The Ad Industry Has Survived Another Super Bowl

Another Super Bowl has come and gone. Which for me has meant another year of having done my taxes during the game. It makes an excellent yearly appointment to get them out of the way. You have all of your materials. There’s still plenty of time to bring in a professional if things get complicated. And you get to brag about how smart you are to people who think you’re nuts.

As usual, I caught the second half of the game, and I’ll go back and watch the ads that I missed later this morning.

It’s difficult to miss the reactions to the ads. Every year is always the year of “the worst ads ever.” Or, sometimes “the ads are good again!”

I do think that they are plagued by expectations of what a Super Bowl ad could be from back before we had YouTube.

Super Bowl ads used to be the soul source of strange and over-the-top video making. They come from a time when kids would pass around Faces of Death videos, and eventually Jackass found an audience. Now we’re used to seeing strange and unusual videos. And most of them come without some kind of marketing message getting in the way.

Being on the industry side of things, it’s hard not to be cynical about Super Bowl ads. You can see where the edges of ideas were sanded down by clients and you can feel some of the work trying too hard to be amazing. It’s easy to make a case for most of the advertisers that the Super Bowl is bad use of their budget.

However, the reality is that it is a minor miracle that anything even halfway good ever sees the light of day. That’s the part of the picture that the typical armchair critic doesn’t understand.

I once watched from a distance as creatives burned through over 300-scripts for a Super Bowl spot, finally selling an idea, going on production over Christmas, only to have the client sell the ad time a couple of weeks before the game.

The sheer number of hours that people pour into these spots, along with their blood, sweat and tears, is enormous. As is the number of hurdles that any idea has to clear on the way. Selling an idea through an organization the size of GM, for example, means getting in front of hundreds of eyeballs, most of which are attached to brains that don’t understand how advertising works. Each pair of eyeballs then feels compelled to offer an opinion on how to make it better.

…And so it goes for months. Making its way from an initial concept, to storyboards, to hiring a director, to treatments, to production, and on through editing … any ad that is going to run in the Super Bowl will be run through the approval spanking machine multiple times. And at any point, there is the danger of some junior person in finance making an offhanded comment that ends up ruining the idea. It’s like walking a balloon through a thicket of well-intentioned, but very thorny vines.

So congratulations to the teams that made work that they are proud of. There aren’t many of them. And they all deserve a good nap.