Bill Cosby on the First Law of Advertising

“The very first law in advertising is to avoid the concrete promise and cultivate the delightfully vague.”
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There’s joy in Gotham City today, and more than a little pride, but none of it should be felt by Super Bowl XLII advertisers or their agencies. Last night’s performance was disappointing and instantly forgettable. From heart-warming Budweiser Clydesdales, a viewer created Doritos ad, and Justin Timberlake to Salesgenie.com’s dim-witted stereotypes, another GoDaddy tease, and more stupid cavemen (that’s redundant, right?), it was déjà vu all over again.
Many faithfully followed Cosby’s first law and were delightfully vague: Budweiser’s rejected Hank in a “Rocky”-like tale, a bunch of lizards doing the Michael Jackson “Thriller” dance, Coke’s dueling parade balloons, and Doritos’ undiscovered rising stars. Others broke his law and tried to weave in a promise, albeit in uninspiring ways: E*Trade’s talking and spitting up baby, CarrerBuilder.com’s gross beating heart, Toyota’s ferocious sleeping badgers spot, and Garmin’s Napoleonic trek (Is Garmin a French company?)
A few went directly for the promise, forgoing the creative all together; like DCU’s loans and Claritin’s non-drowsy allergy medicine. But the majority followed tired and true recipes; vague and distasteful (a unibrowed, cashew-scented snacker); simply distasteful (a fat guy strapping jumper cables to his nipples); or on point and implausible (It’s Marilyn Monroe, Shakira and Madonna’s hair that tells their story? Umm, no it’s not. Or . . . Hyundai’s ad for its new Genesis luxury car will strike fear in the hearts of marketers at Mercedes, BMW and Lexus? Puh-lease.)
I could go on and on, but I won’t. It was hard enough trying to watch the sophomoric and formulaic ads during the game. I most surely don’t want to relive them again today. And I guess that’s the point, isn’t it. A one-time, $3 million investment in 30 seconds worth of eye candy should elicit feelings that we want to replay in our minds and in our hearts. It should prime a network of mental associations for something desirable; something valuable. Something we want to investigate further or share with our friends.
A lot of people consumed a lot of food and alcohol last night (and some of us even ate some crow). We also consumed a lot of advertising. But, like the junk food available at most Super Bowl parties, just because we consumed the brands’ advertising doesn’t mean we’ll make them part of our lives. Yes, there were a few worthy creations. But overall, this year’s Super Bowl ad feast was an expensive smorgasbord void of brand-building value. Here’s hoping that Super Bowl XLIII fares better for marketers and for my humble pie-eating New England Patriots.

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About Tom Asacker