I had dinner last night with a former PR agency colleague of mine at The Dutch, surrounded by men in starched shirts making the most of their expense accounts.
The fried chicken looked great, though I opted for Zeitgeist Salad (obscure fruit + bitter greens + hazelnuts, don’t pretend you haven’t seen it on the menu of every Manhattan restaurant you’ve been to this winter).
My favorite moment of the evening was the warm feeling of contentment that washed over me when she said she’d spent the week “PR’ing” her company’s upcoming Superbowl ad — a pointless chore I am no longer forced to participate in.
I spent this morning back-and-forthing on the topic over Twitter with my friend, Ken Wheaton, the former Editor of Advertising Age.
Last year, I watched The Big Game at his apartment. At it happened, my client had purchased their first-ever Superbowl ad, one of four financial services companies to do so. The spot was meant to serve as the breathless kickoff to a brand campaign that would run the entire year.
As everyone at Ken’s took a moment to recover from the unborn child ejecting itself from its mothers womb to grab a Dorito, we missed half of my client’s ad. Ken looked over and said one word: “Placement.” I retreated to the kitchen to grab another Abita.
As a CMO who’s been out of the PR game for almost a year, I now feel adequately removed to give you an honest take on the utter nonsense of Superbowl ads, the brands that love them, and the agencies that hate them.
First, let’s start with the tail-wagging-dog premise that Superbowl ads should be publicized.
Superbowl ad publicity strategies reflect the divisions between PR & ad agencies (comms & marketing teams) at their most acute.
If your company has retained a PR agency, I bet that decision was made in no small part because you believe PR people hold important relationships with media, and you need them to open up and manage lines of communication with journalists, particularly those relevant to your industry and vertical markets. You probably also believe that, because of these relationships, PR people understand the media — what they write, what they like, what makes a good story — better than you do.
If you or your colleagues throw a fully baked ad of any kind over the fence so your agency can “PR it,” you’re undermining both of these premises. You’ve undercut your belief that PR people know what the media want — hint, not embedded cuts of Superbowl ads, ever — and you’ve also, probably wrongly, assumed that your PR agency has the type of media relationships you need to get this done properly.
Oh come on Leslie, there’s only like three advertising and marketing industry trades, it’s easy to figure out who covers and reviews Superbowl ads. Is this really such a pain in the ass?
It’s not about it being a pain in the ass as much as it is an utterly pointless exercise that only brings disappointment and resentment. Possible outcomes:
- You get great advance PR and post-Superbowl PR. Congrats, you probably had a great ad! You didn’t need PR to work on this at all.
- You get shitty advance PR and post-Superbowl PR. Congrats, now you can blame your PR team for your shitty ad and not the agency you paid 10x more to produce your shitty ad.
- You get no advance PR or post-Superbowl PR. Congrats, you wasted a ton of money on an ad no one cares about. And you can still blame your PR agency for not “pitching it right.”
If I were still in the agency game, and my client wanted my team to throw in a freebie PR push to promote their Superbowl ad — without bringing us in as partners in the overall development and of the concept and, hopefully, integrated program — I’d have one word. No.
Bonus round: the unspoken stupid reasons why many brands purchase Superbowl ads
To act bigger than they really are.
Because someone on the marketing team is trying to advance their career.
To get their employees excited. (“Mom, did you see our Superbowl ad!! You can stop worrying about me now!”)
Because they’re taken some major VC $$$ and are making a Hail Mary.
Because they literally can’t think of a better way to spend ten million dollars.
The Superbowl ad, like my former office in a certain mausoleum-like building on Hudson Street, is a shrine to advertising’s past glories. The retrofitting of PR strategies to accommodate last century’s ad model is sad but, in some ways, inevitable. PR people can help put an end to this nonsense by stepping up and refusing to participate.
If I were an employee, shareholder or customer of a company that placed a Superbowl ad, I’d be skeptical. Then again, we’re not all radical marxist Feminists, so YMMV.