Commercial interest

Normally, I’d say Super Bowl ads are supposed to be one of two things: Hilarious (as when Rex almost gets that Budweiser) or mind-blowing (as in Macintosh’s 1984 debut).

So, we’re all in agreement: It’s funny or Oscar-worthy, right? These are the requirements for the commercials to perform their intended function, which is to give some value to a game that is, more often than not, sucky.

Some would argue that the commercial can be a third thing: heartwarming (as in, well, any Budweiser commercial involving puppies. They’re not all winners, Anheuser-Busch). And while those people are clearly stupid, as those commercials don’t entertain, a variation of this surfaced amid this year’s grinder between Denver and Carolina to provide a possible exception.

It was the message ad that was also entertaining.

At least mildly entertaining.

There are those volumizers at Pantene, telling girls and their fathers that “strong is beautiful.” (Wha?) And there’s Helen Mirren giving us a notoriously frank, uncensored and British smackdown for drinking and driving — or, as the Brits like to call it, being a “drink driver.” Seriously, that’s what they say. Google that mess.

And then there’s Prius, with a sermon and a hair-metal laugh. A blue-shirt-and-tie-wearing clock-puncher behind the wheel asserts dominion over yuppiedom, proclaiming himself “heck on wheels!” He screeches, “It goes a buncha friggin’ miles on so little gas.”

If you’re going to do a serious message, you’ve got to knock it out of the park. And that’s what Colgate did with their appeal to turn off the water while brushing your teeth. They didn’t preach to us. They showed us why it’s important, thanks to a thirsty third-world girl darting in for a sip from an open tap.

What’s hopeful about all this is that, on the most expensive advertising canvas imaginable, at least four companies spent ungodly amounts of money to paint messages about ethics, of all things. Miles per gallon. Social responsibility. Gender neutrality.

I do marketing by day. I’m not naive, and I am cynical. I realize that these are positioning statements for the companies who paid an average $4.4 million for 20 seconds of airtime. They are still selling their brand, by associating themselves with things they believe will resonate with their customers or future customers. Does Colgate really gain anything if you turn off the sink when you brush your teeth? No. But if you liked what you saw, they hope that maybe you’ll buy Colgate next time you need a new tube of toothpaste, because, you know, Colgate wants that little girl to get that fresh water instead of it going down your drain.*

So yeah, that’s the hopeful part, in a roundabout way.

See, what I’m really hearing Colgate, and Toyota, and Pantene and Budweiser saying is that there are a lot of potential customers who care about these values. It’s worth a $4.4-million, or $8.8-million, payout just to try and swing a few of those people to their team.

When corporate America responds or reaches out to you based on your moral compass? That, my friends, feels like a touchdown.


* I do too, but I’m still making my own toothpaste, and shutting off the water. Take that, suckas.

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