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Rating the Super Bowl Ads With Boomer Celebs

Some commercials soared, while others seemed deflated

By Tham Khai Meng

Ask any parent of a teenager — trying to appeal across generations is near impossible. Either you make a fool of yourself in their eyes or you sacrifice whatever personal authenticity you had on the altar of hipness.

Marketers know this and tended to show it with many of their Super Bowl 50 commercials that were seen by 111.9 million viewers (30 seconds cost $5 million). The Budweiser Clydesdales appealed to the working man, the Bai Antioxidant horse appealed to Millennials. There are horses for different courses.

Boomer Celeb Pitchers Were Everywhere

With so much riding on the most viewed event on American TV, it’s no surprise that brands brought out the big names under the bright lights. It seemed, however, as though they were using boomer celebs to appeal to the masses. Specifically: Willem DeFoe, Alec Baldwin, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Dan Marino, Christopher Walken, Steven Tyler and Jeff Goldblum (who seemed to be everywhere).

The big question: Was that successful?

Sadly, like the moms or dads who joined Facebook just to stalk their kids, the use of boomer celebs in this year’s Super Bowl ads was a little awkward. While there was the occasional touchdown by some brands, many fumbled.

Here are a few highlights and lowlights:

Avocados from Mexico - #AvosInSpace

I think guacamole is one of the world’s best gastronomical inventions. But Avocados from Mexico telling a story where aliens deep in the future are visiting a museum of human culture was a bit hard to swallow.

A tour guide showcased a variety of artifacts of “primitive” human culture. Jokes about emojis and the famous black and blue (or was it white and gold) dress that went viral in 2015 were confusing. Who was this trying to reach? Disconnected boomers wouldn’t have a clue. And then there was Scott Baio. I’m having a hard time imagining that a Millennial would give a pit about Scotty. What does he have to do with the price of eggs? Justin Bieber or, dare I say, a Kardashian would’ve done the trick. But it would’ve cost another $5 million.

Audi – Commander

My heart soared when I watched this Audi ad. It reminded me of a cross between Gattaca; 2001: A Space Odyssey; Apollo 13 and all the other great odes to shooting for the moon. The acting was brilliant, the script was tight and the David Bowie song Starman was out-of-this-world epic, as well as touching. It couldn’t have been any more relevant, powerful and patriotic — just as a great Super Bowl spot should be.

And the ad conveyed the advantage of the product in the most memorable way. My one wish: they should have used a celebrated astronaut like Buzz Aldrin or John Glenn and not an actor. Imagine, boomers would have been over the moon!


Jeep – Portraits

“We Don’t Make Jeep. You Do.” Now that is a crucible inviting you to bring your own meaning into the brand and boy, did it resonate.

From the beaches of Normandy to the far reaches of the Earth, this commercial covered the whole journey of where Jeep came from 75 years ago and where it’s going. The story was saturated and soaked with the product as if Jeep has been with us through thick and thin. It may have felt like a manifesto, but on balance, if you rewatch the commercial again and again, it rewards you with narratives you missed the first and second time around.

The overarching great thing was that the story lived in the current idiom and was also created in it. However, the one thing that was missing was the epic cinematic experience that’s expected of a Super Bowl spot.

Kia – Walken Closet

When the spot is called Walken Closet, how can you not have Christopher Walken in it?

It’s quite obvious where the genesis of this idea came from, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It was the equivalent of Mountain Dew’s PuppyBabyMonkey for boomers on a budget. The idea here was that Kia Optima drivers are not beige sock wearers. Okay, we got that loud and clear. They are spunky wacky polk-a-dotty sock wearers.

The $5 million  dollar question: Why on earth was the car color silver? Isn’t silver the beige of cars?

The Highlight for Boomers

All in all, the highlight for boomers may not have been the game or even the ads. It could very well have been the three-minute-long #SB50 celebratory halftime-show montage of Michael Jackson, The Stones, Stevie Wonder, The Boss, James Brown, Paul McCartney, Whitney Houston and Diana Ross — a bumper crop of boomer legends.

Now that was a horse for all courses — connected with everyone and certainly worthy of the Super Bowl.

Tham Khai Meng is worldwide chief creative officer of Ogilvy & Mather where he also serves as co-chairman of the Ogilvy & Mather worldwide board and chairman of the Worldwide Creative Council. Called "one of the world's most influential people in the communications business" by Advertising Age, he has spoken at the World Economic Forum and taught master classes at St. Martins and the Royal College of Art in London. He serves on the boards of Miami Ad School, Berlin School of Creative Leadership and Future of Storytelling New York, and under his leadership Ogilvy & Mather has won Network of the Year in Cannes for four years running. Read More
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