Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why Super Bowl Ads Said More About Marketing Than About Brands, Part 2

A couple days ago, I wrote that evaluating the likability of Super Bowl ads has become big business for media outlets like USA Today, regardless of whether that likability translates into marketing effectiveness. That was one way Super Bowl advertising spoke more about the state of marketing than it did about the brands being advertised. Here's another way: Ad agencies continue to have their place in the marketing world threatened.

It wasn't long ago that ad agencies had a confident and safe role in the creation of media plans and ad production. Clients turned to their retained agencies year after year to set where and how the brands would spend their marketing budgets. For decades, relatively little changed with consumers' media consumption habits, so relatively little changed with respect to the way clients and ad agencies collaborated.

But over the past decade, ad agencies have been losing control of some of the services they traditionally have furnished for clients. One responsibility that some clients have been taking away from advertising agencies is media planning. Long the purview of ad agencies, brand marketers are beginning to grumble that their agencies may not be giving newer media their due diligence and may be inclined toward recommending media plans that earn the agencies the greatest fees.

For example, in 2007 Kimberly-Clark made waves by transitioning media strategy duties to Naked Communications, which specializes in "channel neutral" strategic planning. Naked's role is to work with K-C and its agencies to help identify the channels in which K-C's brands will invest. In a Brandweek article, a K-C representative notes, “Simply put, Naked Communications will help us and our agencies no longer take a ‘shotgun’ approach with our marketing programs by relying on a 30-second TV spot to reach consumers with our messages.”

(Full disclosure: The digital and experiential agency at which I work has Kimberly-Clark as a client, enjoys strong relationships with its agencies including Naked and JWT, and has a great deal of respect for the contributions all have made to K-C's success.)

The idea that ad agencies may be in an increasingly difficult situation came to mind when reading about this year's Super Bowl ads. Two of the most talked about TV ads came from minds far outside the walls of any ad agency. These days, it seems everyone is in the advertising business!

The ad that received the most media attention and won the top spot in USA Today's Ad Meter (for what that's worth) was Doritos' "Crystal Ball." The ad earned viewer consideration and laughter with genuine humor and the secret weapon of many viral videos--a painful groin shot. I liked this spot not just because it made me smile, but because it did so while putting the brand front and center. The consumer wishes for "free Doritos at the office today" and then makes his wish come true.

As you most likely know, this ad wasn't written by an agency Copywriter, storyboarded by an agency Creative Director, and shot by an agency Producer. Instead, it came from the minds of two unemployed but aspiring filmmakers. To give credit where credit is due, the UGC (User-Generated Content) campaign that motivated the two filmmakers to create and submit their ad was developed by Frito-Lay's ad agencies, but the point remains that the most experienced and capable agencies in the world had their top ideas and ads--the crème de la crème produced for the year's most watched television event--bested by a couple of amateur advertisers.

And to add insult to injury, the two guys created their Dorito's ad at a fraction of a fraction of the cost of a typical TV ad. The total cost to produce this ad was $2,000. The average production cost for professionals to create a 30-second spot? According to a recent AAAA survey, it's $361,000.

This wasn't the only non-traditional Super Bowl ad that received attention in the media. Another spot was Pepsi's Pepsuber ad. As noted in MediaPost, "Pepsi's agency Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day had little if any involvement in the commercials. (They were) produced by 'SNL' executive producer Lorne Michaels." According to MediaBistro, Pepsi paid $3 million for the three special Pepsuber ads that ran the night before the Super Bowl during Saturday Night Live, one of which appeared during the big game on the following day.

This unusual deal is a taste of things to come. NBC entertainment co-chair Ben Silverman told TVGuide.com that NBC is in talks with other potential partners about "finding [similar] ways to use our entertainment vehicles to help their brands." According to PopMatters, "The need to find innovative new ways to make money has everyone rifling through everything they have on hand to avert disaster." Adds Lorne Michaels, "These are perilous times. I’ll do whatever is necessary to support the network."

With clients questioning the objectivity of agency media plans, amateurs obtaining tools and skills normally associated with professional graphic and video production, and entertainment companies and networks desperate for new sources of revenue, the outlook remains challenging for advertising agencies. They aren't going anywhere, of course, but as this year's crop of Super Bowl ads demonstrates, there's never been more pressure on agencies to produce results and keep ahead of the competition. It's an environment that is sure to yield continued changes in the ad agency and marketing world in the years to come.


Anonymous said...

We are experiencing a huge paradigm shift in the way people consume media so ad agencies will have to adapt in order to survive. I don't know if ad agencies will be able to change course to the degree that is needed in this new environment.

Augie Ray said...


I agree the ad agency world is changing mightily. Many still struggle to "get" digital/online media, and now social media will change the world of marketing and brand management even more. Reminds me of the old Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."

Anonymous said...

nothing since mid-Febr... you still there?

Augie Ray said...

Rob, I appreciate you checking in. I'm still here! But life at Fullhouse (and away from Fullhouse) has been so busy I am not getting the time to write like I once was. I still intend to blog, but I need to find (or make) some more time for it.

Thanks much!