superletdownbowl for canadian advertising

February 8, 2010 ·

so i was asked by media in canada (MiC) to give my thoughts on the superbowl - canadian edition. this gave me reason to watch a sport i otherwise don't much care for, and pay special attention to the canadian feed that is far inferior to that of the US one. that and host a party where i drink some beer which has delivered me to this state of hyper-incredulity i find myself writing this post in (at least first draft to be edited by a sober mind).

i'm going to go out on a very sturdy branch and say most (ie. all) canadians are quite discontent that they are forced to watch the canadian feed of advertisements during the superbowl. there's all the hype around the american advertisements and then all the disappointment when they see the canadian offerings. at least there's the internet to temper that letdown now and we don't have to wait for those retrospective shows to air the spots (every 5 years or so).

i'll just be one of the choir boys by saying the canadian offerings were standard fare. nothing really imaginative, nothing provocative, nothing gritty, nothing clever, nothing entertaining even. just a lot of by-the-book ads. it's to be expected really except that we have an expectation from years of superbowls to want the advertising to be special. yet we hope.

where i'll take this commentary on the (canadian) superbowl experience is from a strictly media perspective (supposedly my expertise). what i found was not just bereft of excitement and allure, but prodigious in its repetitiveness and unoriginality. to be upfront, in writing this article i tracked every commercial in a spreadsheet (oh the nerdiness) for later comparison so i'm supposedly informed in my statements.

my main finding was that repetition was a rampant theme. i'll get to naming names, but i just don't see the value in the buying strategies i saw in this year's superbowl. there were more than a handful of advertisers, each of whom bought more spots than i feel was really necessary. to the point that it was overkill and maybe even left consumers with a negative feeling for the brand by sheer volume alone (ie. annoyance).

if the superbowl is the epitome of destination viewing and not partaking in commercial avoidance, than what i saw was aiming to fight that opportunity and punch it in the face. in the superbowl is a captive audience who, in a high percentage of the audience, is there for the commercials or at least is not zipping, zapping, or walking away. that attention can work in favor of a brand by creating something memorable and playing it once or creating something pedestrian and repeating the hell out of it until it sinks in.

well, canadian advertisers in the superbowl, you went with option #2. resoundingly. kudos.

amongst my small gathering of friends, i asked them about the ads. asking if they had seen them when they were on their 3rd viewing. as validation for everything i have been lead to believe in my career, the notion of 3+ frequency holds true. while they had vague recollections of the spot previously, on the third go-round, it had reached its saturation point. then the spots kept airing.

remember, this is one of the largest audiences of any show and people care to watch the commercials. it's not a show with the passivity that plagues normal tv advertising in attaining traction. so why all the spots and why the utter mundaneness?

my assertion is purely a factor of the canadian approach to the superbowl. rather than mimicking the US model of a big splashy, high production spot that is memorable, we in canada rely on the traditional safe spot, and run it into the ground so as to have the same effect. i suppose that's fair given the relative situations. but why does it have to be that way?

in totality, the ads were like the party mix i served. all the dregs of many bags, thrown together, and presented as something new. a melange of old ideas, sedate creativity, and pinpoint banality wrapped up in borrowed excitement coupled with a media buy that allowed the repeated airing of innocuous ads.

here's the point where i become an apologist. if all that was presented to the media planner was a standard, conventional ad, then what i saw was the best strategy for it. without standout creative, then the media has to work hard to hammer the point home. it's just a numbers game.

but as quickly as i dole out that apology, i take it right back as i challenge the industry as a whole. that shouldn't be the case, superbowl or otherwise. we shouldn't aim for middle of the road. mediocrity shouldn't be our strategy and media shouldn't have to make up for it. we're better than that.

the media strategy in place, though, is completely legitimate. take a lackluster ad and show it multiple times, eventually people will pay attention (that's a generous characterization). but what could have made it incredibly compelling is instituting the notion of storytelling as the creative message. there were a plethora of companies who had at least 2 minutes or more of airtime and wasted it on rote tv ads. that's a lot of time to be able to tell some kind of insightful, product-driven story that makes the consumer take notice.

that's two minutes of airtime that could have weaved a deeper story, explored an insight, involved consumers, emboldened the audience, shown the company to be caring and not faceless, spoke to how they are making canada a better place or otherwise been anything but what they were. the oomph and impact of something meaningful was mostly absent. i'll repeat, this doesn't need to be expensive.

yes, storytelling is a vague and non-uniform concept, but it is nothing if not absorbing. what we know of tv ads is becoming passe. we as marketers need to find new ways of speaking product truths, virtues and benefits and that way is by weaving an interesting and compelling story about the brand or involving the consumer themselves.

as a parting shot (and not wholly unrelated) i would also challenge the notion that this year's canadian superbowl was sold out for ctv. what would they have done if they weren't flogging the olympics? probably ran ctv ads which, wait, i guess is no different from what did happen. i get promoting the olympics, but there were very few commercial breaks void of some kind of ctv olympics spot and an athlete profile heavily branded with ctv. it was just too much.

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