Super Bowl ads prove that bad publicity does exist

As a football enthusiast and professional marketer, I look forward to Super Bowl Sunday for the gridiron, entertainment and advertising whit. This year was no exception.

However, Super Bowl XLIX proved to be one of the most manic I can recall in a long time from the deflated ball controversy, game-changing call and game-ending brawl to the half-time show and commercials. The whole thing felt like Hunger Games meets Mike Tyson.

While I was fascinated by it all, I had even more fun participating in the Twitter conversation by following along using hashtags such as #SuperBowl, #SuperBowlAds, #SB49 and #SuperBowlXLIX. I laughed out loud quite a bit reading the Twitter feedback during the commercials!

Keeping it serious

Budweiser always does a great job with their commercials. I couldn’t help but watch this year’s spot a few days before the Super Bowl, so it had less impact on me during the game. Twitter exploded with praise and USA Today reports that the Anheuser-Busch puppy and Clydesdales won the night. Yet, there were still activists Tweeting that the ad negatively portrayed wolves (which I happen to love and yet know they are aggressive predators).

GoDaddy had to pull its Bud puppy parody just days before the game because animal activists complained it could encourage irresponsible dog breeding. In response, their ad agency created a spot in 24 hours to fill the $4.5 million ad space. They did a great job given the circumstances, but I didn’t know about the controversy beforehand so I waited and waited for them to air another spot. Little did I know.

Pulling at heartstrings

The Nationwide morbidity commercial really threw me for a loop. Immediately following the ad, which caused me to cry (so it was definitely impactful), the Twitterverse lit up with disdain. Check out some of the posts captured by AdWeek. My immediate reaction was, “Did the ad agency do any testing?” I cannot imagine that focus groups would have given the ad a thumb up for the Super Bowl. Timing is everything. @AlexMiglio wrote, “Someone needs to refill the Coke machine at Nationwide headquarters.” I can’t help but wonder if Nationwide will see a surge in sales or loss in customers.

Then there were the PSAs. I am a huge advocate of public service announcements and had known about the NFL’s “No More” campaign quite some time before it aired. AdWeek and other publications talked about it well in advance of the Super Bowl and I felt it was done in good taste. I would have preferred it if it had aired earlier in the game – but all in all, it was well done, not too graphic, and effective.

The P&G Always #LikeAGirl spot advocates against stereotyping girls. The commercial showed up on social media as a viral video months ago. Having seen it several times before, it lacked a sense of surprise, but it certainly had an impact. Tons of celebrities are tweeting about #LikeAGirl today.

Scratching our heads

As for Kim K.’s selfies, well, there’s not much to say other than, WHY? What is it that she was selling? I can’t remember.
ABCNews shares a list of the winners and losers, which included Nationwide, Weight Watchers and the one that was really repulsive, the toe nail fungus ad by Valeant Pharmaceuticals.

Laughing out loud

As one who grew up during the 70s watching The Brady Bunch every day after school, the Snickers commercial was a hoot. You have to wonder, however, did folks in the millennial generation have any idea what happened to Marcia’s nose?

One of my favorite forms of comedy is innuendo. So it makes perfect sense that I cracked up during the Italian Fiat meets little blue pill ad. Watching it with our preteen son wasn’t awkward either because he “didn’t get it.” It reminded me of Shrek when he makes reference to Lord Farquaad saying, “Do ya think maybe he’s compensating for something?”

Twitterers Respond

Throughout the football game, I kept one eye on Twitter.

@TheBrandonMorse said, “#SuperBowl, a puppy was almost eaten by a wolf, a kid died, and Kim Kardashian was given work. #SuperBowlXLIX. Classic.”

I posted, “Okay! Dead boy, abused women, impotent men, toe nail fungus, stereotyping girls… I’m feeling sad #SuperBowlAds #SuperBowl”

@BenjamminCarter responded, “@GinaRubel Hoping for a Prozac commercial!”

By the end of the game, I was left wondering why Prozac and Paxil didn’t buy ads, given the run of show.

Taken together, this year’s Super Bowl ads continue to prove a truth in public relations and marketing: there is such a thing as bad publicity. Companies need to test their messages with focus groups and consider the context in which they will air before spending $4.5 million on a 30-second spot that does more harm than good.