We’ve seen the great commercials from 2016, and we’ve seen the pretty good ones, but now it’s time to get into the fun stuff – the bad commercials from Super Bowl 2016.

There are five strong candidates for “bad” commercials this year, because we had such strong contenders for the “ugly” category – but we’ll get to those next week. I’m sure you can guess what they are. With so many mediocre commercials this year, the biggest issue is that many of the spots were just flat out forgettable. I took notes on every commercials, and for the most part, it was the name of the spot, followed by “eh.” As I said on Monday, if you’re spending Super Bowl-sized money on your advertising spots, you should be spending Super Bowl sized money on the advertising itself – and that means at least evoking *some* reaction from the viewing public.

The following commercials did just that. They weren’t the worst of the worst, but they were fairly terrible. Let’s take a look at each of them, and discuss why they failed.

LG Man from the Future

Oh boy, did I want to love this commercial. I mean, it’s Liam Neeson. And, for you eagle-eyed viewers out there, yes, that’s his son appearing with him in the spot.

It’s a very, very cool ad.

So why is it on the bad list?

Can you tell me what it’s for?

Ah, there you go.

I wanted to love this ad, but it’s so difficult to discern that this is an LG commercial (their first Super Bowl ad ever, apparently), designed to promote their G6 OLED TV. Could you tell that that’s what this was for? If you know in advance, and watch it again, you can figure it out, but it’s so subtle – too subtle. I had a friend say she thought it was actually for a new movie that Neeson was appearing in, and that’s what it feels like to me too.

It’s a real shame, because LG obviously goes all in with their ad money and creativity, but they miss the mark big time. It’s a great ad – a great ad – but you have almost no idea who the brand is, or what the product is.

The lesson for lawyers and law firms:

  • Don’t get so caught up in the flash of your marketing that you forget the substance. The best ads that we saw throughout the game delivered a brand message that told us about the product in a way that resonated with the audience – over and over again, that’s what we saw. It’s a simple formula, because it works. Lawyers, you are selling your services as an advocate and business adviser. There are a myriad of ways you can communicate that, but never forget what your message is, or what you’re really delivering to your audience. It doesn’t matter how cool the messaging is if no one remembers the product.

Butterfinger: Bolder than Bold

This commercial was just silly, and not in a good way. Full disclosure, I love Butterfinger. Is bold a word I’d associate with a Butterfinger? Probably not. I can applaud them for the effort to try to connect their product with a certain word – that’s an admirable attempt. But this is an ad that I don’t see resonating in any way with their audience. How does a guy, riding a bull, jumping out of a plane, getting yelled at by his mom not to ruin his dinner (probably the only thing we can identify with) make us all want a Butterfinger? It doesn’t.

When you have a product like a Butterfinger, that mixes delicious things like peanut butter and chocolate, it’s not a hard sell. Don’t make it more difficult on yourself by complicating the message.

Lessons for lawyers and law firms:

  • Just that: Don’t complicate your message. While there is something to be said for aligning your brand with a single feeling or word (like “bold” or “determination” etc.), you want to make sure that it first, resonates with your audiences as to how they experience your product or, in the case of law firms, your service, and secondly, that it doesn’t interfere with the main objective. You don’t always need to be fancy to get the job done – Butterfinger could pretty much just show us pictures of their product (in much the way Reeses peanut butter cups do in their commercials), and we’d buy it. But instead, they give us a cowboy, on a bull, jumping out of a plane, answering to his mama, while trying to eat a candy bar. There’s just no reason for it to be that hard.

Bai: Horse Whisperer

Here’s a commercial where the messaging is good, but the delivery is the issue. The concept is that “None of this makes sense” – in the same way that it doesn’t make sense that this guy in the commercial is some kind of horse whisperer, it doesn’t make sense that this drink, Bai, is only 5 calories and (apparently) tastes amazing. In theory, that’s great. In practice, I hate it. This guy is brash, he’s yelling at the horse (which I hate), and I just don’t like him. I can’t identify with him, and it doesn’t make me want to try this drink, even a little.

Lessons for lawyers and law firms:

  • Have the right spokespeople: You may have all the right messages in place, but you need to have the right people delivering them. Not everyone is right for every task, because we all have our strengths. Some people are great writers, while for others, it’s like pulling teeth. Others are excellent presenters and great in front of the media, while some balk at speaking in public. In some cases, you can work with people to refine and hone their skills in various areas (especially if there are things that they have to do, even if they’re not their strengths), but it’s always better to filter people towards the areas that they are best suited towards.We’re finally starting to see more discussion about the differences between extroverts and introverts – it used to be the case that introverts were given tips on how to be more extroverted, and it was assumed that extroversion was the goal and the way to be more successful. Fortunately, that’s no longer the case, especially for a profession where the majority skew introverted (including me!). It doesn’t mean that we don’t try things outside of our comfort zones, or work on being adaptable, but it does mean that there are ways to be successful by finding and honing the skills that are most natural to us. If you’re not the guy or gal who can step into a networking function and work a room like a rock star, then it doesn’t mean that you won’t be a successful rainmaker – it just means that you need to find a different means of building your book of business.

PayPal: New Money

I really hate this commercial.

The reason I react so strongly to it, is that PayPal is NOT money; it’s a way to transfer and use money, but it’s not actually money. So it’s confusing to anyone who doesn’t currently use or understand PayPal.

I get what they’re trying to do – associate themselves with being new, current, hip, etc. – they’re on the cutting edge, and they want people to know it. They’re the platform for people to use who are also on the cutting edge.

But they’re not new money. They’re just a new way to use money, and I feel that the distinction is important. So, for me, the commercial is a big miss.

Lessons for lawyers and law firms:

  • Be specific in your marketing and don’t claim to be something you’re not: I almost don’t feel the need to say the second piece, because lawyers are held to such high ethical standards, that it’s very rare to see anyone claim to be something that they aren’t. But the former piece is important, and this spot is a good excuse to talk about it. The lesson we’ve learned in watching all of these spots is that being direct, simple, and specific wins the day. You can be funny, charming, thoughtful, brilliant, generous, etc. in your marketing, but start with direct, simple, and specific and the rest is just gravy.

Cure Auto: Avoid Distractions

This commercial came very close to making it into my “ugly” list. It’s fairly terrible, and there’s a few reasons why. First, Cure Auto Insurance is a brand that is known for it’s humor, and it’s trying to go that route here, but massively failing. Whereas the Hyundai “Ryanville” commercial effectively (and humorously) drove home the idea of distracted driving, albeit for a different reason, this commercial is sort of horrifying in its message. For anyone who has lost a family member, it’s a bit of a gut punch, and not one you’d likely see the humor in. And it has absolutely nothing to do with driving, so for an auto insurance company, that’s kind of a big miss.

Lessons for lawyers and law firms:

  • There’s humor, and then there’s humor: Being funny in your marketing (and in your personality, for that matter) can be a huge asset and can draw people to you. But there’s a careful line to walk between being funny and turning people off. Gallows humor is one of those things that while some people may find it funny, a lot of people won’t, so you have to be extraordinarily careful of your audience. It won’t play well with everyone. Same with off-color jokes. Some things are best left to your very close friends and family, whether you’re marketing yourself or just using social media.
  • Stay true to your brand: Cure Auto Insurance does two things really wrong here – they try to be funny, and aren’t when their brand is known for being light and humorous, and they have a commercial that has nothing to do with driving, despite being for auto insurance. Of course, they didn’t HAVE to have a car-related commercial to communicate their message, but they didn’t stay true to their brand or their message here, and the only thing we did get from this commercial is that it’s probably a bad idea to be distracted. (But I’m not even sure that the end result of that is that Cure would pay for resulting accidents). Again, it goes back to our theme this week of staying true to who you are as a lawyer, as a law firm, and keeping it simple.

Honorable Mentions

It seems a little funny to have “bad” honorable mentions, but I do have a couple!

  • Expedia: Get a room: The idea is a good one – kissing couples should “get a room” and use Expedia to do so. But the execution isn’t great. The reason that “get a room” is a saying is because people usually don’t want to see couples making out. So why would we want to see a commercial full of them? Answer: we wouldn’t.
  • SquareSpace Real Talk: This was a bit of a mess. Although I like Key and Peele, this commercial made me feel like I was stuck in some strange alternate universe of weirdness, and in the end, I still didn’t know what it was for. It turns out they were selling websites. Who knew?
  • Skittles: The Portrait: No, just no. A singing Skittles portrait of Steven Tyler, whose lips still keep singing after the portrait has fallen apart? That is the stuff of my nightmares, not the stuff that makes me want to buy Skittles. Though that’s generally true of their commercials, so at least they’re true to their branding.
  • T-Mobile: Drop the Balls: I applaud T-Mobile and Steve Harvey for this. I really do. I love that a Super Bowl commercial incorporated Harvey into it after his big gaffe during the Miss Universe pageant. But this commercial was NOT the right one. They tried to insert him into their existing ad structure, and it was just weird and awkward. No one really understands the purpose of those balls. So the joke didn’t work. I wish another brand had snapped him up instead.
  • Snickers: Snickers, please stop doing these weird celebrity spots. It didn’t work last year, and it doesn’t work this year. Even if Willem DaFoe does have surprisingly good legs.