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Super Bowl Ads: A Story of Too Few Stories

by Joel Machak

In 1967, a couple of interesting things were invented. On January 15th, 1967, the first “Super Bowl” was played. Vince Lombardi’s Packers trounced the Chiefs, 35-10. That same year, an adman named Dick Roth at Wells, Rich, Greene, in New York, invented a form of advertising that we know as the “vignette” TV commercial, using a series of short scenes to show a repeated outcome in a variety of situations.

Roth’s invention was for a campaign for Benson & Hedges cigarettes. The brand’s unique selling proposition was that it was one millimeter longer than the 100-millimeter brands so popular at that time. The campaign featured humorous vignettes showing the negative effects of smoking a cigarette one “silly millimeter” too long.

Today, smoking is thankfully on the wane, but the vignette commercial, and the Super Bowl, are both going strong. On Sunday, from the national anthem through the post-game pod, there were 124 ads. A whopping 24 utilized the vignette style. And another 32 were TV show or movie promos, which mostly rely on a rock ‘em sock ‘em vignette style.

That means 45% were vignettes.

Considering the recent acclaim that a revived appreciation for great storytelling in advertising has received, I found this hard to believe. By the third quarter, I wondered what would happen if someone switched the soundtracks of these vignette spots. Would anyone even notice? I doubt that you remember any of them.

Can you recall the emotional story arc of the vignette spots from H&R Block, the American Oil Institute, Coke, Ultra Beer, Alfa Romeo, or SoFi? They all spent a boatload of money hoping that you might.

But I’ll wager that you can easily tell me the arc of most of these ads: Anheuser-Busch, Kia, Avocados from Mexico, Skittles, 84 Lumber, and Audi. You see my point.

Vignette spots aren’t hard to do. But they are hard to do with a meaningful and surprising insight that connects with the brand and sticks in the mind. I prefer a single, complete and richly detailed story that can hit more emotional notes, and maybe even assemble a genuine melody of heartfelt chords.

Rich and honest stories are felt and remembered. Vignettes certainly get the job done in some minimal fashion, but all too often, little more. And going out and shooting all those different scenes sure feels like you’re accomplishing something great, trust me. But in the end, it’s all just another silly millimeter on the march of advertising history.

But there are great stories to be told. That’s the challenge. Think about it. And join me in rising every day with the passion to do the telling.


Joel Machak

EVP, Executive Creative Director

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