Guest Author Blog: Allen St. John is the author of The Billion Dollar Game: Behind the Scenes of the Biggest Day in American Sport, Super Bowl Sunday.
Judging from the pre-Super Bowl buzz around the Mancrunch.com commercialrejected by CBS, and the Focus on Families spot, which the network has agreed to air despite vehement protest, football fans could be excused for thinking that controversial Super Bowl spots are a new phenomenon.
Not so, insists Lee Garfinkel, former creative director of DDB NY, and one of the legends of Super Bowl advertising.
Rewind to 2005, a year after infamous Halftime Show Wardrobe Malfunction.
Garfinkel is working on the Bud Light account and comes up with a timely, subtle spot that pokes gentle fun by speculating what might have really caused Janet Jackson’s top to rip.
Anheuser-Busch executives loved it.
The NFL? Not so much, and the network refused to air it.
Faced with a specialized spot and nowhere to run it, Anheuser-Busch executives wondered what to do.
“Send it to the media and call it The Super Bowl Ad The NFL Didn’t Want You to See,” Garfinkel suggested. The result: Instant buzz at the fraction of the cost of a multi-million Super Bowl ad.
Other advertisers—from PETA to Go Daddy to KGB have co-opted this strategy in recent years, with some spots that seem intentionally crafted to get banned by the network censors. Garfinkel wonders if this strategy doesn’t backfire. “They get talk value, but they may not like what people are saying,” he suggests.
Most of the banned spots, he argues, may be edgy, but they’re not very good.
“I think the biggest mistake is trying too hard,” he says. “The Mancruch ad is really bad." A spot Garfinkel did for Heineken uses the same ideas but in a much more subtle way—and it didn’t raise an eyebrow with the networks.
“Normally, with television advertising, you’re trying to break through the clutter, but on Super Bowl Sunday, people actually wait for the ads,” Garfinkel explains. He notes that the spots that score well on the USA Today’s Ad Meter are viewer-friendly spots with a big laugh or an strong emotional note. “Sometimes what you need is good old-fashioned story telling.”
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Allen St. John is the author of The Billion Dollar Game: Behind the Scenes of the Biggest Day in American Sport, Super Bowl Sunday, published in paperback by Anchor Books.