Justin Bieber with Ozzy Ozbourne, for some reason
Ozzy Osbourne and Justin Bieber, for some reason.

I’m not a fan of the Super Bowl. Not only because I play and love Rugby, but because the Super Bowl has come to symbolise all the gloss and absurdity of consumerism, mass media, and ritualised sports in America. A friend of mine once labelled it “a de facto holiday to celebrate American sloth,” to which I quickly added, “… and wrath, and greed, and gluttony.” Pretty much all of our sins wrapped up in one shiny package.

Super Bowl advertising had a good run. Yes, I use the past tense. Super Bowl advertising peaked, and is now on the decline. As the influence of the 30-second spot continues to deplete, the continued dedication that large brands have for Super Bowl advertising proves more and more sad. Today, consumers just don’t care what’s on tv, no matter have shocking or cheeky. It shows a trend that big brands are out of touch, using the same old tactics to reach a brand new audience.

This year, for the first time in a while, I watched the game live, with attention on the ads. After filtering out all the FOX promotional junk and over-the-top movie trailers, I realised that every brand applies the same approach to their advertising: clowning. They’re attempting to hold on to our attention — and their influence — with a most pureil technique. They’re acting like clowns.

Theoretically, I don’t mind if a brand assumes the clown as a brand archetype. Brands like Bud Light have risen to prominence latching on to youth, careless, clown-sensitive beer drinkers (ie, bachelors). But now we’re seeing the same mindless clowning used ubiquitously by brands like Doritos, Pepsi, Cheverolet, CareerBuilder, Snickers, eTrade, and Best Buy to name a few. Check out the ads for yourself, and tell me they don’t all go for the same bottom-feeding humour — some kind of normal situation with an out-of-place character or dialogue. Maybe a device that backfires and causes bodily harm. Craig Ferguson, host of the Late Late Show on CBS, summarised the ads on the following Monday night asking his audience, “did you see the one where the guy gets hit in the balls … all of them?” The slapstick has to end.

My choice for ad of the night goes to one brand that actually treats the audience like adults. Royal Caribbean’s 30-second spot “February” promotes their cruises as winter getaways, not as the wacky neighbor. The ad features a soundtrack from yesteryear with wintery lyrics and on-screen copy set against the obvious summery imagery of folks in bathing suits and other relaxing outdoor scenes only available in latitudes afar. The subtle approach worked on me, as I not only remembered this ad, but thought enough of its execution to write this article. I haven’t quite taken the step of booking a cruise, but if I had the money (or a girlfriend) I’d be floating the idea.

[SWF]http://perezfox.com/archer/archer_player.swf, 500, 315, movie=http://perezfox.com/video/20110209_RoyalCaribbean_February.mp4&play_bk=4BD24B&play_bk_over=ffffff&play_txt=ffffff&play_txt_over=000000&play_x=center&play_y=center&control_back_color=000000&control_back_alpha=.6&loaded_bar_color=ffffff&text_color=eeeeee&text_color_over=4BD24B&time_format=all&[/SWF]
Royal Caribbean “February” / download .mp4 / watch on YouTube

The reason this ad stands out for me is that it’s one of the night’s few that didn’t try to clown me. Royal Caribbean positions itself as a grown-up brand, easing my pain during tough winters, setting up a memorable experience, and generally being my buddy. In other words, they’re not the type to kick me in the balls.

Someone will point out how much money Bud Light actually makes on their Super Bowl impressions, but I’m not bothered solely by numbers. The long-term growth of a brand is about creating relationships, taking consumers on a journey, not just telling them a joke. Clowns are in-and-out in 5 seconds, friends stay with you a lifetime.

This article also appears on The Next Big Design, the blog of the FUSE Conference