Who’s Winning the Super Bowl 2012 PR Game?

The run-up to Super Bowl XLVI has definitely begun. And every year the pre-game show ( the ad-fest that leads up to Sunday) seems to get longer.

Now, the Super Bowl has never been known for cutting-edge advertising creative. The challenge is to go big, go broad, and generate chatter. And it’s the early buzz that helps justify the jaw-dropping $3.5 million per spot. Here’s a hint about 2012: cars and dogs are still big.

But the loudest noise seems to be around the commercials designed to evoke fond memories of years gone by. Call it the Nostalgia Bowl. Downy fabric softener, of all brands, is reprising the Mean Joe Greene ad that Coke made famous in 1979, with a twist. (Ordinarily this would be shameless plagiarism, but the aged Joe and the incomparable Amy Sedaris make it surprisingly fresh.)

Then there’s Seinfeld and Jay Leno fighting over an Acura, complete with the Soup Nazi thrown into the sentimental stew. Not bad, actually.

But the PR winner has to be Ferris Bueller. When Honda released a preview version of its “Matthew’s Day Off,” the ad featuring Matthew Broderick playing hooky to ride in a CR-V, Twitter went crazy. The tweets were so fast and furious that they sparked a little backlash. And there’s plenty to pick on here. A minivan isn’t the sexiest car, and some have accused Broderick of selling out his character in doing something they insist the youthful Ferris would never do.

So it may not be a perfect marketing vehicle. But the spot has racked up four million free views on one YouTube channel alone. It’s the clear front-runner five full days before kickoff, and the dozen or so “Easter eggs” – hidden references to the iconic 1980s film – probably guarantee further mileage for Honda.

What’s even more refreshing is that Bueller and other entertaining spots have crowded out the GoDaddy girls and the “banned ad” also-rans, for once. The tired PR gimmick of claiming an ad has been banned or rejected by the network and posting it online is still in evidence this year, most notably in a spot put out by dating site TheBigandThe Beautiful. It claims the sexy commercial it submitted was rejected by NBC due to bias against women of size.

But so far the hijackers have had slim pickings. Honda’s Bueller isn’t a Ferrari (either literally or creatively) but it is a crowd-pleaser. Which for Super Bowl Sunday, may be just what the doctor ordered.

What Nicknames Say About Brands: Chevy, Meet The Y

A brand nickname is a little like a viral video. No matter how badly you want it, planning alone won’t make it happen. It has to come about naturally.

I’m not talking about mere abbreviations, like AmEx or P&G. I mean real nicknames…those insider-y monikers that make us feel cool because we drive a Beamer or, these days, shop at Tar-zhay. A nickname speaks of a personal relationship with a brand. (Notice how President Obama keeps calling BP “British Petroleum” in public remarks about the Gulf oil spill? It may be an attempt to mobilize U.S. nationalism, but to me it seems like a distancing tactic, like a stern father using your full name to signal you’re in big trouble.)

Brands should embrace a consumer-given street name

How a brand responds to its handle says something about its marketing savvy. When General Motors tried to dump “Chevy” in favor of “Chevrolet,” it ran straight into a brick wall of resistance. GM quickly shifted gears and blamed the brouhaha on a “poorly worded memo.” It was a clear PR blunder, though probably the most excitement that Chevy’s enjoyed since Don McLean. But how could Detroit’s marketing minds think that a once-great brand could ever outgrow the iconic nickname that’s a slice of American Pie?

Don’t they know that when a brand tag is bestowed by the public – instead of the marketer – it’s nearly always a good thing? On the other hand, I never quite understood the UPS “Brown” campaign, or RadioShack’s adoption of “the Shack.”  Because those names weren’t consumer-generated, they felt a little like trying too hard to be cool.

Marketers lucky enough to actually earn a nickname should not only accept it; they should embrace it. Federal Express may have started the trend when it officially shortened its name to FedEx a decade ago. Coca-Cola has never been shy about using Coke in its marketing. And Harley-Davidson tried to claim its classic “Hog” moniker, although the nickname was ruled too generic to be trademarked.

That’s why the YMCA was right to slim its brand this week to the “Y.” The name may have started as an abbreviation, but after 166 years, I think it’s gained full nickname status. The Y’s press release explains it as a by-product of the trend toward shorter brand names, made necessary by our 140-character culture. The most entertaining part of the story, though, may be where the Village People got into the act. Still belting out “Y-M-C-A” on tour after all these years, they put out a statement saying they won’t change the 1970’s anthem that memorialized the YMCA name in a way that the Y surely never intended.

But, for me, the Y nickname isn’t about Twitter, or IM-speak, or even breaking with the past. It’s about a brand claiming its own street name, like Bud or Mickey D’s. It epitomizes our experience and relationship with its brand. A nickname, after all, is a term of endearment. It is the Y to most of us. So, why not?

Cola Rivals Engage…With Each Other

It took me a while to get the Coke-Pepsi social media handshake thing.

I’m referring to that moment of Twitter diplomacy a couple of weeks ago.  The brand rivals agreed to make nice and follow one another, through a notably civil but tepid public exchange of  updates.  The detente was a response to a challenge by Australian marketing firm Amnesia Razorfish. It was a brilliant PR stunt on their part.

@CocaCola was the first to answer the call, tweeting a “gracious (but competitive) hello.”  Later @Pepsi responded with the slightly Zen-like musing, “Can followers and tweeps co-exist? We’re willing to find out.:)”

And that was that.  No swipes, insults, or even tortured cola puns.  No one was bubbling over, foaming at the mouth, or icy cold.  The exchange itself was sweet, cautious and a little, well, flat.
But, here’s the interesting part.  This “new” cola challenge was fueled by a cascade of retweets by Twitter users urging the brands to make nice.  And, the result was an outpouring of attention, including an AdAge profile, a Reuters piece, a hilarious Jimmy Fallon blog spoof, and countless other blog mentions.

Not exactly marketing history, and I doubt any soda was sold. But, it’s interesting from a brand engagement perspective.  And, it spurred me to look back at the heritage of the battle between the two soft drinks. Only two such iconic brands with such a legendary marketing rivalry could have the social world watching its Twitter moment. To look back over the history of the Coke-Pepsi marketing wars is to marvel at the moves and counter-moves that shaped each brand’s image over decades.  Things first heated up in the 1940s, when then-President Walter Mack made history by marketing Pepsi to African-Americans….this, while Jim Crow laws still stood.  It’s a remarkable, iconic rivalry that is precedent-setting to this day.

So, what’s next…McD’s and Burger King? Can world peace be far behind?