The Best and Worst of Super Bowl 2017 Marketing Strategy

This was an unexpected year for the Super Bowl … one where the game almost rivaled the ads for my interest. As you might expect – I spent the evening thinking not only about who had the cutest or more entertaining ad, but who had the best marketing strategy and perhaps more entertainingly, who had the worst.  Below is my full 2017 list of picks for the best and worst of marketing strategy. For ease of watching, I also put together a YouTube playlist for all the ads mentioned in this post.

See a YouTube playlist with all the ads here >>

Quick Summary (scroll down for full analysis):

  • Best Overall Marketing Strategy – Buick “Not So Pee Wee Football”
  • Worst Overall Marketing Strategy – T-Mobile
  • Best Brand Positioning – Michelob Ultra “Our Bar”
  • Worst Brand Positioning – Mercedes “Easy Driver”
  • Best Storytelling – 84 Lumber “Journey 84”
  • Worst Storytelling – American Petroleum Institute “Many Uses Of Oil”
  • Best Cultural Relevance – Anheuser-Busch “Born The Hard Way”
  • Worst Cultural Relevance – YellowTail “Kangaroo”
  • Best Social/Political Statement – Audi “Daughter”
  • Worst Social/Political Statement – Avocados From Mexico “Secret Society”
  • Best Statement of Brand Values – Airbnb “#weaccept
  • Worst Statement of Brand Values – Daytona Day (FOX)
  • Best Use of Sex Appeal – Mr. Clean “Cleaner Of Your Dreams”
  • Worst Use of Sex Appeal – Proactiv “Towel Drop”
  • Best Alignment To Existing Strategy – Wendy’s “Cold Storage”
  • Worst Alignment To Existing Strategy – WeatherTech
  • Best Use of Celebrity – Bai Bai
  • Worst Use Of Celebrity – Persil
  • Most Original Creative Idea – Snickers Live Ad
  • Least Original Creative Idea – Lexus “Man and Machine”
  • Best Strategic Use of Media Spend – Ford “Go Further”
  • Worst Strategic Use of Media Spend – T-Mobile
  • Best Timing – National Geographic Genius
  • Worst Timing – Turkish Airlines
  • Best Product Launch – Kia SUV
  • Worst Product Launch – World of Tanks “Best Mom”

Want to read my “Best and Worst” recaps from previous Super Bowl years?

Best Marketing Strategy Overall – Buick “Not So Pee Wee Football”

The Super Bowl is a great platform to get people to update the way they see your brand – and Buick used a great creative concept and humor to get right at the idea that people just don’t expect nice looking cars to be made by Buick. If that’s your brand reality, run toward it to try and change perception … and that’s exactly what they did in this short but memorable commercial.

Worst Overall Marketing Strategy – T-Mobile

T-Mobile oddly grew on me as the game went on and they launched more of their creative campaigns … the main problem was that they spent so much money on so many different concepts, that the end result was less value because of the seeming indecision of their strategy. This is what happens when you blow millions of dollars essentially running three different campaigns simultaneously because you can’t pick one. The indecision and wasted opportunity, more than anything else, led me to name them my pick as the Worst Overall Marketing Strategy of this year’s Super Bowl.

Best Brand Positioning

This ad generated a surprising number of haters – mostly made up of people who couldn’t understand why anyone who spent lots of time at the gym would ever want to drink anything but a protein shake. That’s just plain dumb. It’s human to want to celebrate and this audience of health conscious people is one that beer marketers have left all alone. Time will tell of Michelob’s bold bet on promoting beer to this group will work, but in the meantime you have to appreciate the originality of their brand positioning.

Worst Brand Positioning – Mercedes “Easy Driver”

In a world filled with brands trying to reach millennials, it could have been refreshing to see a brand like Mercedes create a spot that ran towards the older demographic … but this ad was just so dated that anyone under 60 would have trouble with the reference. That rules out way too many people, and the entire ad just felt like another step backwards for a brand trying to compete in an industry where all their competitors are moving much faster in the opposite direction.

Best Storytelling – Lumber 84 “Journey 84”

Yes, this much-hyped ad from an unknown lumber supplier was an undisputed hit and even crashed their site. The full ad is emotional, powerful and tells a story that offers a big payoff when you watch to the end. It’s heartbreaking, hopeful and sincere … everything you want in a great story.

Worst Storytelling – American Petroleum Institute “Many Uses Of Oil”

I am not one of those people who immediately believes that associations with lobbying agendas should be prevented from advertising, however, this ad represented a big missed opportunity for the API to tell the story of how oil impacts our world and why it matters. Instead of that, this seemed like a bunch of quickly edited stock video footage along with an animated version of a powerpoint slide. The bar is higher for a Super Bowl ad.

Best Cultural Relevance – Anheuser-Busch “Born the Hard Way”

This ad was viral well before the Super Bowl and the actual story did make a bold political statement that many other brands would shy away from. That reason alone, as well as the beautiful storytelling made this an easy one for my list.

Worst Cultural Reference – Yellowtail “Kangaroo”

Just when you think the days of stereotyping are over in Super Bowl ads – along comes this one from a winemaker showcasing an annoying Aussie in a yellow suit talking to a kangaroo. It can’t get more sterotypically Australian than that – and plenty of Aussies online are not too happy about it.

Best Social/Political Statement – Audi “Daughter”

This ad from Audi was an early favorite and the brilliance of it was that they decided to focus the emotional story of the ad on something that hundreds of other brands could have decided to do. By being first, they set the stage for what their brand stands for, take a stand to make themselves a desirable place for women professionals to work and inspire a generation of girls (and their parents) at the same time. This ad works on so many levels.

Worst Social/Political Statement – Avocados From Mexico “Secret Society”

This ad was average, but the fact that it makes no mention at all about the current issue of importing goods from Mexico just seemed like the brand took the easy and safe route. Rather than stand up for something, the brand ducked the chance to be part of the conversation and instead chose to stick with the same old campaign to sell more avocados and hope that no rules changed.

Best Statement of Brand Values – Airbnb “#weaccept”

Simple but powerful, this ad relayed an important message for the world to hear and in particular took one step further something that Airbnb has been talking about and acting on for some time – it’s mission to be a housing provider for anyone – no matter where they are from.

Worst Statement of Brand Values – Daytona Day at FOX

During a game filled with messages of empowerment, this series of ads trying to brand something called “Daytona Day” around the upcoming race just featured the same tired cliches of women in short dresses hanging onto aging race car drivers and random references to transformers. Aren’t there some women drivers now? And can’t this message be updated for 2017? This was just lazy.

Best Use Of Sex Appeal – Mr Clean “Cleaner of your Dreams”

“You gotta love a man who cleans.” Everything down to the tagline of this ad was perfectly scripted, and though the CGI Mr. Clean was definitely a bit odd – the message of this ad and its built in humor were perfect for the Super Bowl. A bit of sex appeal, a little twist, and a product message that actually made sense. Great spot.

Worst Use of Sex Appeal – Proactiv “Towel Drop”

When you are a brand targeting teenage boys, it’s probably a good idea to use a super model to engage their fantasies. But when you put her in a bathroom next to a teenage boy trying to pop his pimples and then have him embarrassingly drop his towel in front of her … everyone cringes. This was a bad idea executed badly and just plain embarrassing for everyone involved.

Best Alignment To Existing Strategy – Wendy’s “Cold Storage”

You know your messaging is working when the first mention of frozen beef brings the brand to mind. In this spot Wendy’s brilliantly pokes fun at the “other guys” while also reinforcing their distinctive selling point of never freezing their beef. Great message that works and is perfectly aligned to the brand.

Worst Alignment To Existing Strategy – Weather Tech

For several years, Weather Tech has had a winning brand messaging campaign around making high-quality products that work in the USA. You would think this year more than any other, the “Made In The USA” focus of the brand would be a winner … but instead, this ad gets needlessly complicated trying to play out some far-fetched action hero scenario where a female stuntwoman tries to deliver a mat just in time to capture a coffee spill. This whole concept didn’t make a lot of sense – and the newly revised tagline of “Made right, in the USA” just seemed unnecessarily complicated.

Best Use Of Celebrity – Bai

Want to launch a new product and get instant name recognition? Find a song everyone knows and create a hilariously deadpan ad about it. This ad hit all the right combinations in terms of casting, storyline and tie in to the product. Anyone who saw it won’t soon forget the brand name of the product … which, of course, was kind of the point. Mission accomplished.

Worst Use Of Celebrity – Persil

In this nonsensical ad, Bill Nye the Science Guy is challenged to make his geek cred extend to describing how a detergent makes something clean in “10 dimensions.” Don’t get it? The commercial goes on to visualize a 10 dimensional detergent by creating nine more CGI versions of actor Peter Hermann in one dimension to bring it to life. Science is not the only thing this ad gets wrong. It’s missing a good deal of actual logic and message as well. Amongst the record four household cleaning brands this year at the Super Bowl, this was not the way to stand out.

Most Original Creative Idea – Snickers Live Ad

In what may be a precursor to what other brands will do in the future, Snickers became the first ever brand to do a LIVE commercial during the game. Playing into the fear that something might go wrong, the ad intentionally goes wrong right from the start. Great PR stunt, smart creative execution and easily the most original idea from any advertiser at this year’s game.

Least Original Creative Idea – Lexus “Man and Machine”

Out of automotive marketing ideas? No problem, just have a guy dancing next to your car to visualize it’s grace and precision. This ad does what so many much lower budget spots do for cars all the time. For the Super Bowl, we expect more than this.

Best Strategic Use Of Media Spend – Ford “Go Further”

Rather than just promoting one line of cars or doubling down on their trucks – Ford took a brilliant departure this year and talked about the vision of the company for the future and how it will help you travel in just about any situation from ride sharing to bike sharing. In a time when their competitors are thinking about how to promote their latest car with slightly better gas mileage, Ford seems to be thinking about the future of transportation beyond cars. Great elevated message and positioning for Ford.

Worst Strategic Use Of Media Spend – Alfa Romeo

Through multiple ordinary ads at the Super Bowl, Alfa Romeo managed to spend a lot of money to look like pretty much every other luxury car. To add insult to injury, the final slate of their ads feature their beautifully Italian tagline – but the ads themselves do nothing to speak to the uniqueness of their Italian heritage or why that should matter for consumers. Yet another expensive missed opportunity for a Super Bowl advertiser.

Best Timing – National Geographic “Genius”

To launch its first scripted show on the life of Einstein, National Geographic brilliantly had Geoffrey Rush playing a Lada Gaga song on the violin right after the halftime show, and then had him close with Einstein’s iconic pose. The timing was what made this spot so powerful – great ad, nice story and a promo for the show that certainly made me want to watch.

 Recap Summary:

  • Best Overall Marketing Strategy – Buick “Not So Pee Wee Football”
  • Worst Overall Marketing Strategy – T-Mobile
  • Best Brand Positioning – Michelob Ultra “Our Bar”
  • Worst Brand Positioning – Mercedes “Easy Driver”
  • Best Storytelling – 84 Lumber “Journey 84”
  • Worst Storytelling – American Petroleum Institute “Many Uses Of Oil”
  • Best Cultural Relevance – Anheuser-Busch “Born The Hard Way”
  • Worst Cultural Relevance – YellowTail “Kangaroo”
  • Best Social/Political Statement – Audi “Daughter”
  • Worst Social/Political Statement – Avocados From Mexico “Secret Society”
  • Best Statement of Brand Values – Airbnb “#weaccept
  • Worst Statement of Brand Values – Daytona Day (FOX)
  • Best Use of Sex Appeal – Mr. Clean “Cleaner Of Your Dreams”
  • Worst Use of Sex Appeal – Proactiv “Towel Drop”
  • Best Alignment To Existing Strategy – Wendy’s “Cold Storage”
  • Worst Alignment To Existing Strategy – WeatherTech
  • Best Use of Celebrity – Bai Bai
  • Worst Use Of Celebrity – Persil
  • Most Original Creative Idea – Snickers Live Ad
  • Least Original Creative Idea – Lexus “Man and Machine”
  • Best Strategic Use of Media Spend – Ford “Go Further”
  • Worst Strategic Use of Media Spend – T-Mobile
  • Best Timing – National Geographic Genius
  • Worst Timing – Turkish Airlines
  • Best Product Launch – Kia SUV
  • Worst Product Launch – World of Tanks “Best Mom”

Want to read my “Best and Worst” recaps from previous Super Bowl years?

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