01 February 2012

Ferris Beuller meets Seinfeld at Sunday's Super Bowl

You'll notice what 30 years of hype- often well founded- has brought to Super Bowl ads.  Taking a cue from the film industry, they're now pre-promoted, with press releases, social-media buzz-prompting, and even teaser videos:

The good news is:  Ferris Beuller is back.  It's instant emotional gravitas for Honda, buying into the John Hughes counterculture-comedy masterpiece, whose audience- then young world-shakers, and now of CRV age- have committed each moment & nuance to memory, as though it were a Beatles classic.  (And like Beatles classics, would Hughes have been so relaxed shooting Ferris Beuller's Day Off if he knew how its smallest moments would be lionized?  George Martin once remarked that if he'd known just how closely people were going to scrutinize Beatles' songs, he would've been scared to death.)

So what happened?  This-

Sacks of fun, yes.  And some fun parody moments.  But when the nostalgia spot is tickled, something's missing.  Being Matthew Broderick this time, there could be no Sloane.  No Cameron.  No Principal Rooney (actor Jeffrey Jones' tragic personal story makes that impossible.)  But that's not it.

There aren't any substantial surprises:  the cornerstone of any great storytelling, especially in advertising.

Make no mistake:  creating a worthy story is hard.  Usually much harder than writing 'moments' and dialogue. Story provides the formula which ultimately allows a spot to succeed. Or not.

Contrast that now with the other big Super Bowl ad pre-release, this time for Acura:

Again, a car company taps the borrowed equity of a hugely popular character of a generation ago.  And again, the audience that knows Seinfeld best is of the Acura age.  But this time, rather than re-live the character, the Acura spot builds on it: updates it.

What's fresh are funny moments in the beloved Seinfeld style (making small talk with the omelet-guy).  Updated is Jerry's standup as a story device: where he was once impeccably dressed playing to an appreciative crowd in Seinfeld, he's now a self-parody, in a cheesy tux and a bad-gig-in-the-Catskills exchange with dinner guests.  The Soup Nazi (actor Larry Thomas) is now simply a character Seinfeld owns.

All that, and a surprise at the end.  A big surprise?  A great surprise?  Your call.  But a surprise.  Finishing with the trademark swirl, as it were.

Story is the difference between a fun Super Bowl spot, and a Super Bowl spot that resonates well beyond game day.  Some for years:  Mean Joe Greene for Coke.  Monster.com "When I Grow Up". That resonance is easily quantified, and can double- triple an advertiser's investment.

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SUPER BOWL AD STATS: (source: Forbes)

  • Percentage of Men who watch for the Ads:  31%
  • Percentage of Women who watch for the Ads:  44%
  • Number of Car brands advertising in this year's Super Bowl:  10

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