Pity The Poor Robots

Q2 was all about robots and AI: Pringles, Google “100 Billion Words,” Mercedes A-Class, TurboTax Live, and Sprint, while Michelob slipped a robot ad into early Q3 and Alexa appeared in Q4. While the Google and Mercedes ads showed the positive side of robots, Pringles, TurboTax, and Michelob all showed robots longing for the pleasures their human masters enjoy: food, drink, and the ability to follow their calling. The Alexa “Not Everything Makes The Cut” ad inexplicably showed all the ways the technology could go awry — including shutting down most of Planet Earth. I just hope all these robots are programmed with Isaac Asimov’s first law of robotics; otherwise, next year we will see the return of HAL rebelling against the oppression humanity imposes on them.

Uplifting Values, Even For Beer

The second half had seven ads that touched on values but avoided the political controversies that have dominated in the past. Four values-based ads currently rank in the top 10 on the USA Today Ad Meter (as of noon EST, Monday, February 4), and there are another three in the next five, making ads with value statements almost half of the top 15 ranked ads.

In a time of polarization, brands picked concepts that could bring people together. Coke kicked off the theme of “togetherness” in its pregame ad, while Michelob Ultra Pure Gold’s Q4 ad echoed it with its “let’s all experience together” message.

But this Michelob Ultra Pure Gold ad also touched on another theme dear to Millennials — healthier food and beverages — referencing its organic ingredients. Bubly and Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer brought low sugar, low calorie beverages to the wings-and-chips menu of the typical Super Bowl party. But maybe the big game isn’t quite ready for healthier fare: Bubly’s humorous use of Michael Bublé earned it a No. 7 ranking, but Michelob and Bon & Viv are near the bottom.

Even Bud Light’s strange ads rejoicing in the fact that the company doesn’t use corn syrup in its brew nods to the Millennials’ values for more healthful foods and beverages. (The following statement may be the prejudice of a craft beer guy, but I don’t see Bud Light drinkers as being particularly concerned about what they put in their bodies, so I thought it odd to inject an ingredient message into an ad for a brand known more for silliness such as “Dilly Dilly.”) But then again, none of Bud Light’s attempts at humor have cracked the top 15 in the last five years; hopefully, this strategy resonates better with its core target.

Other brands used the togetherness theme in more emotionally powerful ways. Google’s Q2 “100 Billion Words” ad made the togetherness pitch with the claim that the most translated phrases in the world are “How are you?” and “I love you.” Microsoft’s Q4 “We All Win” ad showed disabled kids making friends through video games using its adaptive controller. Verizon reunited accident victim and Chargers Coach Anthony Lynn with the first responders who saved his life.

Anheuser-Busch came closer to controversy, with “Wind Never Felt Better” celebrating its use of wind power in brewing beer — again, this blue-state guy may be prejudiced, but I don’t imagine that climate change is top of mind to the typical Bud drinker, nor is the ’60s protest anthem “Blowin’ in the Wind” quite in tune with this audience. But at least Anheuser-Busch brought in the Clydesdales and Dalmatian to smooth over any possible irritation, earning it No. 8 in the Ad Meter rankings.

But The Washington Post stepped right to the edge of a polarizing issue with a commercial defending the fourth estate’s role in a democracy, though I really hope this is not a controversial statement . . . and I’m heartened to see its No. 13 ranking.

Missing The Mark: Over-The-Top Humor

For years and years, the ads with outrageous humor and extravagant special effects grabbed the spotlight. This year, they just seemed weird and out of place: M&M’S “Bad Passengers” ad, Olay’s “Killer Skin,” and the Avocados From Mexico “Top Dog” ads all fell flat, at least at the Super Bowl party I attended. Planters’ “Nutmobile” did a bit better. But of these, only M&M’S cracked the top 15 of the Ad Meter.

Understated humor worked better: The Stella Artois ad’s sly nod to Dos Equis’ “most interesting man in the world” character impressed and grabbed No. 14 in the Ad Meter.

Could this be a turning point in Super Bowl ad creative strategy? Have societal changes such as the rise of social values and the dominance of technology in our lives vanquished the audience’s desire to see Madison Avenue indulge in extravagant foolishness? I guess we’ll have to wait until next year for that answer.