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2019 Super Bowl Ad Roundup – Finch’s Take

February 5, 2019

We have three of our very own from Finch Brands on the podcast today to discuss this year’s Super Bowl ads. John Ferreira, Senior VP Insights and Innovation; Lauren Collier, Senior VP Brand and Marketing Strategy; and Jessica Koffman, Creative Director join us today to discuss which brands made a lasting impression and which brands made the wrong impression. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!

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Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all. This is Real World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premiere boutique brand consultancy, and this is a topical topic, I guess, today. It’s the day after Super Bowl … What is, 53? And we in Philadelphia didn’t perhaps watch it as closely, or at least as emotionally as we did last year.

Bill: One of the things that’s always fun and interesting, particularly in our business, is to give some thought and debate and everything around all of these ads. Brands putting their best foot forward, their biggest investments of the year. Some big ideas. Some continuations of existing themes, and in order to kind of break that down at least in a surface way, I have brought together a couple key voices across the Finch Brands leadership team to share their opinions, and then mine, too, as we talk about some of the ads last night that were notable.

Bill: So, let’s introduce our panelists. We have with us, and I’ll just do it in order, from left and then around the table nobody can see. But John Ferreira, who’s the Senior Vice President of Insights and Innovation at Finch Brands, is here, and quick note about sort of where you come from and what you bring to this? And then we’ll get into the ads.

John Ferreira: Yeah, so I’ve been with Finch for six years, and now I lead Insights and Innovation at Finch, and my background is 11 years at Campbell Soup in brand management and consumer insights prior to joining the company.

Bill: Nice. So you were doing big campaigns back then for big brands. You ever do Super Bowl stuff?

John: We did run an ad on chunky soup right before the Super Bowl started, which was infinitely cheaper than running an ad for the Super Bowl ad, so there are more cost effective ways to hack the Super Bowl.

Bill: Nice.

John: Brands are figuring that really every year in new ways.

Bill: No doubt, and we’ll get to that. So, Lauren Collier is next. Next to you, Lauren, is the SVP of Brand and Marketing Strategy at Finch Brands. Welcome, and a word or two about sort of where you come from?

Lauren Collier: Thanks. First appearance on a Finch podcast.

Bill: Yeah. This is big. High expectations.

Lauren: SVP of Brand and Marketing Strategy. Been with Finch for two years. Prior to Finch, I was with Kimberly Clark Professional leading global strategy for away from home Kleenex, so in the hospitality and the work place world. Prior to … Right after that I was with the drinks division of Mars.

Bill: So back at the Kimberly Clark days, some of these big brands, I know you were on the professional side, but these are big brands, big budgets, big consumer footprints, and look forward to hearing your thoughts as well.

Bill: Jess Koffman who’s the Creative Director, a returning guest as is John … Just a word or two about your back story and then we’ll dive in.

Jess Koffman: Yeah, I’ve been primarily on the agency side at branding think tanks and working with brands that cover the alphabet and have known Finch since 2007 and have been on board as Creative Director for the past three years.

Bill: Excellent, and aside from being in house at Target, one of the, typically, maybe not this year, but typically a Super Bowl advertiser, as well as, working with McDonald’s and Coke Cola and other brands that know this terrain a lot. We look forward to your impact as well.

Bill: So, here we are. We four. We happy four. Let’s get into it. Why don’t we start with … Who wants to pick on that’s … John, I think you had one in mind. We were talking earlier about one particular approach that you thought was particularly effective. You want to talk about it?

John: Yeah, I mean, from my perspective, Bud Light was the brand that came out winning out of last night’s game because they really did some things that are really hard to do for a big mature brand that people think they know everything about. And first, I really admire how this was bigger than an ad.

Bill: Yeah.

John: So, lot’s of companies come in and say, “Hey, we just need a cool ad.” And it’s talked about for a week. Maybe it’s released early. It’s talked about a little extra there, but this is connected to a more comprehensive strategy at Bud Light. So, they recently, within the last couple weeks, they announced that they’re going to put nutritional information on their packaging, which is really first mover among the big brands. So, clearly that move makes a lot more sense now, and that they’re trying to bring attention to what’s not in their beer, and what is in all the others.

Bill: Yeah.

John: No one else is going to have it. So, it has you questioning what’s in your beer.

Jess: Can beer drinkers even read that though?

Bill: Maybe not 10 or 11 in.

John: And then off of this campaign … So, they taught some … People new … Millions of people something new about a brand they thought they knew everything about even as other competitors begin to reformulate and change their formulas. That information is going to be sort of scatter shot.

Bill: Yeah.

John: Like lots of people are going to walk around thinking forever that Bud Light is a cleaner label beer and all these others aren’t, and it’s slow and expensive to be able to defend against a strategy like this.

Bill: Mm-hmm (affirmative). This is also a category, it seems, where the difference is Bud Light, Miller Light, Coors Light, et cetera, are very small. They’re typical, to your point. This is much more of a product claim, more of a comparative ad than maybe we’ve seen in the past. It was more just kind of dilly dilly sort of funny scenarios where everyone kind of laughs and stops, but this actually had a message behind it.

John: Yeah, and comparative advertising can be a dangerous game to play because if you make the switcher audience feel bad about the decisions they’re making today, they can dig in and become defensive and shut down to the message you’re trying to get across. So, the fact they did it with humor. The fact that they were really poking fun at these other brands without poking fun at the drinkers of those brands, and the way that they brought surprise into it, too. I thought that was nice, where you think, “Okay, it ends with Miller Light” and the barrel keeps rolling all the way down to the Coors Light castle as well.

John: Just really smartly done. Both creative and strategic at the same time.

Bill: Right. Okay. So, that’s good. It struck me, too. We’ll see the degree to which corn syrup is or is not a topic about which the world is inflamed, but yes it is an opening perhaps in a war around label now. They’ve put a flag in the moon to say, “We’re the cleanest.”

John: Even Craft is worried about that move.

Bill: Craft beer? Not capital K Kraft.

John: Yeah, not capital K Kraft, but craft beers have tons of sugar in them.

Bill: As a keto guy and gal, Jess, here. We’re keto. We know. We know this.

John: They’re really fighting two battles now. They’re gaining back volume from their traditional competitors but then they’re also having people question sort of the cooler, higher caliber beers that they’ve shifted into with the craft movement.

Bill: Yeah. Excellent. Okay. So, I think, Lauren, there was another beverage ad that you wanted to talk about as being one that kind of struck you. Would you tell us what it was and how you perceived it, and experienced it?

Lauren: Yeah so first and foremost, as a long time Sex and the City fan, I was sold with the comeback of Carrie Bradshaw.

Bill: There she was.

Lauren: So, they had me at Carrie, but then I think what Stella did was really nice. I could picture them around the room saying, “Who’s our target consumer?” There’s someone that drinks a cocktail, but yet, you know, are beers good enough for the high class? And then there’s grittiness to the other target. It’s good enough for the Big Lebowski and how we think through the two characters coming together and the easiest way to make that real for consumers in a really quick slide is to use those characters themselves.

Lauren: So, I thought they did a nice job saying, “This beer is great for the spectrum.”

Bill: And that’s the message that you took, was that there’s a range of … You know, everyone talks about target market. I mean, they don’t have a micro target that’s … So, picking very, very different, yet both sort of culturally resonant characters and joining them, as well as the most interesting man in the world. I mean, a cameo at the end of that. So, three sort of culturally interesting characters who are associated with specific beverages who are very different in the way they present themselves was a … That seemed like an overt strategy.

Lauren: Yeah, I thought it was a great way of using cultural icons to get across that this is for anybody.

Bill: Excellent. Speaking of icons, before we go, Jess you’ll be next. There was another ad that we were talking about earlier. It was early in the game, so by the end, maybe people remembered it, maybe they didn’t. You want to tell us about that one that caught your eye as well?

Lauren: Yeah, I thought that the Bumble commercial, although literal, putting the ball in your court, with Serena Williams, as the tennis metaphor kind of came throughout, did a really nice job telling the story of, “Don’t wait to activate. It is your turn to take control.” And that is the core of what Bumble does. And that story, using Serena, greatest of all time, to really get that message across and also just do a nice job, not just empowering women to take the first step, don’t wait on the sidelines, but doing a nice job introducing and showing the three different lines of business that Bumble has with the dating, the life, and the business arm.

Bill: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That was certainly-

Jess: Not just about love.

Lauren: Not just about love.

Bill: Not just about love. Yeah, well. There’s a lot of … An endless string of tennis puns. So, Jess. Jess Koffman, Creative Director, was there anything that really caught your eye last night or as you’ve been thinking about it today?

Jess: Absolutely. There is one that was a dream come true for me because it was Bubly water with Michael Buble, and I loved how they set it up. As someone who has wondered for year why Mini Cooper has never selected mini driver as their spokesperson, and why Walgreens has never enlisted Al Green. This was … It was happening. Michael Buble, as the way I prefer to say it, Bubly water, and it was again delivering perhaps a real misunderstanding. They were correcting it but in a super fun way, and they kept it light, and sparkly and fun.

Bill: No doubt, and that’s I think what the brand seeks to be. Interesting. We’ve worked on a few brands that had, forgive the emergency vehicle, everyone here is fine, that had some issues like pronunciation, like hair accessory side or whatever. You think, Jess, that their data maybe was telling them that one of the big barriers for brand education is that people don’t know how to say it?

Jess: Yeah, absolutely. I mean if you said bubbly water, that could mean La Croix or –

Lauren: Generic.

Bill: Yeah.

Jess: I can’t say La Croix.

Bill: La Croix. Either way. And so, Michael Buble showing some humor and sort of the fuzzy personality that he’s known for in some ways is an ideal vessel for that.

Jess: Although, I bet more people will call it Buble now.

Bill: Maybe, which they may be fine with.

Jess: So, don’t ask for it by name. Ask for it by celebrity.

Bill: There you go. Okay. So great start everyone. Were there any other ones? One that I’d like to ask about specifically … I guess I get to go, right? I don’t want to over beer this, so I’ll talk about Michelob Ultra in a little while, but one that struck me, and it was right before half time, was the NFL 100 spot, which for football fans, was a dream of references to history and big personalities from the history of this league and this sport, delivered in a way that was sort of fun with the cake and the party and all the … The personalities. And just the vignettes, even within that spot, was just amazing.

Bill: And of course, this takes place against the backdrop of significant challenge for the NFL. The NFL has been up against it for a couple years, both at a political level, taking hits from the right and the left, as well as CTE and issues of safety. The president came out the day before the Super Bowl saying that he’d be loath for his son to participate, and I think a lot of parents have been having that conversation themselves. There’s been a lot of discussion.

Bill: Ratings were down so much last year. They did bounce back a bit this year, and so the NFL, about the celebrate a meaningful milestone, I guess the 100th, really did lay out a tremendous, almost guided, fun guided tour of their history and the personalities that have made it all the way up to the present day. The sort of culturally resonant … You know, they’ve sort of claimed our Sundays as well as now our Thursdays and our Mondays, as a reminder of those connections, and the generations of NFL fans.

Bill: I thought that spot was amazing. It was … You know, they had one of the best regarded spots. I think it was two years ago, with Eli Manning, and Beckham, OBJ, which in that, was one of the sort of humorous ads within a year that was very political and dark. They stood out. To me, they stood out really effectively last night as well.

Bill: I know, Lauren, you got to see some Penn State people, and that’s made you happy as an alum.

Lauren: It’s good to see Saquon and the cross generation.

Bill: Yeah, Franc O’Harris catching the immaculate cake or whatever and running it down the field. So that was one that stood out for me. You know, there were others when we look at social media last night, as this was happening, as well as today, there’s certainly been some controversial ones. I think maybe I’ll ask about few of those as we go.

Bill: The Kia spot. Does anyone have a strong … So the Kia spot … Just to set it up. There’s a new vehicle. The Telluride from Kia that apparently, there’s a plant in West Point, Georgia. Very rural part of the state that’s going to be building this Telluride and they did a really almost, I guess I would say a Chrysler-style, almost dirge of a commercial, talking about the unfamous, and with this child talking about the challenges of his community, and how Super Bowl … You know, what lies beneath all this glitz and stuff is not all the celebrities who are cashing big checks out of this, or the big brands that are trying to increase the size of their business, but this town is an exemplification of many of the struggles of the manufacturing base in the U.S.

Bill: Some folks thought it was brilliant, epic, sweeping. Others thought it was just sort of a downer and of course, the you know, snark about, “Why do they have a kid working in the plant?” I mean, this seemed to be a polarizing ad. Does anyone have any opinion or reflections on that a day later?

Lauren: I think for me, I actually thought the commercial was very … It did a nice job introducing the Telluride. Where I struggled was connecting that to Kia. I think that was a broad reach for me. The brand of the car. Get it. I think that’s a nice choice for the ending of the ad and the pictures that were associated with it. I think they missed a step of introducing Kia as this all American approach, though.

Bill: Well, Kia, I believe is a Korean brand. Many European and Asian car brands do have American plants but to your point, there maybe some consumer confusion about whether Kia really is sort of an American story. I guess their point is, this vehicle is, but maybe it didn’t get through.

Jess: And you can counter point that to the Dodge Ram spot from years ago.

Bill: Yeah.

Jess: That was, so God made a farmer, which is absolutely an American spot, but same vibe.

Bill: Right.

Lauren: Right. I think you could confuse a few different car brands.

Bill: Yeah, imported from Detroit. Big Chrysler campaigns about the rebirth of the American auto industry. So, a spot that both for emotional as well as strategic reasons seems to have two sides to the argument.

Bill: Let’s think about maybe some other ones that either connected or didn’t connect. We had an interesting discussion in the office about the Burger King spot with Andy Warhol, for those who didn’t see it, or need to have their memory jogged, there’s really not happening a lot in this spot other than Andy Warhol unwrapping, and eating a Whopper. The footage is probably, what? 30? More than that. Years old. It is authentic. It was in the sort of vault of the brand. Reading some of the press releases about it, they were sort of blown away when they found this, and thought, “Wow. We have to put it on.”

Bill: Again, wide variety of opinions online about this. What did you all think? How did it hit you?

Jess: I wonder if Andy Warhol himself would have signed off on it since he spent most of his career making fun of commercialism, or at least playing with it.

Bill: Right.

Jess: It was a very direct sell in a way.

Bill: Yeah. John you came from Campbell’s. I mean, obviously, part of Andy Warhol’s canon is the Campbell’s can. Just out of curiosity, on the Campbell’s side, was Warhol any consideration in the brain’s calculus as part of its history or heritage?

John: Hugely at Campbell’s.

Bill: So, how’d you feel this ad?

John: I mean, I thought if you can connect your brand to someone who’s considered an American icon and someone who is at, sort of, the furthest point of creativity and in many cases, cool and retro, it’s sort of like, what was cool then can be cool again. He clearly wasn’t, didn’t care much about what people thought about him. When all your friends are going to Chipotle or whatever healthier fast food, you know, just kind of, be yourself, stand out from the crowd, and go to Burger King if you really want to go to Burger King.

Bill: Right right. One of the areas of criticism of that ad is that the folks who would really rally around it might not be those who are inclined to go to fast food or to Burger King at all, and it’s kind of an Art House spot. LC, did you have any take on that?

Lauren: Yeah, that’s how I took it. I wanted a Whopper after watching his steps in unwrapping it and –

Bill: To finally get the damn thing open, right?

Lauren: Yeah, it’s definitely a lot of packaging. I thought it was great. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the artistic nature of it. Yet it was simplistic and those who know, know. Those who didn’t hopefully just enjoyed the Whopper. I think it was a huge win for Heinz Ketchup because the Ketchup did finally come out of the bottle.

Jess: Worth the wait.

Lauren: Yeah, great product placement on that part, but yeah, I thought it was a really nice spin for Burger King to say, “Here’s who we are and we can appeal to a different level of audience.”

John: I wonder how much smaller the Whopper is now than it was then.

Bill: Yeah, right. The product itself wasn’t … You couldn’t really see it. It didn’t look super appetizing.

Lauren: I saw the wrap.

Bill: You’re dipping it in ketchup, when there’s theoretically already ketchup on it. At least, you can have it your way. Apparently, the story behind that, this is a 1982 documentary, and the lead sort of creative unearthed this and brought it to the brand and everybody sort of freaked out and decided to put it on air, and that was one that was polarizing online. Another one that was interestingly polarizing from different voices within the actual sponsor of the ad was Washington Post.

Bill: So, Washington Post … This is very atypical for a news organization to have a Super Bowl ad. 30 second spot. Narrated by Tom Hanks. Very moving. Beautifully written. Interestingly, the Twitter reactions … Some Washington Post folks were retweeting it and trying to exclamation point the message that “Democracy dies in darkness” and the power of free press, and all that. Then there were others … One of the guys I think is a rep of their labor union at the Post was making the point that that five million could have helped with benefits and jobs for journalists, particularly given all that’s happened in the past couple of weeks with Buzzfeed and beyond.

Bill: How did you all receive that and the strategy underlying it and what impact it might have? What do we think about what The Post did?

Lauren: I thought it did a great job really tying in and making it about politics without making it about politics. We were saying this was a year where the ads were not political.

Bill: Not as much. No.

Lauren: And I do think this was a great reminder that this is a brand that stands for knowledge and being in the know and just that pause to remember –

Bill: Yeah.

Lauren: What the sources are. So, I thought it was done very tastefully, and I thought that the addition of Tom Hanks reliving his days as his role in the Post was definitely the right choice for the narrator as well.

John: Yeah, I mean honoring sacrifices and getting people to realize that news, true news, real news, that’s investigative and keeps you safe today, and over the long term, it’s not free. You know, literally, but also at the cost of people’s lives even to help to bring you the truth. I thought that’s –

Jess: It cost you at least five million dollars to begin with.

Bill: Right. Poor Jeff Bezos. You know, he was one of the ones tweeting about how proud he was of the ad, and obviously, he owns the Post now, so five billion is probably not going to be difficult for him to come up with, at least until the next labor negotiation, so we’ll see how that goes.

Bill: There was a whole range of ads from T-Mobile that I thought were interesting and that generated a lot of conversation online. They seem tp highlight kind of, in the know moments that we all experience when we’re texting, whether it was a parent who doesn’t really know how to use it or whether it was a significant other who misinterprets the question and goes on a 17 page rant about their life … We’ve all experienced that, or the choice of where to go to dinner.

Bill: In terms of impact within the really pitched battle between mobile phone carriers … Where do we think that might have come about and what might its impact be?

John: Personally wasn’t as big of a fan of that. I don’t know if I’m the target necessarily, but to me it was … It came across as more promotional than it did brand building. I mean you could certainly argue the counter point that they get you and they understand you, and this is the brand that understands who you are, but with the pay off being so much about the promos, I found that a little distracting.

Bill: Like you’re trying to –

Jess: Does that audience really want to be gotten, you know?

Bill: Right.

Jess: And by a brand like that?

Lauren: And I think, I mean I laughed out loud when it was, “This is your Lyft driver.” It definitely … The whole narrative was great but I think if you were to do blind branding, I wouldn’t have necessarily guessed whether it was Verizon verus AT&T.

Bill: Sure.

Lauren: It was king of a generic –

Jess: It was kink.

Lauren: Yes, but it was a generic text message approach. I don’t think the brand equity really was strong enough there.

Bill: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Another one that we were discussing was Audi, and just to sort of set that up for people who may not remember, and I know LC, I think you want to comment on this, and I do, too. The ad feels like sort of a dream sequence going back to a childhood home. He sees his grandfather. His grandfather, I guess, gives him the keys to a hot, awesome Audi ride and then the payoff is, what? Why don’t you tell us what the payoff was? The payoff was the … The person was actually –

Lauren: Choking.

Bill: Choking.

Lauren: Dying.

Bill: Sort of dreaming. It was a pre-death scene, but then the heimlich. The cashew comes out.

Lauren: The cashew comes out.

Bill: And he’s back at his desk.

Lauren: He’s in his office.

Bill: And everyone’s you know, happy that he made it, but he seems almost wistful that wasn’t the future coming for him. What do we think? How do we feel about that ad?

Jess: It’s a true story from George W. Bush.

Bill: What’s that?

Jess: He choked on a pretzel.

Bill: That was HW Or was it GW? HW puked on the Japanese prime minister.

Jess: Yes. And then his son followed with a choked up pretzel Super Bowl.

Bill: Yeah, when he was dodging thrown shoes by an Iraqi dissident. So how do we think the ad went?

Lauren: Recall on Audi’s mission going electric. I thought it was pretty good. The use of the storyline I thought was an odd approach. I think that it … However, the recall, personally, was pretty high, I just think the storyline could have been a bit more tasteful.

Bill: Yeah. Audi. The electric thing was an interesting sort of element.

Lauren: It’s an interesting twist. It was brought to life in almost a very trivial way.

Bill: Right.

Lauren: It could have been more powerful.

Bill: And then, when you think of a brand like Audi, that for many years, was sort of predicated on being the non stuffy luxury car. And then, two years ago, I think, decided to do an ad opposed to the wage gap. They seem to be drifting a bit here. Was this a sign that maybe they’ve got their mojo back or that they’re still sort of drifting?

Lauren: I take this as identity crisis. I think their message of electric cars coming is there but how they did it … I don’t know who Audi is anymore.

Jess: Their strategy is literally back to the future.

Bill: We saw that. We saw the Delorean came in the Walmart delivery ad.

John: That I thought was a great ad.

Bill: Right.

John: It’s similar to the Bud Light situation of … It’s this brand that people think they know everything there possibly is to know about it, and the drama of the ad, and sort of the succession of surprises of, “Oh, what’s the next awesome car going to be?” And it comes to the scene and it sort of had you hooked.

John: And then it really connected it to the benefit of the pick-up and I learned something new about Walmart that I didn’t know.

Bill: So, the hook was grocery delivery pick-up, but in order to get there, they showed Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo. They showed Kit from Night Rider.

Lauren: Cinderella.

Jess: Transformers.

Bill: Transformers, as well as the Back to the Future, was the Delorean come flying out.

Lauren: Ghost busters.

Bill: Did that have a name? The mobile? Anyway. The crazy guy was slimed in the back eating everything.

Jess: has a number.

Bill: It has a number. Yeah. Okay. So, that was one. That was very early in the game, too.

Jess: My disconnect with that one, though, is I actually thought they were all working toward like, “Hey you can get your car serviced at Walmart.” Because it was so car.

Bill: It was very car. Yeah.

Jess: Again, it is because like pick-up from your car, but that also maybe I have issues with Walmart shoppers not being able to get out of their car.

Bill: Another one that we were talking about sort of lightly, since all we do is lightly debate here, since we’re all old friends, you know, brothers and sisters, was the Hyundai shopper-surance Jason Batemen taking folks through an elevator all the way down from one unpleasant thing to something even more unpleasant, unpleasant, unpleasant, before he gets all the way down to the most unpleasant which is shopping for vehicles, and it turns out the family was actually going to go to Hyundai and have a better experience.

Bill: LC, you thought it might have taken the long way around the barn?

Lauren: Yeah, I think again, if I go off of recall, I was watching it and I was like, “What is this an ad for?” Even though, when you rewatch it, you realize that when they first walk in, and they say they’re there to go car shopping, I think if you miss it in the beginning, you’re watching this really long way, and then all of a sudden, the payoff at the end is … Was a disconnect for me.

Lauren: So, I think they paid a lot of money for a little bit of return.

Bill: Right. Anyone else have any reactions watching that one? Does that stand out?

Jess: It was fun to watch.

Bill: Yeah. It was fun to watch. Jason Batemen has become you know, Neil Patrick Harris sort of second-life people who touch things in a really sort of fun … That everybody seems to like and enjoy. Some of the individual vignettes of awful things were appropriately awful and humorous.

Lauren: Meat loaf.

Jess: What’s wrong with meat loaf?

Bill: Well, that was another thing. Online there was a lot of vegan resistance to that. Known for having a tremendous sense of humor, the vegan community was really fired up about meat loaf and everything else but …

John: I’m sure those recipe searches are trending today.

Jess: Technically, they can’t even watch if it’s a ball made of pig skin.

Bill: Right. So that’s true. They may not be watching. So, that was Hyundai. One that I promised that I was going to talk about and invite you all to weigh in of course. The Michelob Ultra brand for me has been a long term sort of fascinating thing, by turns, fascinating and horrifying.

Bill: I thought initially, you know, this is another part of the Anheuser Busch family, Michelob is. It’s always … At least, originally, it’s been positioned as the premium cousin to Budweiser within the overall portfolio at AB. AB and Bev, I guess now, and when Ultra launched as sort of the beer of choice for the super fit, kind of health conscious person, I, at the time, was very dismissive of that for a couple reason.

Bill: One, it didn’t seem like that was the right audience for beer and it didn’t seem like anyone who was not in that audience was going to want to carry this to a party or order it at a bar because of everything that it might say about you, but now in the era of Keto and low-carb, the ad that to me had some impact … I mean, there was the other one where Zoe Kravitz was, you know, this is the organic Michelob Ultra, the organic grains …

Bill: But the one that had an impact on me was the robot spot. So, they had this robot who was leading a spin class and spotting someone in the gym and doing all these fit things … And obviously, the people trying to keep up with this robot weren’t able to do it and this robot was like incredibly fit. There were a lot of robots last night, by the way, but this was not a creepy one. This was a fit robot.

Bill: And the, but then the payoff with the ad was that the robot goes up to the door of the bar and looks in, and there’s a fit guy with a big smile and a lot of people around him holding Michelob Ultra and the tagline was, “Only worth it if you can enjoy it.”

Bill: You know, to me, that was for once, maybe, a decade late. A real, you know, totem for the brand. It was a real call, not to action, but a real sort of sense of self. If the point they’re making about healthy lifestyles is that Ultra is connected with a reward or an expression of why you live this way, that has some meaning to me. So, fitness is not an end in itself, but you have to celebrate all the action that you take.

Bill: I thought that was effective. I think, at this point, a day later maybe sort of didn’t connect in terms of recall. I didn’t see a lot of conversation or currency about it but some of the ads we’re rallying around, again, were not the big ballyhoo ones, but from one that may be based upon legitimate consumer insights and maybe in the pursuit or service of a larger brand idea … That was one that had an impact on me. Let’s see some other ones.

Bill: Just looking back at notes. Another one for me, please chime in if you want, was the Mercedes voice activation, which apparently … We talked about Audi kind of maybe being adrift but moving in the direction of electric. With Mercedes, this was a definite, to me, at least it felt like, a much more youthful and energetic approach for the brand that traditionally has sort of meant old luxury.

Bill: And a real sort of strong focus on a particular stand out product element, which is apparently they switched to assert to be leaders within that category in terms of voice control. So, they had the actor, all of a sudden, who could make things happen by just saying them. Going through life. Find a cat, et cetera. These images that were sort of funny and touching, and then walking ultimately to his Mercedes and being able to control the color and the overall display.

Bill: That, to me, John, to your point about corn syrup … That to me was a connection of brand and product in a way that was powerful. What were some other ones? Any other ones that people wanted to talk about? What about Dietz Nuts? We’ll close with that. Anyone have strong reactions, positively or negatively, to …

John: A break with chunky milk.

Bill: Yes, chunky milk and Dietz Nuts will go well together. Dietz & Watson is local company. The product concept is interesting, given again the strength of low carb lifestyles. It seems like to be a distinctive product entry, the cultural phenomenon on which Dietz Nuts is sort of based, Deitz Nuts, does have legs and humor and a lot of spirit. That said, this is the way that Craig Robinson, from The Office, and Pat the Time Machine or whoever was voicing this was clearly a reference to what one might expect from Deitz Nuts.

Bill: Any thoughts on … ? You know, that is pushing a little bit of a taste bar. A little bit. The envelope. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Anybody have any strong thoughts on that? We’re all sort of looking. You’re probably feeling the way I felt which is eh.

John: Well, I mean it engages with the sense of humor of probably their target audience, and amidst the sea of snack and food commercials, it’s one that people are talking about.

Bill: Yeah.

John: It’s a new product and the name of it is going to be coming across and it’s the kind of thing that people will joke about when they’re actually consuming the product or buy the product in order to be able to joke about it with their friends.

John: So, it’s again, one that I think could connect to an actual return on investment that is whatever mother not going to buy that for her teenage son if he asks for it on the list. I don’t know.

Bill: So they calculated risk worth taking with a new product format and a product launch, is what John thinks. Jess, you’re nodding. You agree?

Jess: Yeah, I mean it definitely has a hook. It’s funny. It might be a little bit too …

Bill: Sophomoric?

Jess: Yeah.

Bill: Juvenile?

Jess: Yeah, and why do we need a new nut that is meat?

Bill: I beg to differ on that. I don’t know what it is either, which maybe is one of the limitations, but it seems to be a … I mean it’s an interesting topic to call it a nut, because it isn’t a nut, it’s a piece of beef. I think it’s a …

Lauren: They are meat bites.

Bill: They’re meat bites. They’re sort of jerky style, but in bites. It does seem like a product, to some degree, who’s time has come. There is a lot of growth and new brands in the sort of jerky and meat snack category but if you think of the two alternatives … One is launching this as meat bites and building some creative hook for that versus calling it nuts.

Jess: These nuts.

Bill: And leaning into this cultural … LC, it looks like you’re going to react.

Lauren: Yeah, I mean I think … It’s definitely memorable. What they’re doing is taking a product and putting it in a … Put up, so to speak, that is going to appeal to their target audience. This is for that guy on keto who’s been buying the jerky and now there’s a bag version of it to have this snackable approach to it, and Dietz Nuts is certainly a way to say, “Hey, I have my snack.” So, I think again, they’re doing a good job tapping into who they’re targeting, and taking advantage of nuts, which is not trademarked. It’s a descriptor, and it’s a behavior.

Lauren: Oh, this is something I can grab a handful of them and go. It’s the snack piece that they’re tapping into. So, great way of introducing product innovation. I think Chris Robinson … I’m sorry, Craig Robinson is an interesting choice. There were quite a few Office and Parks and Recs characters recreated last night actually, so I think great. It’s that burly guy getting his snack and everyone knows what nuts are and now there’s the jerky version of that.

Jess: There’s a lot of rap and hip hop culture clash.

Bill: Yes. A lot. There was the Doritos one with Chance the Rapper.

Lauren: And the Backstreet Boys.

Bill: Expensify one with … Chains. 2 Chainz?

Jess: Probably two or three.

Bill: Three chains? Four chains? Right. Obviously, I’m not the target for that but that was one that had a lot of buzz ahead of the Super Bowl and I just, at least, my own sort of anecdotal Twitter scrolling didn’t seem to connect as much, at least in terms of social currency. Expensify … I don’t exactly know how the product works but it’s an expense scanning app. Does the world really need that? I guess. Some people are fired up.

Lauren: I think I was most … Chunky milk really had me, and I had zero product recall. I just sort recalled chunky milk. I couldn’t tell you what it was for.

Bill: Right. We were actually scrolling around before we got on here. Another one that, and I know we got to … Go ahead, John.

John: I’m just going to add to that. I think several brands made a mistake of associating their brands and sort of the moment of drama with negative emotions.

Bill: Yeah.

John: So, the chunky milk overwhelming the Mint Mobile ad. That’s the first impression. The first hello. Now, every time people think of that brand for a long time, they’re going to have this subconscious disgust experience, which is not how you want to establish your brand.

John: The Turbo Tax robot little girl was like incredibly sad.

Jess: There was no boy wonder.

Lauren: Right, no Vicky.

John: Why would you want to attach your brand to that? And even Pepsi, where they’re just like publicly declaring that their brand is … They’re trying to say it’s not inadequate but they’re making people remember and activating that emotion … I don’t think it equipped people effectively to really confidently, you know, go for Pepsi. You’ve got to be very careful with negative emotions in an ad and humor is not enough to balance that out.

John: I think in those three instances, the balance is not achieved.

Bill: Right. That’s actually an interesting one. I did applaud a little bit the self awareness of Pepsi. This happned again … Jess, we just went to lunch at iHOP, talk about Keto.

Jess: Don’t tell people that.

Bill: Right. Sorry. I go to lunch at iHOP. Jess, of course, was dining on the 56th floor of some nearby building, but I was at iHOP, and I ordered, as I always do, a Diet Coke, and they said, “Is Pepsi okay?”

Bill: And I said, “Sure.” It was sort of refreshing for Pepsi to understand that that interaction happens hundreds of thousands of times a day but to your point, John, they pick a bunch of celebrities … They don’t really advance a … We’re more than okay, but why and how, and it doesn’t really go anywhere other than Steve Carrell, Cardi B, and Lil Jon are drinking Pepsi and they’re paid a lot to do it.

John: And even like some of the celebrities they chose there. Pepsi was always the brand of more youthful orientation. A brand of the next generation trying to appeal younger. I guess maybe they’re reactive to young people are not drinking full calorie colas and going to … Maybe they’re just trying to own the consumers that they’ve been with and try to tilt in that direction. I don’t know.

Bill: By way of wrap up, because I know our listeners have to move on, and we do, too. As a general theme, two years ago, it was very political. I mean it was not just normal expression of values. Trump Era was new. We’re talking travel ban. We’re talking wage gap. We’re talking like issue based ads that almost felt … And you know, at least based on the reports, a lot of people were turned off by that as well as turned on I suppose. Last year was still values based, but it was very heavily in the direction of corporate social responsibility.

Bill: It was very heavy in the direction of cause marketing. It wasn’t as overtly political. It wasn’t issue by issue, but it was, sort of, “Look at us and what we stand for.”

Bill: This year wasn’t much of that at all. Do you know why that might be? Are we sort of reacting? Are brands reacting to that dialogue or just where we are on the calendar? Any sense of why that is or does that happen to be where things were?

Lauren: I think brands are going back to who they are, who they deliver needs, who their target is, and there was a lot around very specific features and benefits that deliver for their target audience that I think was played up here and really clearly communicated so it wasn’t just funny and recall. It was very specific about the product and I think it’s about this power that consumers have now, and consumers know what’s behind the wheel, and they’re able … Behind the curtain, so to speak, of each brand.

Lauren: So, brands have to reveal that and stand for very specific elements that appeal across the board and I think you saw a little bit about brands going back to who they are, what they do, and why they do it.

Bill: Right. It makes sense.

Jess: And also focusing on positivity knowing that there could be backlash from going to … Even things they think are positive, like the Pepsi ad with what’s her face, Kylie Jenner.

Bill: Or Kendall. One of the Jenners.

Jess: Yeah, and you know the fallout from that. So, maybe they’re staying within humanity territory but not necessarily political territory.

Bill: Right. Might it also … That makes a lot of sense. Might it also be, I mean, as someone who’s kind of a PoliSci geek and I’m not going to betray any opinions one way or the other, but very early in the administration, in the Trump Administration, things were happening so fast and norms, in some cases, maybe positively, but norms were being broken down and there was definitely a sense that this was unchartered territory and with that maybe comes hope but also potentially comes fear. Now, that we’re two and a half, three years in, or whatever … The administration is obviously very different than those who have preceded it but at the same time, the midterms, some court decisions … It seems like American institutions are working, even if there’s a political dynamic that feels polarized.

Bill: Maybe brands felt, or their advertising agencies, felt like the moment wasn’t as scary as maybe they felt that it was two years ago and maybe didn’t require such an outspoken expression of something or another, and they could really focus on selling product. Anybody? Bueller? Maybe that’s my theory. That’s one third of my theory at least.

John: I mean you also, if you’re the brand manager who’s … Well, they’re not the one who’s making the decisions, but essentially, you’re the brand leader who’s making the decision on whether to run an ad and what the content’s going to be. You probably want to manage your downside, too.

Bill: Yeah.

John: Because if you screw up in the Super Bowl, that could screw up your career.

Bill: Yeah, definitely.

John: In addition to your business results. I think there … Some of the pushing the envelope in prior years probably gave brand leaders some lessons learned around, “Hey, do you really want to trigger a fight next to the chips and dip where families are together and enjoying a peaceful moment in a bubble outside of that realm of crazy day to day on social media?”

Bill: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jess: Getting burned on the Super Bowl is not something you can gamble with and I’m thinking about the Nationwide Ad.

Bill: Yeah, that was …

Jess: Death statistics.

Bill: Not all publicity’s good publicity. Right. It’s true. We do have some recent example of Super Bowl ads really rubbing people the wrong way, either creating conflict that didn’t need to be there or just leaving folks with a feeling that did not create brand allegiance or opportunity and so … It also may be, again, all these theories … There’s a little bit of concern at the macro economic level here with some of the erosion in stock performance and quarterly earnings, it might be a back-to-basics, stick to your knitting, kind of moment. So, anyway … Probably a lot of dynamics taking shape both within individual brands as well as the economy and our nation at large that had some impact on people’s approaches.

Bill: But, John, Lauren, Jess, thank you so much for your time and your insight on what I know is a busy day over here and thank you for pulling a little bit of your synapses free as you might have the game on in the background, to make sure we were watching so that we could speak about this somewhat intelligently, at least to our listeners.

Lauren: Thanks for having us.

Bill: Sure. As always. Three ways to support us at Real World Branding. If you like what we’re doing, we appreciate feedback. At Bill Gullan at Finch Brands on Twitter is a great way to … Our skin is thick … Is a great way to keep the conversation going to make some points that are important to you, to suggest future guests and topics. And as always, to help make sure that those who appreciate this content can find it. You can subscribe. Click that button in the podcast app of choice to make sure you do not miss a single episode.

Bill: We will be back, I think, in two weeks, Catt, with our next interview. We have a couple great ones in the can and I can’t wait for our listeners to hear with brand and business builders. So, if you click subscribe, you won’t miss a one. And a review and a rating, we’d love that too if we’ve earned it. Five stars. That helps us get found from folks who might enjoy this, and with that, we will sign off. No longer the city of champions, but still, we’ll sign off from the cradle of liberty.

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