Don’t Worry, Sell Happy

Consumer sentiment reflected in Super Bowl ads, and RadioShack offers lesson for c-stores

East Rutherford, N.J.-- As the green and blue confetti fell at MetLife Stadium Sunday evening, arguably as many experts were analyzing the commercials as were the ones scrutinizing the plays on the field.

Aside from providing pure entertainment, the Super Bowl ads mirror consumer sentiment—or at least what marketers think consumers want to feel. So not only do the commercials reveal where the major companies are putting all their dollars this year, but they also provide retailers an opportunity to see how their own brands and retail experiences match up to today’s consumer culture.

One analysis comes from The New York Times, where Stuart Elliott sums it up in a word: nice.

“Most of the commercials that Fox broadcast nationally during Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday sought to invoke fuzzy feelings that would warm the cockles of consumer hearts, if not MetLife Stadium,” Elliott wrote. “The television and social media audiences were exhorted repeatedly to forget their troubles and put on a smiley face.”

(Read the complete story here.)

Ad spots from Heinz, Budweiser and even GoDaddy and Axe—two brands notorious for raunchy commercials—opted for happy, sentimental and patriotic themes, especially compared to recent years when advertisers relied on sophomoric jokes for shock factor and easy laughs.

Gone was even the wacky irreverence found in many recent marketing campaigns, best exemplified by Old Spice and Skittles. In its place was genuineness, through and through.

Elliott pointed to backlash against past Super Bowl commercials that were considered too sexist or snarky—backlash big enough to force companies such as GoDaddy and Groupon to publicly apologize and re-edit their ads.

“The ability of social media to make it easier and faster for consumers to make and share complaints is apparently influencing the content of commercials on the biggest day of the year for advertising: Few want to risk running spots perceived to be on the bleeding edge of taste or acceptability when they can be demonized in a day,” he said.

(This reminds me of a recent news story I heard about “American Idol.” In light of a growing distaste for negativity and bullying among the American public, the show is trying to move away from its mean edge this season by cutting back on the roasting of contestants during the tryout episodes and swapping contentious judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey for the more docile Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr.)

The ad that has received the most accolades—notably named Ad Age’s top spot of the Bowl—was from RadioShack, and it actually succeeds at addressing a problem many c-stores also face: consumer perception.

The ad comes as RadioShack completely updates its in-store experience, and the company used its airtime to acknowledge that it’s been a bit behind the times.

(Watch the ad here.)

“[If] Americans think of RadioShack at all, it’s as a relic,” wrote Ken Wheaton of Ad Age. In the commercial, a store clerk, after answering the phone, announces: “The ’80s called. They want their store back.” In comes just about every ’80s character, real and fictional, from Alf and Chucky to Mary Lou Retton and Hulk Hogan. They loot the store, and the viewer gets a look at RadioShack’s new design.

“Whether or not that convinces people to walk into the stores remains to be seen, but altogether a solid attempt to persuade them,” Wheaton wrote.

As c-store retailers invest heavily in their stores to lure in females, moms, millennials and others beyond Bubba, think about RadioShack’s approach. Acknowledge the reality—that, right or wrong, consumer’s perception of c-stores is sometimes less than savory—and have a sense of humor about it in a tasteful, feel-good way.

And try to get Alf in your ad.