Long ago and far away, I wrote a commercial about a large black man and a small white boy. It ran on the Superbowl in 1979. The man in the commercial was a Pittsburg Steeler, and fortuitously, the Steelers won that day.
In the ensuing 37 years, Coca-Cola’s "Mean Joe Greene" spot has been lauded, dissected, analyzed, duplicated, envied and re-run as recently as September 2015 during a Nascar race. It’s the commercial that will not die!
Seriously, how can Mean Joe Greene stand up to frogs, lizards, potty humor, puppies, massive booty, pet tricks, superstars, digital tricks and unusual animal friends?
Is it simply nostalgia? A more innocent time in our collective lives? A simple storytelling format with a 30-second hero’s journey aimed with corny accuracy straight to the heart, and not out of the box. Even in this jaded new century I believe it works most every time. Witness Budweiser Clydesdales year after year after year.
I think we’re a country of sentimental saps. And I say that proudly. We love a good heart-wrencher. For all the hostilities and violence we see every day we need our sweet fix. It’s like the old rule of thumb in Hollywood. Wipe out a hundred people in a bloody car chase, but don’t kill the dog!
But back to the present. Fundamentally, nothing about the game itself has changed in 50 years. Yes, the uniforms are snappier, the athletes more buff, the concussions more frequent and the rules more nuanced. The live coverage is brilliant, with replays delivered instantly in agonizing slow motion and gaudy network graphics. But this game of champions is still intact.
Commercials on the other hand have evolved into a sport of their own. When "Mean Joe Greene" first aired, there was no such thing as multi-tasking on a handful of platforms. In the era before phones were smart and PCs were there at all, it was easier to hold onto a Super Bowl viewer. All we had to compete with was The I’m Leaving The Room To Get More Beer Syndrome. Now the actual act of watching a commercial competes with tweeting, blogging, texting, betting, trolling, pinging and of course the ultimate damnation ... a swift punch to the fast-forward button.
What seems to be evolving is not so much the content as the fact that our opinion of the content is so valued. We viewers are the scorekeepers. Art measured in clicks.
The Monday-morning watercooler word-of-mouth is now word-of-keyboard: Real time chatter that has its own immeasurable reach and frequency. Who has time to go for beer? And, if the spot is bad...it doesn’t really matter. You’re in such good company. Good heavens, if you dropped $5 million for 30 seconds of air ... how bad could you be? I mean, whoever calculated the best 10 spots on the Oscars?
And whether it’s good, bad or ugly, it will still be "effective advertising." It has no choice. With over 112 million viewers, it’s likely some fraction of those 112 million viewers will nudge sales upward. Hold on, I’m checking Google. Yup. It’s a fact. Eleven percent sales increase, even if you suck.
As to the commercials themselves ... Little has changed. There is still poignancy, shock, empowerment and delight. I for one am counting on Budweiser, Coke and Doritos to live up to their reputations.
Who else might we count on this 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl?
I’m hoping for Betty White but not Kim Kardashian.
I’m hoping there will be strangely intelligent toddlers.
I’m betting there will be Seinfeld. There is always Seinfeld. Not so sure about Letterman and Leno.
I’m hoping for a Whazzup and more money coming out of the wazoo.
I’m hoping for animals, lots of them. More talking frogs, cat roundups, rhinos, lost puppies and I hope someone will outdo my favorite demo with Tabasco’s exploding mosquito.
I’m afraid there will be more enormous breasts in potentially malfunctioning wardrobe.
I’m even more afraid there will be endless fart jokes and men getting hit in their man parts.
I’m terrified there will be political messages.
I’m guaranteeing there will be a multitude of advertisers who think they’re at the cutting edge of cool, and they’re not.
I’m cringing at the prospect of an Rx commercial that will warn me of suicidal side effects.
I’m betting there’ll be androids, animatronics, and some last-minute promotions for Hollywood’s box office underperformers.
I’m praying Mr. Potato Head will be back. And I’m not referring to political candidates.
I’m hoping for some genuine comedy. God knows this country deserves a few good laughs.
I’m betting there won’t be anything that references race, ethnicity, or gender.
I’m hoping for great demos like Master Lock, and absurdities like cat herders for EDS.
I’m praying for a smidge of controversy. A little something worth tweeting and retweeting.
Finally, I’m wondering who will win Crash the Super Bowl? Who will do the first 30-second hash tag? Who will deliver their message by drone? What would Elon Musk do with 30 seconds? And will it all be over in time for Downtown Abby?
Oh, and yes ... Who will win Super Bowl 50?