Bowled Over By Commercials
I’m glad it’s finally February. For one thing, I can’t remember a January before this last one that I had to turn on the ceiling fan just to be able to sleep comfortably at night.
With any luck, this month will at last bring some more seasonally cold temps and rainfall. But I’ll leave the official weather prognostication and precipitation prestidigitation to my columnist colleague Sue Kilpatrick.
Mostly, I’m thankful it’s February because those awful, terrible, annoyingly vapid JCP commercials with all the screaming people are supposed to be replaced by, well, something else. It seems like only yesterday that we were subjected to months of that screaming guy in the commercials for Universal Studios’ King Kong attraction.
But back to JCP, which, in case you haven’t caught on to their marketing sleight of hand, is what JC Penny is now calling itself. You know, like Kentucky Fried Chicken tried to become relevant and cool by calling itself KFC. Or like California Pizza Kitchen suddenly became CPK. It’s marketing gimmicks like this – along with obnoxiously loud and uncreative commercials like the current JCP teaser campaign – that make me cringe with embarrassment at my own profession.
Thankfully, this weekend has the potential to redeem my faith in the creative process.
As someone who has spent the last 30 years or so writing advertising copy (not “verbage,” please!) including literally thousands of TV and radio commercials, or “spots” as we call them in the biz, the annual NFL Super Bowl broadcast is Christmas, the World Series and Olympics all rolled into one event.
To get an idea how important and prestigious the Super Bowl is to advertisers, the going rate for a mere 30 seconds of airtime on this Sunday’s broadcast is a reported $3.5 million. For 30 seconds! That’s over $116,000 a second. Even the federal government doesn’t spend money that fast. Oh wait, yes it does.
This year’s Super Bowl advertisers include Volkswagen, Acura, Coca-Cola, Toyota, Career Builder, Anheuser-Busch, Audi and others with deep marketing budgets. I really couldn’t care less whether the Patriots or the Giants win on Sunday, since the Dodgers didn’t even make it into the playoffs (and that right there should tell you how much of a football fan I am). No, I’m more interested to see whether the agency creative teams have come up with winners or wieners to debut during the broadcast. If I have to go to the bathroom or the kitchen, I’ll be going during the game itself so I can be sure not to miss any of the commercials. I’m not kidding.
At some point in the early ’80s, the Super Bowl became the place for advertisers and the agencies who produce their commercials to showcase new, hopefully breakthrough work – spots that were created to be talked about at office water coolers all across the country the following Monday. The advent of online streaming video channels has only increased the importance of having a hit commercial air during the Super Bowl.
Apple’s “1984” commercial to launch the Macintosh computer was one of the first TV spots to use a “big idea” concept along with feature-film production values (the ground-breaking spot was directed by then newcomer Ridley Scott, who went on to direct “Aliens,” “Thelma & Louise,” “Gladiator,” “Black Hawk Down” and other mega-hits). It also enjoyed the highly unusual status of airing only once – during the game itself – and never again. At least, Apple never paid to have the commercial run again.
This Sunday I’ll be glued to the set, watching to see if another water-cooler-worthy commercial is aired. I’m certain of one thing, however. If the ad agency creative teams have done their jobs, the only screaming heard during Sunday’s game will be from unhappy Patriots or Giants fans.
Then again, it could also be me screaming at the summer-like weather that continues to torture my very soul.
I’ll see you ’round town.