–James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

Every now and then, lightning strikes where a creative team sees a terrific, fast-turn opportunity to have a little fun. I think of them as targets of opportunity.

We had one some years ago when we were in the midst of creating a series of mailers for a search-technology client. Early in December, the spark hit and we scrambled to make this idea happen in time:

Looks like lightning struck for the GMC creative team when the LA Rams made it to the Super Bowl. I don’t know if this was a national ad, but it appeared on my Super Bowl Sunday morning doorstep in its full-page, Boston Globe glory.

Perfectly timed delivery 12 hours before the game, perfectly targeted to Boston.

The only quibble is whether there actually was a competition to introduce the first six-function tailgate, or even if that’s a deciding factor for a substantial percentage of truck buyers. It would have been perfect all around if it were announcing that GMC sales had been tops.

But that’s a minor point. This one’s a winner for the creative team and GMC for seeing the opportunity, seeing the target, and hitting the short window to take advantage of it.

Over the last decade, we’ve covered Super Bowl topics, it’s that time of year again!

We’ve probed the NFL’s overzealous activities and asked hard fair use questions.

And, with Big Game LII in our backyard, we had a front row ambush marketing seat.

With digital marketing, that front row seat can be anywhere your iPhone takes you:

The top half of the email advertisement from Tuesday, landing in my inbox (shown above), seems to have a better argument for a nominative fair use defense than the the bottom half of the same ad (shown below), agree?

Assuming Birch’s is not an actual licensee, seems to me a rather difficult argument that use of the Super Bowl LIII logo is really fair and necessary for communicating truthfully, but, what say you?

UPDATE:

Hot off the email press and inbox from yesterday, here is another Super Bowl ambush, note their favoring of “Big Game” over “Super Bowl”:

So, they may have avoided the NFL’s wrath, but what about the Patriots and Rams logos on the helmets, fair use, or not, friends?

Here’s to looking at you again, James!

What is a Super Bowl ad? Typically a Super Bowl ad refers to the ad of a brand that has paid lots of money to air its ad on network television during the Super Bowl, a/k/a The Big Game.

Apparently there are some NFL guidelines CBS had to follow as it began to receive offers of $5 Million for airing thirty second spots, so there is some control exercised by the NFL, it appears.

Not sure how Fiat avoided the NFL ban on “male enhancement products” ads last year — or may a car company allude to another’s banned product and avoid the ban itself?

As we, and others, have written about before, the NFL gets a little crazy about others using the words SUPER BOWL in advertising without the advertiser being an official sponsor.

But, does the appearance or reference to the words “Super Bowl” in an advertisement automatically make it a Super Bowl ad?

To be clear, the NFL doesn’t have an absolute right to forbid all possible use of or reference to the Super Bowl mark or event — especially when nominative fair use may apply.

Word to the wise, don’t try to navigate this fair use question on your own, even if you’re just planning to use the words, knowing you can’t use the logo.

So, what about ads that aren’t broadcast during the Super Bowl, they might be printed or aired leading up to the Big Game, are those Super Bowl ads too?

Would anyone believe the NFL has approved them? Or, do they merely reference another brand, the Super Bowl, in their advertisement, without resulting in any likelihood of confusion?

This gem arrived in my inbox during the course of the week, leading up to Super Bowl Sunday:

DunhamsSuperBowlisComing

What do you think, fair use, or off sides penalty? And, how about this one?

LowrySuperBowlSampler

Last one, was it necessary to avoid use of the Super Bowl mark here and replace with the infamous Big Game instead?

DunhamsSuperBowlSavings

How many letters do you suppose the NFL sends out in the two months following the Big Game?

If you’ve received one, we’d love to here from you, maybe we’ll share your story . . . .

Back to the other kind of Super Bowl ads, some of my favorite “official” Super Bowl ads from Super Bowl 50 were these, in no particular order:

  • Heinz Ketchup’s “Weiner Stampede” — my family loves dogs, what can I say? (USA Today’s AdMeter liked it too: #2);
  • Dorito’s “Ultrasound” — this was hilarious, having been in the delivery room four times, and lacking necessary focus at times, no doubt, but never once distracted with a bag of Dorito’s, at least that I recall anyway (USA Today’s AdMeter liked it too: #3)
  • Honda’s “A New Truck to Love” — can’t resist sheep singing my favorite Queen tune (USA Today’s AdMeter liked it too: #7)

And, I tend to agree with the worst five Super Bowl 2016 ads, according to USA Today’s AdMeter. I’m not sure the Super Bowl is an event where the folks expect to see boring pharmaceutical or laundry detergent ads.

So, which ones did you enjoy?

Now that Super Bowl XLIX is in the rear view mirror, and the New England Patriots have been duly congratulated for winning anything but a Mediocre Bowl, for those of us with no pigskin in the big game this year, it’s time to think about the possible magic of Super Bowl L.

Wait what? Is that really a good idea, given the recognized meaning of the L-word?

After all, Glee and others have done too impressive of a job cementing the “loser” meaning to L, even though another more positive alternative branding cliche exists: Leadership (as we’ve noted before).

The NFL began using Roman numerals to designate each Super Bowl, beginning with the single-letter V in 1971 for the 5th Super Bowl, and continuing through X to designate the 10th Super Bowl in 1976, all the way to XLIX as depicted above.

However, back in June 2014, the NFL finally announced it would lose the Roman numeral graphic design, kind of like the disappearing 13th floor in an elevator, because Super Bowl “L” wouldn’t be aesthetically pleasing by itself, at least to some — probably unlucky too.

So, next year, Super Bowl L won’t exist, instead we’ll be talking about Super Bowl 50, the Golden Bowl, to be played in the Golden State at the home field of the San Francisco 49ers, who mined for gold back in the day.

Then, after a one year hiatus from that pesky singular Roman numeral, the NFL plans to be back in the Roman numeral business with Super Bowl LI in Houston, and more importantly, Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis in 2018. Make sure to come see us!

I’m thinking the NFL probably made the right call in losing the solo L for the 50th Super Bowl, the graphic on the left below just doesn’t work and only invites ridicule — but, do our readers who are graphic designer types agree? Was there no possible way to sell an elegant solo L?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think, will the Roman numerals make a comeback in Houston for Super Bowl 51?

Oh, I almost forgot, what did you think of the Super Bowl ads?

Budweiser tugged at the heartstrings again, this time with Puppy Love.

Seems like there were lots of ads promoting other television programs — since I’m a huge fan of The Voice and Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome, that combo was hard to beat for me.

Fiat’s use of a little blue pill to introduce the new 500X made me, as a trademark type, wonder what Pfizer thought about it, can you say Viagra?

Does Fiat not appreciate that Pfizer also owns a non-traditional trademark registration for the color blue as applied to a diamond shaped dosage tablet?

Was Fiat’s use of a hexagonal-shaped tablet enough to avoid the scope of non-traditional trademark rights held by Pfizer? Might some have thought it simply was another funny co-branding Super Bowl ad?

So, which Super Bowl ads were your favorites and why?

It’s that time of year again. Time to tiptoe around and avoid use of or make any reference to the Super Bowl. Whoops. Anyway, we’ve discussed this phenomenon before:

Advertisers — fearful of NFL legal action — strain and contort to avoid the two words that could make out a nominative fair use of the Super Bowl trademark, opting instead for pairs of other code words like “Super Sunday,” the “Big Game,” “Super Party,” or “Superb Owl” coverage.

Welcome to the advent of “Bowl Viewing Parties,” not Super ones, but Lavo and Tao ones:

Please, would someone just lawyer up, and call it the Super Bowl, while calling the NFL’s bluff?

With all the hype and chirping leading up to The Big Game, as one of the many who didn’t have a “horse” in the race, as someone just looking to enjoy an exciting and competitive game, I’ll borrow Richard Sherman’s infamous line (that he now apparently regrets, but I couldn’t help being reminded about, as he winced for the camera while being carted off the field): Mediocre.

Actually, less than mediocre, how about boring?

I’m not sure the ads this year did much better, nor the half-time entertainment, it all left me wondering if the whole event has just gone to pot? Get it?

But, there were a few ad diamonds in the rough, at least from my perspective.

Loved the Puppy Love ad from Budweiser, as did just about everyone else! I also was really drawn to the Bob Dylan endorsement of Chrysler, America, and Detroit.

I’ve never seen a Maserati ad before, and I’m actually seeing some of these exclusive vehicles on the road here in Minneapolis, but this ad didn’t “strike” a chord with me or most viewers, it appears.

Which ones were you drawn too? Which ones disappointed you? Which ones really turned you off?

Looks like the V Bar at The Venetian Resort, Hotel and Casino, in Las Vegas, is having some sort of function on “Super Sunday” — February 3rd (that date sounds familiar):

Here’s a question for those responsible for clearing the ad shown above: Why bother with attempting to invite imagination (especially when the visual aspects require none) by using constrained references to “Super Sunday,” “February 3rd,” and “The Game,” when the above cut-off tee displays at least some version of the NFL’s Super Bowl XLVII logo?

For those uncomfortable staring at the tee to get a closer look, I assume it looks like this, minus the New Orleans reference, and more interestingly, minus the (Mercedes-Benz) SUPERDOME image:

So, what do you think, is this a licensed use of the logo? But, wouldn’t you expect a licensee to be able to avoid oblique references like Super Sunday?

Last, since we know that most adults watch the Super Bowl for the ads, stay tuned on Monday for our favorite Super Bowl ads from “Super Sunday” . . . .  Any guest-bloggers who want to weigh in on their favorites are welcome too!

So, tomorrow is the big day, the big game, or whatever else other intimidated advertisers might call it. I just want to find the best deal on a flat screen television today!

But, more to Mike Masnick’s point on Techdirt about the NFL’s reputation as a “trademark bully,” and his challenge to advertisers — “It’s the Super Bowl. Call it the Super Bowl” — just today, Robert Channick of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes how “football ads tiptoe around trademarks.”

As Channick points out, significant sums of money are at stake for the NFL, and when that is the case, I suspect it won’t be difficult for the NFL to continue to convince others that their trademark rights in the SUPER BOWL mark are far more important to them than it ever could be to any individual advertiser to defend a trademark infringement case to conclusion, at least on their own dime.

The power of the “it’s-far-more-important-to-me-than-it-ever-could-be-to-you” position should not be underestimated — even in legitimate trademark enforcement efforts.

Paul Alan Levy, writing for Public Citizen, incites “Brand Name Weenies: It’s Time to Stand Up to the NFL and Call it the Super Bowl.”

Here’s a thought, and one possible way to ensure a good, vigorous trademark fight over the SUPER BOWL mark and to counter the “it’s-far-more-important-to-me-than-it-ever-could-be-to-you” imbalance (assuming you can’t convince our good friend Ron Coleman over at Likelihood of Confusion to take on your defense — just for the sport of it) — make sure your commercial liability insurance policy covers advertising injury and there aren’t any exceptions that exclude coverage for trademark infringement claims.

Just saying too, it probably makes sense to confirm that your policy permits you to select your own trademark defense counsel when the NFL comes knocking.

Your usual trademark counsel happily will explain why that is so important.

In the end, I’m skeptical that the question of nominative fair use of the words SUPER BOWL in an ad published by a non-NFL sponsor will ever be litigated to conclusion or decided by a court, unless the cost of the defense is on someone else’s dime.

Unless someone else is bound to pay for the fight, the cost of defending on principle is probably just too high, and it’s simply easier to continue to tiptoe around the SUPER BOWL mark.

—David Mitchel, Chief Marketing Officer at Norton Mitchel Marketing

It has been about a week since Super Bowl Sunday. Super Bowl ads are always a big story. This year was no exception. FOX charged brands nearly $3 million per 30 seconds of ad space. Without further ado, here are the 5 most relevant questions about Super Bowl advertising this year.

1. Can buzz from a Super Bowl ad build sales?

Volkswagen would like to believe so, after building a lot of buzz from the ad entitled “The Force”. In the ad, a young boy dressed as Darth Vader tries to use the force to create magical outcomes. He fails to do so, but goes outside to greet his dad who drives up in the all new 2012 Volkswagen Passat. The boy stands in front of the car and it starts, from the remote control that the father uses inside the house. The boy is impressed with his power, and the father is impressed with the car’s remote start feature.

The ad got a lot of people to talk and was generally well liked. However, the kid and the Darth Vader costume were the stars of the commercial, not the Volkswagen Passat. This ad reminds of the Terry Tate Office Linebacker ad from Reebok in the early 2000s. It built a lot of buzz but didn’t generate incremental sales. The failure of the Terry Tate ad campaign did cause an MBA level professor to write a marketing case study though.

The new Passat isn’t scheduled to hit the market until later this year, and the buzz from the commercial will have simmered by then. Of course, it probably won’t matter much because like the Terry Tate ads, the commercials didn’t connect meaningfully to the product advertised, nor did the commercial advertise a particularly unique feature.

Continue Reading 5 Important Questions about Super Bowl Ads