Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Super Bowl's Cause-Related Commercials Revisited

The biggest audience of the year. The biggest game of the year. The biggest barometer of the nation’s consciousness of the year. And as posted last week, several brands took advantage of it to message their various cause related programs. In case you missed any of the Super Bowl cause-related commercials here they are along with a quick synopsis of the good and the not so good of each.


Breakthrough creative concept that was liked by common man and critics alike. Voted # 7 in USA Today’s AdMeter poll. AdAge’s critic Bob Garfield gave the spot from TBWA/CHIAT/DAY LA 3 out of 4 stars and said: 

“You know how there's always a path of destruction when your rhino stampedes through the living room? Here we see it dramatized, along with glimpses at other unruly pets, such as wild boars, ostriches, etc. Then the payoff title card: "Maybe you should get a dog." Very funny, and a nice way into Pedigree's pet-adoption do-gooding.”

Barbara Lippert, AdWeek critic, said in light of or collective “economic discontent:"

“...Pedigree's payoff is that the spot promotes doggie adoption. Who could be against that? Plus, it's not like it pulls on our heartstrings by showing skinny big-eyed dogs plaintively staring at us from cages. It's unexpected and civic minded -- with a bigger idea than where our next bowl of kibble is coming from. “

I agree with both yet think there was an opportunity to make an even better impact. While the concept and execution were both well done, the opportunity was missed for a strong call to action, such as visit their website to donate NOW or adopt a dog NOW. Upon visiting the site after the game there was a new flash intro that tied-back to the Super Bowl spot; however, the message was focused on a different (albeit still good) cause from the commercial: watch a video and we’ll donate a meal to a dog. Wow. Where’s the single-minded focus? How to actually adopt a dog or donate towards the effort should have been front and center. You got me all excited by waving a proverbial big red ball, said we were going to the park, then led me to the...backyard. Hey it’s still playtime but not quite the same.

Frosted Flakes

As I said before, good idea well executed by Leo Burnet, the original creators of the iconic Tony The Tiger (who makes a brief appearance in the spot). But the whole notion of Frosted Flakes sponsoring healthier living and youth athletics seemed a bit of a stretch and moreover, as Adage’s Garfield noted, the dots weren’t connected for the average viewer:

“Talk about your grass roots. Pretty photography and slick CGI draw you into this smart exercise in branded community involvement -- Tony the Tiger's repair of 55 athletic fields around the country. The "Why Frosted Flakes?" is a bit elusive here, but it ties into the brand's (feeble) "Earn Your Stripes" program, equating breakfast candy with personal growth. Anyway, explaining that would have been grrrrrreat”

AdMeter poll ranked it in the bottom 3rd, 36 out of 50 spots. But unlike the higher rated Pedigree spot, at least they had a clearly articulated closing call to action: “Help decide where [to rebuild athletic fields] at Frosted Flakes .com." At the time I write this, the website shows 572 nominated fields.


A third cause-related ad was from GE as part of their “ecomagination” campaign featuring eco-friendly products, services and solutions from the conglomerate. Promoting their “SmartGrid” technology it was less of a conceptual reveal than the previous two and more a straightforward play of the iconic Scarecrow song from Wizard of Oz. It likely resonated well with the expansive demo that watches the Super Bowl and came in at 22 on AdMeter. But $3 million and probably another $1 million plus on production costs and yet no one thought it important to clearly communicate a consumer benefit. “SmartGrid technology from GE will make the way we distribute energy more efficient simply by making it more intelligent.” What the heck is a SmartGrid and more importantly why should I care?

United Way

Finally, a spot from the United Way and NFL brought us year two of a youth fitness program with a text to donate call to action. While unclear if this was a free PSA or paid ad, the creative fell flat and underserved the important message. Enough of the PowerPoint-esque animated type spots (see Starbucks and Pepsi new campaigns). And as a lifelong Cowboys fan I love Jason Witten on the field and because of that I happen to know he was named the Home Depot Neighborhood MVP for his off the field contributions, but he’s not exactly a household name that creates buzz.

All in all, kudos to all for having the strategic wisdom and gut instincts to run cause-related marketing messages on the biggest stage and during a down economy. Of course with any attempt at “doing good” comes extra scrutiny. And in this case, any press IS good press.


Davis Bryan or Little D said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Very interesting thoughts. So about Pedigree...I have to argue that I think they walked a fine line with encouraging adoption. I have three adopted pets, so I'm all for it. But after the Dog Hotel movie and their direct support of that -- which was also a very good cause/CSR program in my opinion -- they had to be careful to not encourage just anyone to go get a dog, because many times that backfires and people return them to shelters, etc. I believe there was some negative press on that related to the Marley and Me movie as well. This is just one potential reason they didn't drive a direct call to action. Otherwise, I would generally agree with you - a wasted opportunity.

I too, was impressed with the companies spending their dollars pushing these good causes and it's heart-warming that we're making progress in this space. I have created a related post on this topic to be revealed on a new site in March, called the SR LINK.

In it, I have noted how the Inauguration and MLK Day were new opportunities for companies to get on board. We'll see how things change in this area.

Anonymous said...

Great assessment! Not quite as many cause-related ads as last year, but it's even more encouraging to see several major spots given the increased scrutiny those ad dollars are under today. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on each.

Anonymous said...

I'd have to disagree with Garfield on the Frosted Flakes ad. I thought it was simple, concrete and well executed. "Why Frosted Flakes" wasn't such a stretch for me.

Now the GE ad did pose a problem. It was definitely fun and memorable, but I had no idea what smart grid technology was, or why it was good until I read this Google Blog post http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/02/power-to-people.html

Baseball fields for kids everyone knows are good.

Post a Comment