Ken Schmidt: Stupor Bowl Dullness Mostly Extends To Ads


This is a guest blog post written by Ken Schmidt, the former Director of Communications Strategy at Harley Davidson Motor Company.

The thing about Super Bowl ads is, despite the fact that they’re over-hyped to death and have lifted viewer expectations to difficult-to-exceed levels, at the very least we can count on them to provide a bit of intrigue and pleasant distraction during a long, intense game. I guess nobody got the memo this year.

Take the most lackluster, disappointingly hard-to-watch Super Bowl of all time and combine that with ads matching that same description and you’ve got a royal mess. If ever there was a game that screamed for a trained chimp spot, this was it.

I view Super Bowl ads with the same criteria as I view any ads: At bare minimum, can I remember the next day what was being pitched? And does what I remember please me in any way that will remain in my memory?


First, not a single spot completely exceeded expectations and generated the kind of buzz that will make it legendary. Maybe that’s just not possible any more.

Second, while it’s no surprise the businesses with the deepest pockets produced the most expensive-looking spots, it’s a bummer that most of them were duds. I mean, Google’s spots looked great, but I can’t remember a single message inside them. Amazon spent big money on celebrity firepower (Harrison Ford) to make failure look funny and accomplished what, exactly?  


A cast of the usual Super Bowl suspects like Pepsi, T-Mobile, Michelob Ultra and Planters failed to deliver because their spots were easy to look away from. Not. Worth. Discussing.

I remember the Burger King spot with its Andy Warhol look-alike for its WTF weirdness, but having to explain to the millennials watching the game with me who Warhol was makes it hard for me to envision them running out for Whoppers any time soon. Or me.

Budweiser using Bob Dylan’s “Blowin In the Wind” to promote its use of wind power struck me as disingenuous and trying too hard to be cool. Like Andy Warhol, when you have to explain to the younger -- but still beer-drinking -- crowd who’s singing the song, the point gets lost.

The Stella Artois spot with its spin on “Sex and the City” and “The Big Lebowski” could have and should have been more cleverly done (but anything with The Dude scores cool points with me).


Microsoft, surprisingly enough, rose above the “let’s spray money because we can” din and created my favorite ad of the day, promoting its adaptive controller that allows people with disabilities to play video games. It wasn’t an expensive-looking spot, yet it hit all the right emotional chords. You liked it, too, because it made you feel good for those kids and their parents.

I’m not a fan of Michael Buble and I’m not going to be. But the spot for Bubly beverages – a new product for nearly everybody – wherein he tries to change the name of the company’s products to Buble, made it pretty impossible to forget what was being sold. That stuff will stand out on the shelf in your next grocery store visit. (Whether it lands in your cart is another story.)

For some reason I sorta liked the Bud Light/Game of Thrones mash-up, which gets points for being unexpected. Nobody saw that one coming.

Here’s a risky move that paid off: The Washington Post spot that made a made a sober and very serious subject – the role of journalism – watchable and intriguing. Nicely done and completely unexpected given what it was competing against.

On the automotive front, I think Kia outscored everyone else (Audi? Ugh.) hands-down. I think they won a lot of hearts and minds yesterday with their “small town” and “Telluride” spots. Good for them.

And finally, the NFL spot was fun.

All in all, this year's Super Bowl left much to be desired when it came to the game being played on and off the field, but had a few bright spots. It will be interesting to see how Super Bowl advertising evolves in 2020.

scgmidt ken speaker​​​​​​​

Ken Schmidt is the former Director of Communications Strategy at Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Known for helping to craft one of the most celebrated marketing turnarounds in corporate history, he is the author of the new book Make Some Noise: The Unconventional Road to Dominance. One of the most in-demand speakers on the lecture circuit today, Ken shares stories and insights to help organizations build fanatically vocal customer bases, create passionately loyal corporate cultures, and develop leaders who inspire and motivate.


While memorability is one quality that underscores these Super Bowl commercials, it’s certainly not the only one. As we know, these commercials are also united by the enormous budgets that support them.

Just because your organization doesn’t have a Super Bowl-sized budget doesn’t mean it can’t produce a video that makes the crowd go wild. At LAI Video, one of the three divisions within Leading Authorities, Inc., we consistently produce videos that achieve our clients’ communications goals without the extra price tag. Check out the five budget-conscious tactics companies used in their 2019 SuperBowl commercials that we incorporate within our clients’ videos, as well.


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