Silly as it sounds, I watch the Super Bowl ads for insights into personal finance. Want to see who has the biggest marketing campaign? Want to gauge the country’s mood? Want to check for trends in discretionary spending? Yep. Watch the ads. Want to skip the game? Watch the ads the next day after most of them have been uploaded to YouTube. Let’s see what this year reveals.
OK. I watched all of the Super Bowl 2019 ads that were on AdBlitz’s YouTube channel. Before I comment on anything else I have to give a shout out to Ram Trucks, not because of their trucks but because they expressed the same thing a few of us discussed last week. What ads can you remember from previous years? Millions of dollars go into these ads because corporations expect to get many more millions out. They probably don’t know how effective they are, either. Here are a few that I remember:
- Apple’s 1984
- Mean Joe Greene and a Coke
- Herding Cats
- Sock puppet for a pet store
- …and that’s about it.
I can remember more if I work at it, but I am fascinated at how poorly these ads persist. Ironically, Ram’s two other ads are already fading from memory – and I marked one of those as “positively emotional.”
In general, it looked like almost everyone was playing it safe. There was a lot less of “we’re all in this together”, “looking forward to a brighter day”, and “we can do this”.
I don’t recall any military ads, but there were ads for vets. There were also ads for emergency responders, people who deserve more credit, and people who are also topically safe. Firefighters and nurses got exposure. Police didn’t.
Working class people were applauded, frequently at the expense of mentioning the thing being sold. Kia talked about carworkers, not much about cars. There was some of that thanks to one of those Ram ads (now that I look back.) Jim Beam, though their ad was about workers making it happen even though only one name is on the label, made me wonder if the profits were similarly skewed. Head & Shoulders made three ads about small businesses that couldn’t get exposure otherwise, a great reminder of opportunities, barriers, and how little it can take to reach out.
That positive Head & Shoulders series was another odd reminder of how little mention there is of the things being sold. Hey, ESPN. Who is Rick? H-E-B, is what, a food delivery service? Hyundai makes me think of fantasy elevators, not cars. Lexus’ ad was entertaining (and also provided some confirmation that projection is entering the common consciousness, but that’s only news for MVIS shareholders), but didn’t tell me anything about the car. Hey, Sleepnumber. How and why does your product work?
There were some that made a point. TurboTax thinks people are more valuable than robots. Microsoft’s ad for accessibility demonstrated its potential. Walmart’s grocery pickup service hammered the idea of delivery to your car, without being dull about it. Fabletics actually showed their product more than most: high-tech fashionable leggings. Tostitos showed – gasp – Tostitos, and was one of the few ‘foods’ to advertise this year. (I’ll get to the beer ads, later.) Devour frozen meals did so, too; but was a bit icky to me because they played with a relationship in the message. M&Ms, cute as usual.
Speaking of chips, let’s deal with the beers. This year, Budweiser decided to make fun of other mega-brewers instead of comparing themselves to craft beers. Stella Artois made it sound like drinking a bottled beer was a bold move, something others would shun as beneath them. Michelob’s “pure nature”… To me, Michelob’s true nature was getting a pitcher in college and knowing that the brewery was only a few hours away in eastern Virginia, not Hawaii. I applaud two companies that could benefit from the exposure because they’re new enough: Bon & Viv, that also looks like they’re evolving Starbuck’s mermaid; and Bubly water, though I still don’t know what that is.
The Bud Light ad that tied in with Game of Thrones was one of several ads that are acting like major motion pictures. Movies are now being made that have several production companies involved. T-Mobile & Lyft joined the cross-promotion camp. Have ads gotten that expensive that they must share the risk and cost?
Speaking of movies – I won’t, much. Partly that’s because of spoilers. Partly that’s because some of them are series that I haven’t been able to keep up with thanks to seven day workweeks. Aside from screeching tires and things blowing up, I am intrigued by the Handmaid’s Tale playing with the “Morning Again” motto from Reagan’s era. My, how things have changed. My, how sci-fi can wrap around from fiction to reality. The fiction being portrayed is not a happy place, nor a subtle place. Nuance didn’t show up. Even the animated movie for kids is about threats to the theme park. (Oh no, we must save the corporation’s assets!)
Fear showed up in security system ads, systems that alternately use robots and automation as threat and solution, a dilemma our society must solve.
Robots rule! And robots fail, and tech fails, and tech aids, and how long until the robots are the ones watching the ads? T-Mobile made fun of texting failures, and number hacks, while hinting they have a solution. Amazon had fun with Alexa fails, which is hopefully something we can always laugh at. Hopefully. Nordic Trak is incorporating coaches into its electronics. Why pay for a personal trainer when you can buy one? A few made the point that robots can’t help with taxes, enjoy beer, or chips – and maybe we should be sad about that? For good or not or just odd, companies are recognizing that robots will be a common part of our world.
There were also ads for another world, completely; or at least one that I’m not a part of. Rich people problems. Getting into relationship argument over body lotion? Skin care startling an attacker? Folks who’ve seen real attackers may miss the joke. A luggage company memorializing a rich family’s life rather than normal people traveling. Sprint talks about saving people $1,000 per year on cell phone service. Someone out there should be getting paid by them because I’m sure millions aren’t even spending $1,000 per year on phone service. By the way, car ads are frequently about breaking the law; which is OK if you can get away with it. Having mentioned the law, the law firm that claimed to be lawyers for everyone were shown in stereotypical suits, driving Mercedes, and boarding private jets. Please tell me it was a satire.
Finally, I get to the short list, the ads that I enjoyed watching. Let’s start with a personal bias. I like Jeeps. They’re arguably one of the few that can recycle World War II footage, and they did so without going too far. I’m glad to see that they’re bringing back the truck, but I’d rather see them bring back my 1987 Jeep (not-a-Grand) Cherokee. I trust that when Google says the most common phrases translated are “How are you?” and “Thank you.” that they do so from data. Humans remain humane more than the news makes it seem. Jeep talked about the nation. Google talked about humanity. Netflix reminded us that everyone on the planet is on the same team (though maybe we could use some better coaches.)
That’s not all of the ads, but it’s enough. As I said at the start, I do this to get investing ideas as well as understand trends. When I had more money I’d supplement this exercise with a similar exercise at the mall. Wander around and see what people are buying, and ignoring. Ads seem to be more directed to manipulating emotions, not selling goods and services. Ads. They’re selling a feel, not a reason. Reason is not in fashion. Is a Lexus better than a Kia or a Volvo? There’s no way to tell. Is a Stella Artois more drinkable than a Bud Light? One had two celebrities. The other had a cross-promotion with a celebrated show.
Every year I feel further removed from mainstream America. While it is easy to say that’s because I live on an island, I moved to the island because of what I saw happening in mainstream America. Style is dominant over substance. My investing strategy is based on understanding facts and data, with an understanding of trends and market psychology. That’s why I am glad to see those few seconds of an allusion to a projector. That’s the leading edge of a trend I’ve been watching for decades.
The dominant trend is towards impulse, indulgence, gratification, – or playing voyeur to those who can afford to impulsively indulge in self-gratification. Now, I know that my subconscious is going to digest this mix, and layer on it the situations I mentioned in a previous post: climate change, social injustice, technological advances, and economic inequalities and instabilities. The trends in these ads don’t suggest solutions to those situations. Maybe we’ll leave that to the robots while we tune in to watch yet another celebrity.