cynical. On the other hand, name a commercial during the Super Bowl that wasn’t self-serving?
Maybe next year the dead facts will get their due. Until then, we’ll have to settle for these commercials going into regular rotation.
We’ll get tired of them. We always do.
Good thing Super Bowl LV is only 12 months away.
Robert Cormack is a satirist, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)”is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Skyhorse Press or Simon and Schuster for more details.