All right kids, it’s that time again! Whether your team won or lost or you don’t care about sportsball at all, you might have spared a moment or two for the secondary contest of Sunday evening…and I’m not talking about the highly contested puppy bowl (everyone wins there).

That’s right, it’s time for my annual review of Super Bowl Commercials.

As we did last year, we’re seeing a positive upward trend. Brands are spending a lot of money, and they’re doing it wisely for a change, with mostly good, solid commercials. We saw a lot of themes on social justice and togetherness, along with some clever humor. There were a couple of truly ugly spots, including some local ads that only ran in the tri-state area (you’ll have to wait for next week for those!). But overall, it was a solid crop of advertising wins. Pat yourselves on the back for a change, agencies!

One overall trend I saw on a couple of spots that I think we’ll see more of is the overlaying of the brand watermark on the ad. We have been seeing hashtags for the last few years, which I think will continue to be the case, but with so many brands focusing on more social messages, and delivering on stories rather than pushing their product in your face (something I embrace, by the way), we’ll also see more of this brand watermarking so that there’s no mistaking who is delivering the message.

Of course, that makes it a little bit difficult to choose the top spots, but there were a couple of clear winners, with lessons for lawyers and law firms, to share with you here. Let’s relive those.

Coca Cola | The Wonder of Us

This was easy to choose as my favorite spot, and in a year that was full of ads working to be inclusive, I think Coca Cola was one of the only brands to really, truly get it right. Across gender, socio-economic, race, and even ability lines, the message was that they are for everyone. It was an ad that made you feel good, made you want to be a part of what they’re selling, and made you also want to be a part of the solution – it also makes me feel more hope than anxiety for the future. So well-done Coke. (And this is coming from a gal who’s rather fond of Pepsi).

What are the lessons for lawyers and law firms?

  • When you’re focused on diversity and inclusivity, make sure that your message really does include everyone. And more than your message, but everything you stand for as a firm. Are you really welcoming for all genders, identifications, races, abilities?
  • Look for how this is part of your brand message, and not just an afterthought. We’ve talked about this year after year, but many commercials will often have a message that is delivered and the brand is sort of slapped on afterwards as though they just sponsored the ad. T-Mobile’s ad this year was a good example. While I loved the message, it felt more like Kerry Washington shopped around an ad and T-Mobile wanted their name on it – not that it was a message that the brands lives and needed to get out and support. Coke’s ad, in comparison, feels like something that they ARE. They are for everyone. Whether we’re talking strictly about “branding” or “advertising,” give some thought to the feeling that people take away from working with your firm. What do you want them to think and feel when they work with you as a lawyer? Does that seep into everything you do, from the way your office looks to the speed in which you answer your emails to the way in which you treat your colleagues and staff? It all matters.

Amazon | Alexa Loses her Voice

After a holiday season that saw stunning sales of Amazon’s echo products, it’s a good bet that most people either have their own “Alexa” or know someone who does. I’m afraid to even mention her name out of context, lest she comments on whatever comes after that. So Amazon is using humor and a range of celebrities to draw attention to their products in a clever way – how can you not get a kick out of the idea of Gordon Ramsey yelling at you from your AI device, or hearing Sir Anthony Hopkins channel his masterful Silence of the Lambs performance while you’re getting ready for a date?

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

  • One of the key lessons is right in the beginning when Alexa loses her voice, and Jeff Bezos looks to his staff for their backup plan. That’s something that we can ALL identify with – something is definitely going to go wrong at some point, and we’ll need a backup plan that we can be confident in. Obviously, this one went haywire (and is entirely unrealistic), but it does challenge us to think about scenarios that seem totally ridiculous that may arise, and what our response to those should be. One of the things I love is that his staff commits to the plan in the moment, though her face screams out that she’s not at all confident that this will work. How many of us are handling chaos and challenges in the same way? It makes me think of that analogy to swimming ducks, looking calm and serene on the surface, while paddling madly underneath.
  • Another subtle message that this commercial addresses is the idea of who, or what, is your voice? For Amazon, it’s Alexa (and Jeff Bezos, of course). But who is that for your firm, or even your practice? And an interesting corollary concept to that is the question of what do you do when something happens to that voice, as it did in the commercial? This commercial pokes fun at the idea that a piece of technology could lose it’s “voice,” but there are two important points that we should be considering. The first is the idea that good leaders should be able to be absent without everything falling apart, as long as they’ve surrounded themselves with a strong, competent team. In your absence, or in the absence of your firm’s “voice,” can the team still function around him/her? And secondly, are there these things that become so much a part of the tapestry of our lives that we don’t even realize that downtime would have such a huge impact on our productivity? It’s an interesting idea to consider – at one time, we didn’t even function without computers, and now, when I left my smartphone in my coat in the coatroom at lunch the other day, it made me increasingly anxious. I fully embrace Alexa, and other technology solutions, but as we implement them more and more, we should also be cognizant and plan for what happens when and if the machines fail in a time crunch. What are our backups?

Mass Mutual | 2017 Year in Review – The Unsung

This was one of the first commercials I saw, and it rides the line of a Super Bowl commercial, because it was technically shown during the pre-game show. But it is such a beautiful spot, I couldn’t omit it. I tear up watching it every time. Interestingly, another brand also used this song in their Super Bowl ad (Budweiser), but Mass Mutual did the best job here. This whole commercial makes me think of that Mr. Rogers quote “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” Try to watch this and not want to do more for your fellow human.

What are the lessons for lawyers and law firms?

  • Tell stories. That is the thing I love BEST about this ad. It’s not pushy on the brand (though I can tell you that all the way through, I knew this was an insurance commercial – it just felt like one). But it tells you stories. They’re unified through the song, and in that they’re all about helping, the message being that Mass Mutual is all about helping it’s customers and standing by them. But one of the fastest ways to connect with people and let them know what you’re about is to tell stories.
  • Show solutions. The other thing that Mass Mutual does here is that the stories are about fixing things, and offering hope. That seems like it might not be relevant for lawyers and law firms, but it really is – you are often working with your clients to get them the best deal, advocate for their interests, helping to fix the things that aren’t working or have gotten them into difficulty. The stories that you tell about what you do can be about those solutions and how you made your clients feel – THAT is more important than the mechanics of the law, and will be the thing that future clients care more about when they’re trying to decide whether to hire you.

NBC Sports | Olypmics

Normally, I wouldn’t include the NBC spots in my recap, since NBC is airing the Super Bowl, but the Olympics ads were SO good that I’m counting them this year. This is just one example, but I’m considering the full range of Olympics spots as winners in this round, especially the above, Lauren Woolstencroft, and Lindsey Vonn. That NBC led with three strong female profiles in their athlete ads was incredible to me (it also is the least they can do after their Matt Lauer scandal), and it has me even more excited for the Winter Olympics than I already was.

What are the lessons for lawyers and law firms?

  • We’ve already talked about the importance of stories, but what if we drilled down and told YOUR stories? We know that lawyer bios are the most trafficked parts of a firm’s website, and I can picture something like the above, re-imagining a lawyer as they grow from a small child to a student studying for the bar, to the tough-as-nails negotiator that clients want to have today. What if you told your stories the way that NBC Sports told their athletes’ stories? Could you drive the same passion and excitement around supporting you and your firm that there is around cheering for the Olympics?

Tide | It’s a Tide Ad

I think we can all agree that after a certain point, these ads were a bit old. But to start with, it was a really funny, clever idea. It not only pokes fun at every Super Bowl commercial ever (and do they not NAIL them on the head?), but it also gets you thinking “yes, actually, they’re right – you never see stains in commercials!” So, maybe every ad IS a Tide ad.

Tide did a great job last year, and I enjoyed this year’s spots (until the last two or three) as well. What can lawyers and law firms learn?

  • Know when to quit. It’s great to be funny and clever, but at a certain point, we get the message. That’s true of any message. While it is definitely the case that it’s difficult to stand out in a world full of noise, and to do so, you often have to be repetitive, it’s also true that you can be *too* pushy and repeat your message too much. Knowing when to quit is as important as understanding what’s funny, and how to deliver a good message.
  • Simple can be brilliant. Tide does an excellent job here of grabbing a simple concept and running with it. No one has ever noticed before that of course most commercials don’t have people wearing stained clothes (depending on context of course). None of their competitors have ever picked up on that idea and run with it. While other brands have mocked epic commercials before, Tide was the first to take this small, simple idea and mock all of them. Simple, but effective. Sometimes, what seems like an easy idea can actually be brilliant. What is a small issue that you can solve for your clients over and over again (and maybe even something that you can create an app or outsource for them – firms are already doing this) that would set you apart?

Honorable Mention:

There were SO many great spots, that I can’t fail to mention a few other spots that I just loved.

  • NFL | Touchdowns to Come: The lead up spots to this were so odd and strange that I couldn’t put this in the top five, but the final wrap up piece was absolutely one of my all-time favorite ads. When he stops the ref and says “Let them dance,” I lost it. The NFL did a great job here.
  • Tourism Australia: The biggest disappointment about this is that it’s not going to be an actual movie. Tourism Australia captured everyone’s attention by creating a trailer-style ad, with Chris Hemsworth, no less, AND a cameo by the original Crocodile Dundee. There is so much to love about this spot. I even shared it with my own lawyers for our upcoming conference in Melbourne.
  • Doritos: Doritos usually lands themselves on my naughty list, but I loved this spot. I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones, so I was really happy to see Peter Dinklage, but when Morgan Freeman started lip syncing “Get Your Freak On,” I almost fell off my couch. They missed a top spot because I felt like they relied too much on star power, as usual. Great ad, but not creative as connected to their brand.
  • Kraft: Family Greatly: I really loved this concept, and had there not been so many amazing ads, it would have made it in my top five. Kraft crowd-sourced content during the Super Bowl to use in a later spot during the game – genius use of social media to engage fans, show what their brand is all about, and make it a multimedia campaign.
  • Dodge Vikings: Not a lot of people I know saw this commercial, but I loved it, particularly with the Super Bowl taking place in Minneapolis, home of the Vikings. I thought it was hilarious and clever, with good subtle product placement. Also, I have a secret love of Queen (not so secret now), so I can never turn down a commercial that includes “We will Rock You.”
  • E*Trade Retirement Account: This is another one that I think a lot of people missed, but it also clever – easy to remember the brand and the product, but sold in a smart way.

What were some of your favorites? Stay tuned for my Bad and Ugly posts, which are still to come!