super-bowl-partyWell, another Super Bowl is in the books. Booyah! The Monday-morning quarterbacking of ads has come and gone, too – happy Friday! – making it the perfect time to chime in with my two cents.

Don’t worry, I won’t go into detail about the ads themselves; you’ve seen them several times now and the novelty has worn off. No, this blog isn’t so much about the ads themselves as it is about ad placement. There’s an appropriate time and place for every marketing message, so here’s the question on my mind:

Is the Super Bowl the right fit for ads of a serious, educational and/or tear-jerking nature?

I should preface this by admitting I didn’t watch the Super Bowl. I viewed the ads online afterward. In fact, I know nothing about football; here’s how bad I am: One of our clients, Rockford MELD, is featuring the legendary Tony Dungy at their Feb. 26 fundraiser. Embarrassed to say, I didn’t know who that is (I sure do now). Terry Bradshaw? Rings a bell; he sits behind a sports desk, right? But Carrie Bradshaw…I can tell you girlfriend’s life story.

Clearly, I’m no expert on football. But I hope I’ve learned a thing or two about advertising over the years. And I do love to see how those huge companies with mega budgets pull out all the stops in the battle to dominate TV’s most-watched event.

So there I was in my cozy armchair, cruising the ads on my laptop and—well, wow. That was not what I was expecting. The substance! The social responsibility! The raw emotion! Some ads were funny yet provocative and made me wish my kids weren’t in the room: “Mommy, what’s that blue pill zinging around?” * Awkward silence. * Others I insisted my kids watch with me (#LikeAGirl). And when every ad was watched, analyzed, and some watched again, I was left wondering: Did many of these advertisers miss the mark?

Advertising 101 says to know your audience. I don’t watch football but I’m not one to pass up a Super Bowl party, and I’ve observed that the audience is generally happy. Pumped up. Goofy. Hungry. And definitely thirsty.

Sure, many millions watch because they’re real football fans, much respect. But don’t most people gather around the tube to get away from it all? Take a break from reality? Enjoy some downtime with good snacks and great friends?

What purpose does it serve to smack fun-loving folks in the face with heavy issues like preventing childhood death…missing time with your family…bullying…stereotypes…and, for the love of God, lost puppies?! You know the purpose: BUZZ, of course. Whether or not you liked these ads, they were successful because the advertisers were trending on Twitter and hot topics around every water cooler Keurig 2.0 in the country. Right?

As P.T. Barnum said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Oscar Wilde concurred: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

On the flipside, do controversial ads—and their questionable placement—sometimes generate business backlash? Did that insurance company’s spot on childhood fatality, for example, cause you to pause mid-nacho and start a group discussion on safety precautions and whole-life policies? Positive buzz! Or did it squash your own Super-Bowl buzz enough to produce a negative opinion about the company that aired it, impacting your future insurance-buying decisions?

Motive, too, is questionable with these socially-conscious ads. Sure, the advertisers say they’re doing a public service—but when you’re spending that kind of coin to be seen by millions around the world, we all know it’s about marketing the brand, bottom line. I’d love to think that even my favorite ad had no agenda other than to strike down stereotypes and empower young girls; but I’m cynical enough to know they’re selling a boatload of products in the process. I still love the ad.

It’s risky advertising that gets right up in your face when you least expect it. Like the proverbial uninvited party guest, consumers don’t always welcome that kind of personal space invasion. That’s one of the things I like about the inbound marketing practices we preach here at V2 Marketing Communications. Inbound doesn’t hit your customers over the head with a heavy-handed message; rather, the relevant content you put out there positions you as a helpful partner. On their own terms, qualified leads are drawn right to your website—a civilized approach to modern advertising strategy.

Back to the Super Bowl: It’ll sure be interesting to see if next year’s ads continue along the same vein of social consciousness or revert back to good ol’ slapstick humor. Personally, I’m torn between appreciating the risks some advertisers take and the way others effortlessly connect with their target audience.

What’s your take? I’d love to know.