February 04, 2014
Product Advertising And The Super Bowl
For the last few years, whining about the lousy quality of Super Bowl spots has become de rigueur among advertising observers.
While I hate to be non-contrarian, I'm afraid these people are right.
I'm sure there are a number of reasons for this. But I have a feeling that behind this phenomenon there's something going very, very wrong.
I believe that most agencies have bought into the idea that TV advertising is a dying category and the web is where they need to invest.
The result is that ad schools, ad agencies, and ad leaders are primarily looking for creative people with web skills. My experience with web creative skills is that they are substantially tactical. There is simply not much creativity behind most web advertising. I know, I know, every now and then someone does something wonderful on the web. But most of it is pure awful.
On the web there are two kinds of advertising: direct response, and "branding." The direct response stuff wants clicks. The branding stuff wants "engagement."
As far as I'm concerned, direct response and branding are the two least important types of advertising. The most important type of advertising is product advertising -- advertising that tells you why you need a product.
That type of persuasive, eloquent advertising is no longer to be found in the Super Bowl.
Ten years ago, Super Bowl advertising was heavily laden with direct response spots -- virtually every spot ended with a website it wanted you to go to. (The idiocy that TV spots should be about sending people to websites has, thankfully, died.)
Now Super Bowl advertising is all about "branding." It wants you to love the brand because the brand is fun or irreverent or is associated with some unassailable virtue like America or diversity.
It has always been my opinion that in most categories strong brands are built on great product advertising, not "branding." But it is virtually impossible to find a compelling product benefit in any Super Bowl spot anymore.
Product advertising is not just the type of advertising least commonly found on the web, it is now also the type of advertising rarely found on the Super Bowl.
I don't think that's a coincidence. I believe this fact is substantially responsible for the state of Super Bowl advertising, and TV advertising in general.
The web-first chickens are coming home to roost.