Sacking the Super Bowl ads

Marketing

Reflecting on this year’s Super Bowl ads, I suspect I’m going to sound grumpy and old — except that I’m not complaining about the hip-hop halftime show and Eminem taking a knee.

Full disclosure: I’m no fan of the NFL, having quit watching the league almost three decades ago. Aside from one game at Ford Field in Detroit when I was a reporter covering its namesake automaker, the only games I’ve watched have been the Super Bowls, largely because of the ads. As an automotive journalist, it is quite literally must-see TV.

This was a year when, if I didn’t feel professionally obligated to pay attention to the ads, I would’ve skipped most of them.

The electric vehicle trend — lots of vehicles in the works, not many available for purchase yet — was evident, as was the industry’s confusion over how to sell them.

Good old General Motors wanted to show it was down with the youth by rolling out a couple of pop culture references from the previous millennium. Much like Austin Powers was frozen in the ’60s, GM seems stuck in the ’90s. I’m setting my alarm for the 2040 Super Bowl, when GM can roll out some clever takes on Ted Lasso and Baby Yoda.

GM’s exquisite homage to “The Sopranos” to tout the electric Silverado was well-appreciated by aficionados of late-’90s HBO. Our friends at Ad Age hailed its message as “clear and smartly delivered: This is not your father’s Chevrolet.”

Now that’s a reaction that surely warms the heart of all who remember Oldsmobile (1900-2004) and its 1988 campaign for the Cutlass Supreme.

The most popular EV spot was probably the one with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Salma Hayek Pinault playing Zeus and Hera as Palm Springs retirees. Big stars, special effects, a nice gag — the god of lightning, rejuvenated by an electric vehicle — at least for the idea of an EV.

But a year from now, how many people will remember that the ad was for BMW as opposed to Mercedes-Benz or Volkswagen or any other brand? How many even today know the name of the featured vehicle? (It’s called an “iX,” which is pronounced as two separate letters — not “nine.”)

Similarly, I enjoyed Nissan’s star-studded, action-packed and clever ad, except that the story was hard to follow. And the cars? Sure, I know it’s about the electric Ariya and the gasoline-powered Z. Would any casual, Bud Light-swigging viewer catch those fleeting references?

Probably the most controversial spot was from newcomer Polestar, which cast shade on VW and Tesla in its “No Compromises” ad. Among the blah blah blah that the Volvo affiliate is shunning: “No Dieselgate” and “No conquering Mars.”

It was very effective at generating attention for the upstart brand, according to analysts at Edo who track Web searches during live events. But some Tesla stans can’t abide such disrespect. They better get used to it: Tackle football is a rough game.

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