Last week, we took some time to review my top spots from this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads. And now it’s time to take a look at where things got a little…yucky. While we were fortunate to be overwhelmed with good commercials the last two years, there are still a few brands that are missing the mark for one reason or another. And those spots leave us with something to think about. Let’s take a look.

Bud Light | Ye Olde Pep Talk

If you’ve been following along with my Super Bowl commercial picks for a while, you’ll know that I’m usually a BIG fan of beer commercials. Typically, they’re clever and funny, and who can want more than that? But while I really WANTED to like this spot (and the Bud Knight ad that followed wasn’t bad…), there is one key reason why I can’t. “Dilly dilly.” Supposedly, this is a catch phrase that Bud Light developed as part of this ad campaign, and has been used throughout the NFL season (I am not buying that, as my six-year-old niece has been saying it for longer than that, but we can argue over semantics another time). Wherever it came from, most people I talked to thought it was confusing at best, and at worst, a type of inside joke meant to make those not in the know feel awkward.

What are the lessons for lawyers and law firms?

  • It might seem strange that there’s a lesson for lawyers and law firms in here, but it’s a good one – avoid legalese. We’re all guilty of it. We get so caught up in the day-to-day linguistics of our professions, that we forget that not everyone speaks like we do (or even wants to). Is it *strictly* necessary to word an email to a client with all of the legal particulars? Or can you get to the heart of the matter and write it in plain English? The same goes, especially, for your articles and blog posts, any speaking engagements, etc. Just because many of the people you’re working with may also be lawyers, doesn’t mean they always want to read or hear technical language. It can be tedious. And if you’re not sure, call up a trusted friend outside the industry and run it by them – do they understand the point you’re trying to make? If not, head back to the drawing board.
  • It’s not always better to create a “club” that marginalizes some people. Bud Light is confusing people right off the bat with “dilly dilly,” rather than making people assume it’s a catch phrase that everyone can participate in – you only have to google it to see what I mean. It’s worth considering that we may be unintentionally excluding opportunities and relationships through the way that we speak or the language we’re using, rather than actively engaging, so it’s something that we should regularly be reviewing and considering.

Wendy’s | Flash Frozen

For me, this commercial was a big no-no, and hopefully, it’s easy to see why. If your product is strong enough, you never need to pick on your competitor to point out their faults. You only need to showcase your own strengths, and people will flock to you. It seems that Wendy’s has enjoyed some success from the back and forth antics on their social media (which, granted, *is* a funny and fine place for drama between competitors to play out, as long as it’s done carefully and not in a mean-spirited way). But because of that, they translated it to their ad campaign, and it left a bad taste in my mouth (no pun intended).

What are the lessons for lawyers and law firms?

  • Leave your competitors out of it. While you should be paying attention to what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it, if you are a truly superior firm or a truly superior lawyer, there will be no need to put them down. In fact, it can harm a potential client’s impression of you to badmouth a competitor even in the spirit of being honest. It’s not a secret that McDonald’s flash freezes their beef, while Wendy’s is fresh. But it makes them look petty to point it out. Better to rise above and act like the competition doesn’t matter. Let someone else be the one to point out where a competitor is less than you.
  • Consider how Wendy’s could have focused on this point in their commercial *without* naming McDonalds OR their flash frozen beef. And then think about doing the same thing in your own practice. Where are the areas that you excel above your competitors? Incidentally, this is what marketers mean when they ask what “differentiates” you. What makes you different? Talk about those things, find ways to showcase those aspects, but without being negative. Always take the high road.

M&M’s | Human

Some people thought this was a funny commercial, especially because Danny DeVito was in it, but I had a different impression. I thought it was mean-spirited, crude, and frankly, awful. The tagline is: M&M’s: Always fun. But instead, you’re left thinking about NOT eating the product because it reminds you of Danny DeVito, and it includes bullying, and even getting hit by a truck. Since it was aired during a time of the game that kids were still watching, I thought it was in poor taste all around.

Can lawyers and law firms learn something from this? Of course.

  • Consider what your message is at all times. While you may not be selling a product like M&M’s, often what you’re selling is tied into who you are. When you’re in a professional environment (and sometimes, even personal ones can have professional implications), are you projecting the message that you want people to have about the lawyer that you are?
  • Humor is good, fun is good, but sometimes, doing those things for the sake of doing them can miss the point. There were a few commercials this year that relied too heavily on big names to sell their products, rather than on a strong message. Or they are trying to be too cutesy or clever. M&M’s here is trying to be funny, but it comes off as bullying and strange – and nowhere do you get the feeling that you should rush right out for a package of M&M’s. Sometimes, your brand is so big and strong, you can risk those kinds of messaging mistakes. But for professional services, it’s usually best to stick with the message you want to deliver, over and over again, and live that, from your work product, to your writing, to your networking efforts, etc.

Square Space | Make It with Keanu Reeves

I love me some Keanu, but this was weird. First of all, unless you’ve ever built a website, you probably have no idea what this commercial is for. Secondly, it’s just strange. What is he doing? Riding a motorcycle down a highway? Why? And reciting something? Is it for a self-help series? Who knows? No one. Perhaps Square Space really wants you to go to their channel to watch the full 2:37 spot (I didn’t), but this commercial doesn’t motivate me to want to use their product OR find out more about what Keanu is doing. I may have applauded Kraft for their use of ads to drive a multi-channel campaign, but here’s an example of where that DOESN’T work.

What are the lessons for lawyers and law firms?

  • Here’s another example of a brand relying too heavily on a famous name to sell their product, rather than explaining their product. This might seem like something that isn’t relevant to firms, but let’s consider for a moment when firms put all of their eggs in the high profile lateral basket – we know that that happens. Or when firms are giving disproportionate amounts of leverage to certain rainmaking partners. While there can be substantive business reasons for doing both of these things, that has to be the key – are you doing these things *because* there is a business case for them? In the above, I very much doubt there is a business case for using their Super Bowl ad budget to put Keanu on a motorcycle on a highway. Don’t do the equivalent in your law firm.
  • Don’t forget what you’re selling. Sometimes, we get a little bit off target, either because we’ve always done something a certain way, or because we’re excited about a certain aspect of the law. That’s why it’s essential to periodically regroup and ask yourself what it is your clients want, and how you’re delivering that to them – and then sell THAT message. Usually, they want the solution to a problem, without the explanation of how you’ll get there (depending on the client). How do you get that message across directly and succinctly?
  • Multi-channel marketing is excellent, and can be extremely effective. But ensure that if you’re using it, you’re thinking it through. I’m thinking about firms that include “clickable” links on billboards or even just this Keanu ad. You want to encourage as many touchpoints with potential clients as possible, because the more they know about you and your firm, the more comfortable they’ll be in their decision to hire you. So make that process easy for them, but also intuitive – after watching this ad, do you really want to find out more by watching two and a half minutes about what he’s up to? Frankly, I’m a bit afraid.

There were a couple of other spots that missed the boat (Yellowtail just cannot figure out ads – I mean, who would be disappointed and startled to see a kangaroo at their birthday party??), but overall, there wasn’t too much to complain about. Until we get to the two “ugly” ads that I’ll cover later this week. Can you guess what they might be?

What were some other ads that made your “bad” list and what are your takeaways? Share them in the comments!