SuperGiggles, Aside?

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The Superbowl is the Ad industry’s annual pilgrimage to self-awareness.  Few events act as much as a signifier of our hyper-contemporary habits: our living, thinking and acting.  It’s secular America’s holy day, but as Ad Age put it, judgement day for many a firm or agency.

This year Ad Age summarized a shift in tone with great eloquence, simply that the Superbowl spots have become “fun again”. After a previous year of bittersweetness and quivering heart strings, to mindlessly laugh at the sheer weirdness of PuppyMonkeyBaby was a bit of a gift.

Yet while the jury is still out on whether this popular strategy will pay off—the window for skepticism stays open. When trying to motivate consumers, is a good laugh really enough? It’s thoughts like these that define judgement—moments where the pros soak in that time of the year and evaluate the current climate. We consider what needs to come next, and remind ourselves what an ad could—and should—be.

Individual markets and specific target demographics aside, it is impossible to deny that we live in a well-connected world spun by insatiable media hunger. To be on the Superbowl stage is the final frontier. To go viral is the holy grail. One ad can receive more engagement now, on more platforms, then ever before. It inevitably becomes soft propaganda—an art form that has the potential—and privilege—to define who we are as a modern consumerist society.

An ad can make a bottom lip quiver. It can make us appreciate the small things and remember the important things. It can amp you up until you’re white-knuckling the arms of your chair, or make you curl up in a ball on the living room floor at the bittersweetness of life itself. Its job is to push a product, but an ad can and might be the greatest cultural signifier and social utility that we have to work with. It’s more accessible than contemporary art, less intrusive than hardened propaganda, and more romantically fleeting than reams of journalism.

Capitalizing on this potential is something many of the greatest ad campaigns have in common. Think Johnnie Walker’s inspiring “Joy Will Take You Further” attitude, or Apple’s humble declaration as ambassador to connected humans. Red Bull hardly ever pushes a product, instead promoting a lifestyle of energy and accomplishment—not dissimilar to GoPro’s “Be a Hero” platform.

Ad Age’s top four Superbowl ads of all time (Feb 8, 2016 Issue) even share this trait of commenting on who we are and/or can be. “Farmer” by Ram Trucks, Budweiser’s 9/11 “Respect” tribute, Coca-Cola’s 1971 “Hilltop” spot, and Monster’s “When I Grow Up” all play upon some crucial elements of the modern human experience. Terrorism, career aspirations, work ethic, global harmony—all of them act as contemporary commentary, venerating the things that shape our societies. So when we ask ourselves if a good laugh is enough, it might be enough to go viral. It might be enough to be remembered, to be covered, to be talked about. It might be clever, creative, and well-executed, cute.

But do some ads get in their own way?  Can they rise above a Super Sunday moment to bring real meaning over enough time for audiences to remember, care and act as intended?