With nearly half of America’s TV-owning households tuning in, there’s no other event quite like the Super Bowl in the world of advertising.
This year, while there was no shortage of car and beer commercials, the game featured a steady onslaught of spots from digital technology companies, appropriate given the two teams on the field were representing two of the biggest innovation hubs outside of Silicon Valley.
On display weren’t high-art breakthroughs in AI (although Katy Perry’s mechanical lion could have qualified) or ingenious methods for crunching big data. Instead, they were commercials for the most consumer-facing of software technologies – websites and smartphone games.
Website publishing platforms Wix, SquareSpace, and GoDaddy all ran ads Sunday. But where GoDaddy has developed a reputation for kitschy and provocative Super Bowl spots, it was first-time participants Wix and SquareSpace that took up the strategy this year. Wix contracted with a number of high-profile retired football players, including Brett Favre, Terrell Owens, and Emmitt Smith, and Rex Lee (Lloyd from Entourage) and showed them pursuing hypothetical second careers, with help from their new personal websites.
While the Wix commercial was generally well-received, the SquareSpace ad was not. In it, Jeff Bridges (“the Dude” from the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski), makes one long-winded “ommmm” as the screen directed viewers to the website dreamingwithjeff.com. Tim Calkins, who led the tenth annual Super Bowl Ad Review at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, gave the commercial his only “F” grade.
Meanwhile GoDaddy, which in previous years has made racy ads with NASCAR driver Danica Patrick and supermodel Bar Rafaeli, did its best attempt to appear grown up as it prepares for an IPO. However, the company did originally have this planned, so who knows.
Perhaps the funniest commercial of the night belonged to Supercell’s Clash of Clans franchise, the top grossing app in 2014. Liam Neeson (or AngryNeeson52, his gamer tag) does his best Taken impression, plotting his revenge on BigBuffetBoy85 while waiting for a scone. Supercell, which hails from Helsinki, the same city where Angry Birds originated, received $1.5 billion in 2013 from SoftBank in exchange for a 51% equity stake in the company. It reportedly spent upwards of $9 million on the two minute-long production. Game of War, from the game developer MachineZone, also ran a spot featuring Sports Illustrated swimsuit covergirl Kate Upton.
The Seahawks lost at the goal-line yesterday, but Seattle natives can take solace in the fact that its proudest commercial achievement, Microsoft, strung together a series of inspiring bits under its “Empowering Us All” campaign, that aligns well with the brand revitalization underway with new CEO Satya Nadella. The first was a heartwarming piece about a six-year old boy named Braylon, who was born without bones in his tibia or fibula, while the second followed “Estella’s Brilliant Bus,” a mobile home equipped with computers serving underprivileged kids around Florida’s Palm Beach County. Both segments were narrated by the Chicago-born rapper Common, who was reading excerpts from speeches by Nadella.
Finally, BMW reminded viewers just how far we’ve come in the promotion of its new electric vehicle, the i3. It begins with a clip from 1994, where morning talk show personalities Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel say some mind-numbingly dumb things about the Internet, including “what is Internet?” Twenty years later, and the two are good sports about what would now be a truly embarrassing admission.