The big question: Did we see a turnaround in this year’s commercial offerings to match the comeback action on the field?

The simple answer: No.

Over the past decade, the play action on the field has been less than stellar. Despite all the playoff hype and anticipation of the “Clash of the Best,” the actual football action has been somewhat disappointing. The NFL solution?  Grow the event by building on the entertainment – more spectacular half-time shows, celebrities, breakthrough commercials, primetime specials, wardrobe malfunctions, and yes, more celebrities.

Following a less-than-spectacular crop of commercials in last year’s event, all hopes were high that we might see something new, something fresh and worthy of the $5 million cost for 30 seconds of our time.

The good news is that the game action turned out to be the best in a decade. No matter whom you root for or how you may feel about Tom Brady, the record-breaking win engineered by the Patriots organization was excitement at its best. The bad news is that the advertisers (as a group) failed to deliver.

#SuperBowl advertisers failed to deliver this year. See why in this review. #advertising Click To Tweet

Since the first “super hit” Super Bowl commercial (no, not that one) that aired in 1973, featuring Joe Namath and Farrah Fawcett in a Noxema Shave Cream ad, advertisers have been on a quest to tap into the vast audiences generated by the annual showcase of American football. After the Noxema spot aired, sales soared for the company and advertisers discovered just how powerful the event could be for their product sales. Of course, following the mega-hit spot (yes, the Apple one), the opportunities became limitless (or so we thought).

Unlike my past Super Bowl ad reviews, I would rather focus on some of the less covered insights and shifts in strategies noted in this year’s commercial buffet. I’ll leave the opinions on the expanding gap in creativity to the hundreds of others who choose to weigh in with their evaluations. If you missed them, view the spots for yourself here.

This year, we witnessed a distinct “polarization” in strategic approach among advertisers and their messaging. It’s little wonder that following such an intense 18-month political battle, we saw the largest crop of politically-inspired messaging in the history of the event. While it’s clear that most of the political spots were constructed with a basic message of “coming together” so as not to offend either the conservative or liberal bases, the subtext was evident — the advertisers were willing to risk potential backlash or tarnishing of their brand to make their individual statements.  The odds are that, regardless of message, the advertiser risks offending up to half the viewers. On the opposite pole, we saw those that stuck to time-honored traditional product advertising.

As might be expected, viewers weren’t willing to hold off on judgement. Many of the ads with political messages created social media firestorms, even before the ads aired on television, since some of the marketers released the spots early on YouTube and other outlets.

The strategic question revolves around best practices in brand management and overall corporate responsibility. Does the risk of damage to the brand outweigh the social conscience of the executive suite in an attempt to capitalize on the current political mood or discourse around the country (or world)? In approving a politically motivated ad and committing the financial resources of the company to invest in the production and airing of such a commercial message, is corporate management acting in the best interests of all their stakeholders? Beyond any short-term social media impact or limited sales activity, did they receive the best long-term brand guidance from their trusted advisors?

While we’re talking about social media, it may have been lost on the less ardent social media followers that the majority of this year’s advertisers abandoned the use of hashtags (as well as Facebook and Twitter for that matter) in their ads. Of the 66 ads that ran between kick-off and the end of the game, only 20 (or 30%) had a hashtag, Last year, 50% of the ads included a hashtag. In 2014, it was 57%. A mere five included Twitter handles in their ads and only four Facebook inclusions. 27 (41%) included a URL. With all the pre- and post-game social media coverage, how do the advertisers (or their agencies) account for the lost opportunity to maximize the return on dollars invested?

Only 20-30% of #SuperBowl ads included a hashtag. Last year, it was 50%. #marketing #socialmedia Click To Tweet

Finally, this was definitely the year of the celebrity. That’s at least one record-breaker for the ad community. We saw more celebrities in this grouping than ever before. The key question here is who made the best use of celebrity?  If the creative concept is strong enough, does the use of celebrity outweigh the added cost or simply add to the confusion or noise? Did the use of Justin Bieber contribute more to Bieber’s brand or T-Mobile’s brand?  Melissa McCarthy does her slapstick thing well, but wrapping the KIA spot with the tagline, “It’s hard to be an eco warrior, but it’s easy to drive like one,” may just be insulting. Two stand outs get my vote for best use of celebrity — Peter Fonda for his cameo in the Mercedes Easy Driver spot and Lady Gaga in the testimonial spot for Tiffany’s (the first appearance for the high-end jeweler).

Well, since I’ve already offered up comment on specific commercials, and so as not to disappoint those who follow my annual blog reviews, I will share with you a few of my hits and nonstarters. In general, the overall creative effort this year for new spots rates about a C-. Most didn’t grab attention and took far too long to play out (or even identify the advertiser): “Hey, watch me instead of reaching for the bean dip!” Others just missed the point: “Brand?  What Brand?  I guess I need to be punished, T-Mobile…

Solid Hits

  • P&G’s Cleaner of your Dreams — Bringing the sexy back to cleaning
  • Nintendo’s Switch —Solid demo of something new… gamers rejoice!
  • Alfa Romeo’s three-ad series — Alfa is back and more beautiful than ever.
  • Tide – A long golf cart ride to make the demo work, but the fourth quarter follow-up spot drove the message home.
  • Febreeze’s first half placement for two spots “Prep for Bathroom Break” – Strong brand support and great tie in to the game

Nonstarters

  • Intel’s Tom Brady series — Kind of like the missed extra point in the third quarter?
  • Yellow Tail — Maybe too much alcohol… I’m seeing Kangaroos. Say what?
  • Snickers’ “ruined commercials” — Bring back Betty White (or not).
  • SoFi – Second year in a row – SoFi Who?
  • Avocados from Mexico – Don’t even get me started, Jon Lovitz.

This is one man’s opinion. Time to share yours. What were your favorites?  Gaffes?