Monday, February 2, 2015

Super Bowl Commercials 2015

A shot from Nationwide's controversial Super Bowl ad
I have always suspected that most Americans do not actually watch the Super Bowl. Instead they watch the commercials that air during the Super Bowl. At least since the Eighties the Super Bowl has been the event during which companies have trotted out their best in advertising. Over time commercials have become a large part of the Super Bowl, so much so that I think in most years they actually overshadow the game.

Unfortunately, if there was a Golden Age of Super Bowl Commercials, I think it may well be over if this year's crop of adverts is any indication. Many of the commercials that aired during this year's Super Bowl were no different from commercials that would air at other times of year. Several could have easily made their debuts on reruns of Jane the Virgin in July. To wit, Victoria's Secret aired their first commercial during the Super Bowl since 2008. It looked no different than Victoria's Secret commercials from any other time of year. The commercial for Carl's Jr./Hardee's also differed very little from any of their other over the top commercials. Lexus's "Make Some Noise" commercial was little more than a generic car commercial that could have aired in September.

Like many of the other commercials that aired during the Super Bowl, a lot of the movie trailers seemed as if they could have aired at any time of year as well. For that matter, many of the movies advertised seemed hardly worthy of a spot during the Super Bowl.  Pitch Perfect 2? Fast & Furious 7? Ted 2? There was a time when only the summer blockbusters and a few other "big" movies would get a spot  during the game. Both The Dark Knight and Marvel's The Avengers were advertised during the Super Bowl. With the possible exceptions of Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Jurassic World, Tomorrowland, Minions, and 50 Shades of Grey, none of the films advertised seemed Super Bowl worthy. Indeed, I am not even sure 50 Shades of Grey  is Super Bowl worthy, as I suspect it could turn out to be a non-event.

Of course, Super Bowl commercials have always been known for their humour. Unfortunately, most of the commercials that were supposed to be funny simply weren't. The past several years Doritos has held their Crash the Super Bowl contest in which people can enter their own self-made commercials in hopes of a spot during the Super Bowl. Sadly, Doritos must not have had very many good entries this year. While "Pigs Can Fly" was very funny, "Middle Seat" was a complete misfire. Doritos was not the only company with a commercial that simply wasn't that funny. T-Mobile's commercial "with Kim Kardashian was another dud as well.  Bud Light's "Real-Life Pac-Man" fell flat, in part because it was poorly shot and just too long.

While there were still plenty of commercials that tried for humour this year, the big trend in Super Bowl commercials was towards seriousness. This was particularly true of one of the most important commercials during the whole Super Bowl. The commercial for domestic violence advocacy group No More featured the phone call of a battered woman pretending to order a pizza while actually calling 911. The commercial was very tastefully done, showing only a few signs of violence about the house (overturned furniture, a busted wall, and so on) while showing nothing graphic. The NFL, who has faced its share of controversy due to domestic violence the past year, donated time for the sixty second spot.

In keeping with the seriousness of many commercials were ads that were (or at least tried to be) inspirational. Dodge had a very good spot simply called "Wisdom" in which centenarians passed on their words of wisdom. Carnival Cruise Lines, Jeep, Microsoft, and Toyota were among those who made commercials meant to be inspirational with varying degrees of success. Among the best of the inspirational commercials was one by Always feminine product manufacturer. Their commercial "Like a Girl" sought to redefine what it means to do something "like a girl". In keeping with the theme of feminine empowerment was Toyota's "How Great I Am" which featured Paralympic athlete Amy Purdy. Fatherhood was a recurring theme in many of the inspirational commercials. Commercials for Dove for Men, Nissan, and Toyota were all devoted to dads and their children.

Of course, every year there is at least one commercial that generates a great deal of controversy and 2015 was no different.This year it was a commercial from Nationawide Mutual Insurance titled "Make Safe Happen". The commercial begins innocently enough, with a mop headed boy telling of all the things he will never do (from learning to ride a bike to getting married).  Unfortunately we learn that he couldn't do these things "because he couldn't grow up" because he had died in an accident. The screen is then filled by images from every parent's worst nightmares: an overflowing bathtub, a kitchen cabinet wide open with household chemicals spilled all over the floor, and a wide screen TV that had fallen and apparently crushed a child.

Reactions from viewers to "Make Safe Happen" varied from shock to outrage. The general consensus was that the commercial was too depressing and too morbid to run during the Super Bowl. Nationwide issued a statement, which they had already apparently prepared, that began, "Preventable injuries around the home are the leading cause of childhood deaths in America. Most people don't know that." Nationwide further stated, "The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance."

Here I have to say I have some problems both with Nationwide's commercial and their statement regarding it. First, "Make Safe Happen" was a bit of a bait and switch. In the beginning it seems as if it is going to be a typical, "funny" Super Bowl commercial, right down to computer animated "cooties". By the end, however, it has switched into horror movie mode. This shift from whimsy to horror makes the commercial even more dark and depressing than it might have otherwise been. Second,  the commercial was terribly out of place during the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is an event during which people expect to have fun. If commercials aired during the Super Bowl are not humorous, then they expect them to be upbeat and inspirational. The last thing they expect is an ad that centres on a child who died. Third, even if Nationwide's statement is correct that most people don't know that preventable injuries in the home are the leading cause of the deaths of children in the United States, I suspect most people are aware that they are one of the leading causes of death. After all, the term "child proofing" exists for a reason. While I think reminders about child safety could serve a purpose for those who are not aware of the dangers the home can present a child, I think that purpose would be better served by a commercial with much more subtlety than Nationwide's commercial had. A commercial should inform people, not frighten them. Fourth, I do have to point out that children do watch the Super Bowl. I have to wonder that many of them did not have nightmares because of this ad. Ultimately, I think Nationwide failed miserably at starting a conversation about child safety, but they succeeded quite well at starting a conversation about their commercial.

Although not nearly as offensive as "Make Safe Happen" from Nationwide, the Jublia commercial was out of place on the Super Bowl. For those of you who don't know, Jublia is a topical solution for the treatment of toenail fungus. The animated commercial featured an anthropomorphic foot, complete with toenails infected by fungus, playing American football. Given food is often served at Super Bowl parties, it was perhaps not the best time for a commercial about a subject that can cause people to lose their appetites.

Of course, there were some very good commercials this year in addition to the misfires. Without further ado, then, here are my favourite ads.

Budweiser "Lost Dog":

This could easily be the most popular commercial this Super Bowl. It is a sequel of sorts to "Puppy Love", again featuring a puppy and the Budweiser Clydesdales.

Snickers "Brady Bunch":

One would think since its debut with the 2010 Super Bowl that Snickers would run out of ideas for its "You're Not You When You're Hungry" campaign, but the brand may have come up with their best commercial since the initial one with Betty White. Imagine the sitcom The Brady Bunch with appearances by Danny Trejo and Steve Buscemi.

Turbotax "Boston Tea Party:

Turbotax offers a humorous take on the Boston Tea Party....

Esurance "Say My Name":

This commercial from Esurance offers the interesting situation of having one's usual pharmacist replaced by Walter White from Breaking Bad.... This is the extended cut that didn't air during the game.

Clash of Clans "Revenge":

You do not want to make Liam Neeson angry when he's playing Clash of Clans

Nationwide "Invisible Mnidy Kaling":

Nationwide's other commercial may have provoked viewer outrage, but "Invisible Mindy Kaling" is actually quite funny and clever.

Mophie "All Powerless": 

This was mobile phone accessory manufacturer Mophie's first ever Super Bowl commercial, and I have to say that they made a great debut. It has fantastic special effects, a great narrative, and one of the best punchlines of any commercial during the Super Bowl.

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