Monday, February 8, 2010

Top Super Bowl Ads of 2010

The Super Bowl is over for 2010, and that means it's now time for the debate to begin about which ads were winners and losers. I had a great time seeing comments from some of my fellow advertising/public relations folks on Twitter during the game, and I definitely see an opportunity for a live-blogging exercise in the future for events relevant to our industry. Check out Twitter feeds for @joshuadelung, @rlaermer and @accessus for last night's tweets.

I'll say up front that none of this year's ads were phenomenal, and none of them really made an effort to break the rules, do something relevant with a target audience or provide a true call to action. However, I've rewatched all the ads one last time before making my judgments, and here are my top five Super Bowl ads for this year, followed by a couple of honorable (and not-so-honorable) mentions.

1) Google: Search On — It wasn't flashy. Heck, I could've made this ad in my living room. But the narrative that played out just by watching someone perform searches from falling in love to building a crib was a cute and genius way to show off Google's usefulness. This is a simple ad that shows people what to do and how to do it with a product, which is sorta the point. The other advertisers should take note.

2) Doritos: House Rules — A cute kid, tasty chips and hilarious dialogue. Is it going to make me run out and buy more Doritos? Probably not. Is it going to make me smile each time I walk past a bag of Doritos in the store for the next few months? Absolutely.

3) Mars' Snickers: You're Not You When You're Hungry — Who doesn't love Betty White? Seeing Betty White get tackled? Well, that's pretty funny, too. While the eat-a-Snickers-bar-to-transform-into-a-lean-mean-football-player trick was highly predictable, that doesn't mean we weren't still laughing when the screen faded to black.

4) Motorola: Megan Fox Photo — No, I didn't put this in the top five because Megan Fox is one of the hottest (if not also trashiest) stars out there. But the idea of her sending a viral pic of herself in the bathtub out via cellphone is not only tantalizing, it's also relevant in our Internet age, and the resulting distraction among American men shown in the ad probably isn't far from what would actually happen.

5) Volkswagen: PunchDub —I wasn't aware that the "Punch Buggy [Color], No Punch Back" game had now extended to all VWs, so I'm glad they decided to let us in on the secret while also getting people to talk about their cars more often when they see them out on the road. Genius. The whole Stevie Wonder thing is sorta played out, especially for Gen-Xers (and probably not even relevant for Millenials), but the addition of Tracy Morgan helped make that part of the ad at least slightly humorous.

Honorable Mentions:

Most Well-Written
Chrysler: Dodge Charger — This is perhaps the most well-written ad from the entire Super Bowl in 2010. It wasn't all THAT interesting, but if you listen to the dialogue, it definitely connects with the target audience in a way that no other ad did this year. Watch it.

Best Production Value
Coke: Sleepwalker — Coca-Cola's ads are always very shiny and fun to watch, even if they aren't all that memorable in the long run. Crisp, clear, great settings, music, and on and on... these were some well-produced ads and not much more. Watch it.

Most Worth Going Online For
HomeAway's "Hotel Hell Vacation" (Full Version: 13:52) — I think everyone was super-excited to see Chevy Chase reprise his role as Clark Griswold from those hilarious National Lampoon's "Vacation" films. And while the stand-alone ad was funny and a cool idea, it didn't quite deliver enough to make me remember to use HomeAway instead of one of the more well-known hotel rental sites. All that being said, the full version of the ad is available online and runs almost a full 14 minutes. It plays just exactly like a scene out of a brand-new Griswolds movie and offers plenty of laughs and familiar memes. Watch it.

Dishonorable Mentions:

Biggest Fail
Dockers: Free Pants — The ad wasn't original, as it was one of three pantless ads that ran during the Super Bowl from various companies. Then, it saved itself by mentioning a "free pants" giveaway online. It was sort of a form of bait-and-switch tactics, though, as visitors to the Web site could actually just enter for a CHANCE to win free pants. That is, if those visitors could get the Web site to work. For a good hour after the ad aired, the Twitterverse was alive with "Dockers Fail" tweets because the servers crashed. Even after the site finally loaded, then the entry form seemed broken. I finally got registered for my chance at some pants after many ill-fated attempts. But all this ad really proved is that Dockers is an aging brand that's out of touch in a technology-driven world. Watch it.

Biggest Waste of Taxpayer Money
U.S. Census Bureau: Preproduction Meeting — I am absolutely outraged by this ad. Just in case you don't realize it, YOU paid for this ad. Almost $3 million in taxpayer money was used for this spot that played out more like a sitcom preview than a government call to action. You should know that even if about one percent of the estimated 100 million people who were supposed to watch the Super Bowl this year mail back their Census forms, it will save taxpayers $30 million that would otherwise be spent sending workers door-to-door, according to U.S. Census Bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner. My question is: Why the heck didn't they just say that in the ad? Be direct already! As we recover from an economic crisis, saving taxpayer money is a hot topic to which people will pay attention. If you had just mentioned that little detail about how people mailing their forms back equals loads of saved money and preventing the inconvenience of Census workers knocking at your door, I imagine that this ad may not have been such a waste. Watch it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Why Toyota Should Rebound

Prior Relationships Key to Image Restoration

What a mess!
Your company is taking hits left and right; your once-sparkling image is seemingly ruined forever, and things just keep getting worse. But what does the strategy behind public relations tell us about what lies ahead? Is there hope? Read on to find out …

Photo of the latest blue Toyota 4Runner model at the Washington Auto Show for 2010.
Toyota hopes its image is soon back to being as polished as this latest version of the 4Runner was at the 2010 Washington Auto Show. | Photo by Joshua A. DeLung

… In recent weeks, there has been quite a bit said about Toyota’s misfortune concerning recalls of certain models — floor mats, accelerator pedals and potentially problematic brakes. Yeowch! This is definitely not a situation in which a company wants to find itself. And while it may be every PR practitioner’s dream to successfully manage a crisis for an organization, when the actual event arrives, things don’t seem so glamorous.

I’m not going to focus on what has already been said day in and out. We know Toyota is in trouble, and we’ve seen plenty of prescriptions for what they should’ve done, could’ve done better and how and why and all that jazz. But the past is the past, and as PR folks, it’s our job to continuously perform environmental scanning (which might prevent a crisis altogether, but that's a post for another day). Seeing into the future is tough, but we have to make our best estimates, investigate trends and do some solid research when digging out of a crisis. Take note of what went wrong in order to avoid letting it happen again, but figuring out the next step quickly is imperative. That's where restoration and renewal come in.

The media offer didactic messages about lessons learned and adjudicative ones that tell us who to blame. But as practitioners, we must ask ourselves what part of our organization’s response has been positive in attempt to retell our story and push toward image restoration. Social networking sites and other outlets can help us circumvent mainstream media somewhat to start a new conversation, though we can’t underestimate MSMs (dwindling?) power.

In some cases, apologia and corrective action may be enough to restore faith in an organization, but in the event of a large-scale crisis, renewal efforts are more complex, requiring us to uphold our commitments to stakeholders and re-establish our core values. If your company is someone like, say, Microsoft, with a history of bullying and buggy software, then you might need to consider renewal. In other words, a rebranding of your organization — find a way to start over with a more positive way of doing business. For most organizations, though, image restoration is possible after a crisis within an organization where the culture has historically been one that encouraged ethics and responsibility.

And herein lies the key to being resilient after crisis: relational history. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of maintaining good relationships with key publics and encouraging an ethical and responsible culture at all times internally.

An organization has the best chance at bouncing back after a crisis situation by having a stellar and trustworthy reputation in the first place.

As PR practitioners, it’s our job to point out to CEOs (or anyone else) when their actions could taint the company's reputation. Because, let’s be honest, if you’re acting like an Enron Corporation all the time, then your chances at image restoration are slim to none.

This is why I think Toyota will eventually bounce back from its recent problems. I have heard plenty of doom-and-gloom statements about how the company is finished, especially in the U.S., but I’m not so sure. Will it take plenty of time? Of course. But Toyota wasn’t known for being flashy (Ferrari), luxurious (Mercedes-Benz) or rough-and-tough (Ford). Toyotas are known for dependability, practicality and being fuel-efficient and long-lasting.

It is because of these reasons that Toyota will be able to regain its customers’ support and eventually gain new buyers. That is, of course, considering it takes care of concerns about the recalls properly by getting it right the first time and by giving affected customers the red-carpet treatment. Establishing trust with key publics day in and day out should be utmost in the mind of every PR practitioner. If it is, then when a dreaded crisis strikes, image restoration will be an available next step.

Full disclosure: I own a Toyota, though not one affected by the recalls. I was not paid in any way for this post, nor did I have any contact with Toyota or any other company in developing the content for this post. These statements are strictly my own professional opinion.