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Let’s play Brand Bowl this Sunday.

February 6, 2016

Will an ad from Heinz be the “wiener” of the 2016 Game within the Game?

With a large measure of curiosity and a bit of nostalgia, I watched this week’s CBS review of what their panel of “experts” believes to be “The 50 Greatest Super Bowl Commercials of All Time.”

While the rankings presented within the show certainly stimulated lively discussion among my family members, I’m still befuddled as to the criteria that drove some of these 50 to the top of the heap. Were they the most entertaining? Did they sell more products? Did they drive measures of brand acceptance and preference?

Don’t be concerned with my motives in objecting to some of these lofty rankings. I have no Dalmatian in the fight. Our small & smart Midwestern agency primarily serves the needs of mid-sized industrial B2B clients that spend far less in a year than the reported $3-million cost of a 30-second Super Bowl spot. But, with 42 years of creative experience and specialized education that has made me one of only 40 Certified Brand Strategists in North America, I have a unique perspective on what makes a TV commercial, print ad, eBlast, website or Tweet rise to the level of “great.”

First, let’s agree that every piece of marketing communications should help define, communicate and deliver on the brand promise. So, does an ad on the CBS list I’ve linked below identify the sponsor as unique and desirable? Is it motivating and likely to stimulate brand engagement? Does it make and deliver a memorable and supportable “Claim of Distinction” for the sponsor?

Sure, I like to be entertained as much as any consumer of television programming, commercials included. We all enjoy and appreciate commercials that tell a story and grab your attention with humor, pathos, kids, monkeys and Clydesdales. But, in the end, business communication must pay for itself.

So which of the CBS “Top 50” best informed as well as entertained? Which identified their sponsor as unique and desirable? Which advanced the brand? On the flip side, which products and sponsors — even on this elite list — were buried in a black hole of creativity?

With my criteria in mind, watch all 50 at this link and you can decide for yourself.

After viewing, I think you’ll agree that not all 50 have earned their spot on this list of “Greatest.” Even among these lauded 50, I would argue, you will find some clunkers, where brand messages were lost in the desire to be creative or clever. Some of these reputably “great” commercials instead became part of Super Monday water-cooler conversations, friendly chats where everyone remembers the ad, but no one can name the sponsor. “Remember the funny dog?” How about “the guy who fell out the window?” Sure, for the viewer, that was hilarious. For the sponsor or product – not so much.

So here’s your 2016 Challenge: Play Brand Bowl, our “Game within the Game.”

Let’s see who’s really brand focused this year. Together, let’s rate the advertisers who present their messages not just in the most interesting and entertaining ways, but also in ways that directly focus a spotlight on the brand.

Let’s decide on Monday which companies REALLY had the best ads this year. After all, the sponsors are playing for far more dollars than are the Panthers or the Broncos.

Here’s how Brand Bowl works:

Below I’ve reproduced a list of the “Top 10,” as presented by CBS in January 2016.

Each is described with the title the sponsor assigned, as well as the sponsor’s name

(e.g. #2 “The Force “- Volkswagen).

I have also listed, in the right hand column, the contextual clue I would have scrawled at the very moment of live viewing, if I’d wanted to later reference and describe the ad following its debut (e.g. #2 – Darth Vader kid).

Ad Title Sponsor Contextual Clue

#1 Brotherhood         Budweiser              Trainer reunion with horse

#2 The Force              Volkswagen            Darth Vader kid

#3 Like a Girl             Always                     Promoting girl power

#4 Mean Joe              Coca Cola                Kid trades for jersey

#5 Miracle Stain        Tide                         Joe Montana jersey as Shroud

#6 The Diner              Pepsi                       Trading stories and soft drinks

#7 The Contest          McDonalds            Jordan vs. Bird

#8 Apple                     Revolution             1984

#9 Lost Dog                Budweiser             Sad puppy lost/saved

#10 What’s Up?         Budweiser             Obnoxious noise/beer

That’s how you and I will play the game this year. Beginning with the kickoff and as each ad is revealed throughout the game, I invite you to join me in writing down a brief contextual clue that will help you remember the ad’s content, but not its product or sponsor. That would be cheating!

For example, in 1973, I might have written down “Joe Namath gets shaved” to represent the ad that is now #20 on the all-time list. Similarly, in 2008, I might have jotted down “baby buying stock,” to represent #26 on the list.

What makes these ads great even decades after their initial telecast is that many viewers can still recall not only the sponsors (Noxzema/ E-Trade), but also the brand promises (unparalleled shaving comfort/so easy, a baby can do it)?

One to watch for: A little Heinz on your dog!

How much will you remember around 11:00 p.m. on Sunday night – or on Monday morning? Let’s find out. After the game, or better yet, sometime on Monday, try to go back and name the sponsor and, if you can, each brand’s promise based only on the note you’ve scribbled. It’s my contention that only those ads that satisfy my stated criteria can be considered for greatness.

Personally, I hope we see a few commercials to rival both the entertainment and the recall factors attained by “Monks” with Brother Dominick and his 1977 Xerox “miracle!” (#19).

I think Heinz may have one on its hands with the Super Bowl “Hot Dogs” effort linked here.

It’s got everything you’d want: frisky pets, goofy and colorful mascots, perfectly chosen music and, most importantly, a brand promise that is memorable, believable and distinctive. They’ve powerfully claimed a position among their competitors and now they own it! That kind of commercial rings the register while winning hearts and minds.

Check it out and let me know whether you agree. Were there Super Bowl winners this year that rate inclusion in the “All Time” list?

That’s always a matter of opinion, of course, but winning this game requires more than simple entertainment. Call me or any of my fellow Brand Establishment members if you need help defining and presenting your brand. Our experience and uncommon training uniquely qualify our agencies to help you and your company to succeed.


By Jim Watson, CBS with The Brand Establishment and President of Hanson Watson Associates, Moline, IL.

About The Brand Establishment

The Brand Establishment perfected the first contemporary brand development process specifically for small to mid-sized advertisers more than two decades ago. These tools and procedures have been utilized by companies in virtually every business sector – hundreds of times.