2017-02-08_0805The sad part of this year’s Super Bowl ads was that almost none of them actually had a big idea — or really any idea — other than to entertain or dazzle or mystify.

The film making and the special effects and the humor might have all been there, but the messaging and product tie-ins were weak to non-existent.

The only ad with a real strong sales proposition and reason-why was Sprint’s. Frankly, I think the idea of “Don’t let a 1% coverage difference cost you twice as much” was pretty darn strong. It really should have made for a great ad.

Unfortunately, here’s what Sprint’s ad agency came up with:

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So what went wrong?

1) The idea of “Dad faking his own death” was in poor taste, and probably didn’t feel very good for anyone that has recently lost a father or male family member. Especially if it was to suicide.

No, that doesn’t make much logical sense, but emotions don’t have to make sense; they just are.

And if you stir up those kind of emotions with the premise of your ad, you can expect the viewer to associate those bad feelings with your brand.

That’s one reason the ad felt in bad taste, which took away from the clarity of the message & offer.

2) Using Verizon’s ex-spokesperson felt cheap and underhanded. And that feeling of cheap betrayal also infected the ad. If your ad stirs up a rather primal sense of betrayal, you can expect those emotions to attach themselves to your brand.

Magical Thinking and Contagion

Most people might consciously deny believing in cooties or essences, but regardless of their stated beliefs, their actions show that they really do believe in that stuff. It’s why signed sports memorabilia fetches the kind of prices it does — and why someone allegedly stole Tom Brady’s game jersey (which experts estimate to be worth $500,000 to collectors).

Subconscious belief in contagion and essences is also why no one wants to live in a murderers old home.

Scientific tests have even shown that cookies bought in a clear plastic container are felt to be unappetizing if that plastic container is then placed on top of something like a bag of kitty litter — the grossness of the litter “infects” the cookies.

Well, this stuff works in advertising too. You don’t want negative, poisonous emotions rubbing off on and attaching themselves to your brand.

The “faking your own death to get out of a Verizon contract” may have seemed clever in a creative spit-balling session, but that’s not how advertising really works. That clever concept didn’t make the message stickier, it just made it stink.


  1. Tom Grimes on 02.09.2017

    Jeff …

    Paying double the price for 1% difference is a core concept they could find a lot of ways to show in more compelling ways.

    The attempt to be “clever” in advertising at the expense of delivering a powerful consistent message is the bane of ad agencies and marketing directors.

    Off with their heads.

    … and somewhere in you is a book on Magical Thinking + Marketing