Super Bowl Ads That Aren't Hip: John Immesoete on Money, Ads, and The Big Game

by John Immesoete , Epsilon

The morning after the Super Bowl you will get up, turn on the TV, and Matt Lauer and crew will introduce a segment talking about the ads from the night before. Matt will say something like, “The Super Bowl is an annual event where the ad industry celebrates it’s best and it’s brightest. We’re here now to talk about some of last night’s efforts…”

At this point, someone should really correct Matt. The Super Bowl is arguably no longer a fair representation of the industry’s “best and brightest.” More accurately it’s a showcase for the industry’s “most expensive media buy.” Therein lies the problem. A lot of important, big time advertisers are opting out of the Super Bowl. Previous all-in participants are showing up with only a single ad. Their absence or limited presence is affecting the quality of the event.

Who’s out? Well-known brands like McDonald’s, Nike, Apple. There will be no ads from Coke, Gatorade, Reebok, Nike, or any sports drink or sports apparel makers. There will be no ads from iconic brands like Ford, Chevy, Chrysler, Dodge, Cadillac, or Lincoln. There will be no truck ads. And there will be limited appearances by past game day staples Doritos, Taco Bell, Snickers, and Pepsi.

These are all huge brands whose products or demographics seem ideally suited for a big family-and-friends viewing event, an audience who has been primed to sit still and watch during the commercial breaks. The only problem is, the big brands haven’t heeded the “If you build it, they will come” mantra of the Super Bowl years past. They’re staying home.

Who is taking their place? Brands like and Avocados from Mexico. Intuit. Marmot, SunTrust and SoFi. Pokemon, Squarespace and Persil ProClean. Quicken Loans. TurboTax. WeatherTech.

This is a bit like watching the Oscars to see all your favorite stars like George Clooney, Bradley Cooper, Kate Winslet, Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep and instead they’re all no-shows. The resulting evening lacks much drama.

So why are some well known and popular big brands avoiding the Super Bowl limelight? I’d offer a few reasons:

1) It’s just not worth it. CMOs and CEOs are increasingly bottom-line driven. The Super Bowl is the quintessential version of the problem advertisers have always had with broadcast mass media. They just can’t measure in any real way if their dollars have been spent effectively.

2) Fear. CMO tenures grow shorter and shorter and the jobs fewer and fewer. The jobs that are out there usually require a new media background and tech savviness that being on the Super Bowl doesn’t really support. It’s also much easier to point towards a Super Bowl ad being a “failure” (“It didn’t place in the USA Today Poll’s Top Five!”) versus it being a success. Plus, in an age where everyone’s a critic, Super Bowl ads are such a lightning rod for public criticism that many CMOs would rather shy away.

3) The Super Bowl is too Trumpy. It’s “the biggest.” “The best.” “The most awesome.” “Incredible.” Yet is it? Where’s the proof? Isn’t it also over-the-top, gauche, and even a bit of an embarrassment? Maybe some premium brands just don’t care to be showcased at a carnival.

4) Super Bowl marketing strategies are also too Trumpy. The strategies and plans behind many of the ads seem like No Plans. Many brands seem to go off-brand to Win the Day and don’t. Someone said “Trust me, this ad will make a splash” and it doesn’t. I’m not sure a brand like Audi can or should compete for the same audience and enthusiasm as Bud Light, especially on a day where the key activity is drinking.

5) There are clearly some companies controlled by people who are very Trumpy. There are some business owners out there who made a hell of a lot of money, either by being business savvy, in the right place at the right time, or because they were very lucky. At any rate, they’ve decided their success in one area prepares them for great success in another area – spectacular mass audience entertainment – and they couldn’t be more wrong. Unless I’m wrong and the world goes on a car mat buying-frenzy after this Super Bowl.

6) Belief in the Unnatural Natural Audience. A hallway conversation that goes something like this and mushrooms out of control: “Look, everyone watches the Super Bowl, right? And everyone has to do his or her taxes? Why not combine them? Tax ads on the Super Bowl! It can’t miss!” The problem is – everyone watches the Super Bowl AND everyone hates taxes and they don’t want to be reminded of them during the Super Bowl.

So is the Super Bowl what it was in its Glory Days, ad-wise? No. But is it a complete waste of time and money? Also no. Like the larger industry itself, Super Bowl advertising is simply in a state of chaotic and confused flux. It needs creative innovators to sort it out and attack it differently. It needs bigger advertisers to face their fear and get back in the big game, and to do so less tactically and more spectacularly. It needs to get less Trumpy and offer more “do” and less “say.”

And it needs Matt Lauer to re-write that Monday morning lead-in line until more advertisers are walking the walk and not just talking the talk. 

John Immesoete

Chief Creative Officer, Epsilon

John’s background as a copywriter, creative director and creative leader includes numerous clients across many platforms and disciplines. John has written and created award-winning creative for platforms as diverse as television advertising, radio, digital, mobile, shopper, social and television programming. Past clients include McDonald’s, Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Nintendo, Hallmark, Kraft, Allstate, BMW, the Independent Film Channel and Coke.

Creating big ideas that break through and engage the consumer is a hallmark of John’s work. John has created numerous commercials that won USA Today’s prestigious Super Bowl Ad Meter, many others that placed in the top ten, and has written and directed work that won every award in the advertising world.

Other awards and recognition John has received include ten Cannes Lions, three Grand CLIOs and several Gold CLIOs, the London International Festival Grand Prize, the Cannes Radio Grand Prix, three Radio Mercury Grand Prize Awards, the New York Festivals Grand Prize and three commercials in The One Show’s Best Beer Commercials Ever, amongst others.

John has also served as a judge for the Cannes Lions, CLIOs, Radio Mercury Awards, American Advertising Awards, D&AD Awards and others.

John holds a bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University. He is involved in both the Directors Guild of America and the Writer’s Guild of America.