Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Super Bowl Ads

It's hardly news that millions of Americans pay more attention to the ads in a Super Bowl broadcast than to the game itself. I've been monitoring these ads informally for years, as a sort of barometer of trends and things to come. Blame it on the famous Apple "1984" ad, which prompted me to buy my first home computer, and also launched the whole genre of Super Bowl ad spectaculars. So what did this year's show provide--other than a streaking sheep--and how is it relevant to the theme of this blog?

I think it's notable that three of the dozen or so car advertisements I counted were for hybrids. OK, many of the others were for giant SUVs or pickup trucks, but surely it says something about hybrids becoming more mainstream. Interestingly, the approaches taken by Ford and Toyota couldn't have been more different. Ford chose to cast its hybrid efforts, led by its Hybrid Escape small SUV, as environmentally friendly, playing on Kermit the Frog's familiar "not easy being green" theme. Toyota's ad for the hybrid version of its top-selling Camry went after inter-generational responsibility, economy and the growing immigrant market. My hunch is that Toyota, by being less overt in its environmental message, came off slightly better. However, they haven't had to respond to the same pressures on environmental issues as Ford, so I can understand the basis of both choices.

Ironically, the ad that looked like it was launching a breakthrough in advanced energy technology turned out to be for a razor. It says something about us that Gillette spent about as much developing and promoting its new Fusion shaver as the US government is putting into the clean coal, wind and solar technology R&D this year. Consumer values still trump societal benefits, and anyone working on or investing in alternative energy had better not rely on virtue as the main selling point.

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