Yes, it's that time of year. We're all busy vacuuming up crushed, salty corn products while lauding the winners and savaging the losers among the Super Bowl commercials.
But here in the rant, the critique for last weekend begins next week. We always like to take a week for the dust to settle and get back some reports on how it all shook out.
In the meantime, we're going to look back at the arrogance and the apathy.
Yes, it's the Super Bowl Advertising Hall Of Shame.
And perhaps the saddest advertising maneuver of all comes not from Groupon and Timothy Hutton diminishing the plight of Tibet for great restaurant deals, nor from GoDaddy and its endless parade of medically manipulated stripper cleavage, but from a business you have never heard of, and probably never would have heard of, were it not for this little screed.
REMEMBER SUPER BOWL XXXIV?
It was played on January 30, 2000. It's also referred to as the Dot Com Super Bowl. The dot-com bubble was blowing up big. Many of the commercials aired during the big game included companies whose names you simply cannot remember today.
One of those companies ran this commercial:
OPEN ON A YELLOW SCREEN.
PLAYING UNDER IS A BAD RENDITION OF CHOPSTICKS ON A LOUSY PIANO
TITLES THAT ARE WRITTEN IN A BLACK, SMEARED COURIER FONT, AS IF FROM AN ANTIQUE TYPEWRITER, BEGIN APPEARING OVER THE YELLOW.
"This is the worst commercial on the Super Bowl.
"But it might be the best thing you see tonight.
"We send highly personalized emails on topics you ask for. Free.
"How can we do this for over 7.5 million members?
"We're information experts. (geeks).
"But we don't know diddly about making ads.
"OF COURSE! LIFEWONDERS! HOW COULD WE FORGET THEM?!"
No, not Lifewonders. Lifeminders.
"Lifemenders! How could we forget them?!"
Not Lifemenders. Lifeminders.
"Lifewinders! How could we forget them?!"
Never mind. Don't know diddly about making ads, indeed.
What is Lifeminders?
Funny you should ask. I played the commercial for the Fabulous Honey Parker. Her first question was: "What do they do?"
THAT SHOULD NOT BE THE FIRST QUESTION SOMEONE ASKS AFTER SEEING YOUR BUSINESS TO CONSUMER MESSAGE
Especially not after you spent over $2 million to place that message one time on national television.
To find out what Lifeminders was about, I did some research.
After reading several press releases, I still had no idea.
Finally, in a release issued about three months before the big game, I learned that they offered email reminders.
You'd fill out a profile with your interests.
They would send sponsored emails to help you manage your life.
IN OTHER WORDS, IT WAS OPT-IN EMAIL INTRUSION
Can you imagine managing your life with email today?
You need a full-time assistant just to manage your email.
My in-box is flooded with spam about dating hot, lonely Russian women, or commanding me to browse psoriasis creams, or how it's time to learn how to talk to my cat. (Which would be a fool's errand. He doesn't listen.)
Anyway, how did Lifeminders decide they needed to be in the Super Bowl?
Hard to know. Maybe it had something to do with lots of venture capital. People will tell you that VC and egos go hand-in-hand.
But not long after the Super Bowl, with a stock price of $90 a share, a 12-month sales figure of $14 million, a 12-month income of almost $33 million, assets totaling almost $71 million, and liabilities of just over $10 million, how bad could things be?
"BUT WHAT DO THEY DO?"
Well, yes, there's that question.
But here's what they decided they didn't want to do: they decided they didn't want to be in the Super Bowl.
They'd bought the spot and later wanted out.
But then, they couldn't unload their $2 million investment.
So, with two weeks to the big game, they turned to their advertising agency, the illustrious Fallon Worldwide (then known as Fallon McElligot), and said, "Hey, we need to produce a Super Bowl commercial."
You can probably hear the riotous laughter echoing in the halls of Fallon's Minneapolis HQ. But they were probably very polite when they turned back to their client (whose account was worth an estimated $50 million or more to the agency) and said, "Ah, afraid we can't do that."
SEND IN THE FREELANCERS!
A big-agency freelance team known to the VP of marketing was called in, and the self-proclaimed "Worst commercial on the Super Bowl" was produced.
Further research reveals that about a year and a half later, Lifeminders.com was sold to Cross Media Marketing Corp for more than 68 million bucks.
And about two years after that, Cross Media Marketing Corp filed for bankruptcy.
Yes, you can hear the sad sound of dot coms circling the drain.
But back to the Super Bowl commercial. Big-money meets big arrogance for a big flop?
Again, hard to know.
Because Lifeminders did try to pull out. When they couldn't, they tried a Hail Mary.
And they eventually sold their business for a staggering amount of money.
Still, when you're spending two-million bucks on one advertisement, isn't a little clarity a good idea?
WHERE IS THE THINKING BEHIND THE MESSAGE?
Who was it for?
What was it trying to tell them?
I still have no idea.
And I'm guessing the freelance team (which had a big-agency pedigree) also wasn't sure. If they'd spent their careers working on creating big-brand advertising, and had never worked in direct response, it's entirely possible they never considered who they were trying to reach and what the specific message might be.
Or maybe they didn't even have the time to think that hard.
Or maybe the client wouldn't let them.
Whatever. It's all conjecture and nothing more. Monday-morning quarterbacking on this is impossible.
It's just tragic that, with a $2-million buy at hand, the best that could be done was a message that makes a savvy professional ask, "What do they do?"
AND IN A PROPHETIC NOTE FROM THE SAME SUPER BOWL...
We get another commercial.
The infamous chimpanzee dancing on a spackle bucket.
Two rhythm-challenged dimwits are sitting in a garage on lawn chairs. The chimp runs up, tunes the radio to a cha-cha, jumps on an upside down bucket, and starts dancing--while wearing an E*Trade T-shirt. After 20 seconds of this comes the message in two graphics:
"Well, we just wasted two million bucks."
"What are you doing with your money?"
ANNCR: It's time for E*Trade, the number-one place to invest online.
It's almost advertising art imitating commercial life.
SO, WHAT'S THE TAKEAWAY FOR THE SMALL-BUSINESS MARKETER?
Beware arrogance in advertising creative decisions. That big idea of yours might really be bad enough to fail.
If you've got pros around you who have a track record, listen to them. If you don't have any pros, find some.
Don't be fooled by bright lights and shiny keys. Being in the Super Bowl--or anywhere else--is not a goal for your advertising. The goal is for your advertising to generate results.
We literally know local advertisers who've said, "But they gave us a spot in the Super Bowl!" And if you ask what good that spot did them, they can't tell you.
We also know a guy who runs a venture capital investment company that specializes in funding tech start-ups. He says that routinely, companies who come to them are spending huge amounts of money on Google ads.
The ads aren't producing any results.
BUT THAT DOESN'T STOP THEM FROM WRITING $30,000 CHECKS EACH MONTH
Dude, you're spending someone else's money without having a plan of attack, without a strategy or tactics, and with no idea of how to craft a salient, resonant message that generates response. What are you doing?
We've worked with tech companies, and the ones who Get It are a joy to work with.
The ones who don't get it don't work with us because we aren't hip enough and we certainly aren't smart enough. How could we possibly be smart enough? They know tech!
Look at the company that inadvertently started the Super Bowl of Advertising.
Go back to Super Bowl XVIII in 1984.
Yes, that's when Apple Computer unleashed its brand upon the world with a commercial called, 1984.
THEY DIDN'T TELL YOU IT WAS GOING TO BE THE WORST AD IN THE SUPER BOWL
They also didn't tell you it was going to be the best.
They just lit people on fire.
And to inspire that kind of conflagration requires knowing about something more than zeroes and ones.
It requires knowing that you're not necessarily smarter than everyone else.
It requires knowing that being resonant has nothing to do with the delivery platform, whether it's Google ads or Super Bowl ads.
It requires respect.
It requires understanding the emotionally resonant core of your customer.
It requires finding that core, and then knowing how to light it up.
And having a little clarity.
"Don't know diddly about making ads," indeed.
Don't be like Diddly. Be like Bo. Bo knows Diddly.
(How's that for a shameless mashup of a advertising reference you're probably too young to remember with a shameless rock & roll reference you're definitely too young to remember?)
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.