The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Super Bowl 50

February 11th, 2016

Almost 115 million people tuned into Super Bowl 50 this past Sunday. What is even more boggling is that so many of these people only watched for the highly anticipated commercials. How did brands do this year? As always, it’s a mixed bag of whacky, hilarious and heartfelt. And what’s a Super Bowl without a little controversy and excitement? (Answer: if there’s no drama, it’s not the Super Bowl.)

The Good (and the one very Bad) Commercials

A lot of companies paid a small fortune to get their products and services in front of millions of people by creating commercials for Super Bowl Sunday. Commercials ranged from serious to plain old ridiculous (how fast can you say “Puppy Monkey Baby”?), but some brands took the opportunity to do serious branding work during the game. The Springboard team took a chance to weigh in:

Toyota Prius: Not Your Mother’s Hybrid 

We’re not sure exactly how much the specs of the Toyota Prius have changed, but during the Super Bowl, the “all new” Prius commercial proved to be a pretty interesting branding exercise. First, you might notice that the drivers in the commercial are criminals and not exactly the suburban upper middle class families often portrayed in Prius commercials. In other words (and no offense), these drivers are a little dangerous, a little rugged… and a lot cool.

Another interesting facet to consider is that the commercial relegates the Prius’ calling-card, environmental efficiency, to a minor role. Instead, we see the Prius racing from cops and gliding through hairpin turns in a style more reminiscent of a sports car.

These are not unconscious decisions. It seems that Toyota made a decent effort to change the way people think about the Prius and about hybrid cars in general. Do you need to be a law-abiding, middle class mom to drive a Prius? Do you have to sacrifice excitement and speed for sustainability? Hmm, maybe not…

Steve Harvey’s Comeback 

As we all know, back in December Steve Harvey announced the wrong contestant as the winner of the Miss Universe contest, making a lot of women in pageant gowns (and fans) very angry. Fortunately enough, he got the chance to redeem himself when he appeared in T-Mobile’s Super Bowl ad where he poked fun at his now-infamous hosting mistake.

During the game, ‘Steve Harvey’ was the second-biggest trending topic on Twitter as his fans gave him props for being a good sport, T-Mobile says.

This opportunity showed millions of people Harvey’s true character in a sticky situation. He used the commercial as a chance to laugh at himself, redeem his reputation, remind us all how funny he actually is and to put the controversy in perspective (and that’s a lot to do in 30 seconds). Harvey is a great example of how to properly communicate during a crisis and come out unscathed at the end.

The Car That Refuses to be Defined 

Yet another car commercial making some waves, albeit smaller and calmer waves, was Mini USA’s, advertising its new car model. But what it lacks in shock value it makes up for in honesty and warm and fuzzies.

The commercial definitely executes delivering its not-so-subtle message (#defylabels appears in the commercial) about refusing to be defined by stereotypes. The ad features not super celebrities but respected athletes including Serena Williams, Abby Wambach, Randy Johnson and Tony Hawk who share their stories about overcoming adversity and defying expectations.

While a lot of this year’s Super Bowl commercials went the way of loud and flashy, Mini USA chose to “defy” these expectations as well, setting their brand apart as genuine and empowering rather than gimmicky and corny. With its simple white backdrop and lack of special effects, the focus of the ad remains on the human experience, which resonates with every single viewer (whether they be Denver or Carolina fans).

Puppy Monkey What?

Very bad might be dramatic, very strange is more like it.

Mountain Dew elicited a lot of raised eyebrows and confused stares with it’s commercial featuring a “puppy monkey baby”. In fact, the commercial was more than mildly strange, crossing the line into disturbing; between the creepy creature’s dance moves and monotone voice, many viewers admitted to feeling unnerved by the ad (and we can’t blame them).

In terms of promoting its Kickstart drink, I think many will agree that the beverage company’s ad didn’t succeed; the flashy and weird “puppy monkey baby” drew attention away from the product itself. (Be honest, did you really even know what that commercial was advertising until I mentioned it?)

Mountain Dew is not new to the beverage industry and is not a small brand by any means. So what prompted a team of professionals to sit around a conference table and say: “this is the one we spend millions of dollars on guys”?

If you think the advertising agency is at fault, think again. The same agency that created “Puppy Monkey Baby” also created this very popular and very moving commercial for Wrigley’s Extra gum that caused teary-eyed reactions everywhere. We may have cried during “Puppy Monkey Baby” but for very different reasons.

If they were trying to draw attention, then congrats to them. Mountain Dew shocked a lot of people, but did they shock them into buying a case of Kickstart drinks? I don’t think so. While the intention of the commercial is not so clear, it’s obvious that Mountain Dew wanted to turn some heads.

The Ugly: Cam Newton Wins “Most (non) Virtuous Pouter” Award

Cam Newton’s performance during the game was nothing compared to the ugliness off (and the game itself was not pretty). An ultra-competitive athlete that dominated in a 15-1 season leading to the Super Bowl, Newton is not known for his modesty. Conspicuously celebrating during games and taunting opposing players earned him a reputation as cocky but kind of endearing among many football fans.

Then (and this is perhaps a gross understatement), Newton had a below-average game and his beloved Panthers lost to the Broncos. Instead of being a gracious competitor in the face of defeat, Newton’s behavior during the post-game press conference was sour and terse. He offered one word answers and ultimately walked out after three minutes all while sporting a black-hooded sweatshirt faintly reminiscent of Darth Vader.

Many argue, and we agree, that Newton’s sore loser performance after the game was unprofessional and impacted his personal and professional brand. And when public figures and brands make mistakes that negatively affect their perceptions, they usually issue official apologies and beg forgiveness… not Cam Newton.

Two days removed from the Super Bowl he made it very clear that he had no regrets about how he behaved during the press conference. Social media and talk radio have been buzzing ever since, questioning Newton’s professionalism and maturity.

This is a bad look for one of the brightest stars in the NFL. Hopefully Newton learned a valuable lesson: PR value from the media can cut you down as easily and as quickly as it can prop you up.

What did you think of Super Bowl 50? Did the commercials live up to the hype? Did Cam Newton disappoint you? Good news, if this year’s big game didn’t meet your expectations, there’s always next year.

Ariel Kramer

Ariel dabbles in a little bit of everything from media relations and content creation to social media and blogging. When she's not on the clock, you can bet she's reading, eating, or binge-watching Gilmore Girls (or more likely doing all three at the same time).

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