US / Super Bowl...And Beyond
Super Bowl spots indicate a broader tendency to mine US culture
America is in the mood to celebrate its heritage right now, and rural culture is taking centre-stage. First up, there's the Coen brothers' remake of 1969 Western, True Grit (starring Jeff Bridges, pictured, above) which looks set to net at least one Oscar, having been nominated in 10 categories.
Meanwhile, country music is enjoying a resurgence: the Country Music Television Awards ceremony saw its audience increase by 19% last year, while urban bars and restaurants are stocking moonshine and serving up deviled eggs.
Contagious has already reported on Levi's Braddock project, Ready To Work, which last summer began to connect Gen Y Americans back to their real world local community. What's more, newer brands exploring these roots are performing well: Stillhouse Distillery's Original Moonshine Clear Corn Whiskey, launched back in September, is flying off the shelves in upmarket watering holes and has attracted over 4m Twitter followers.
It's not just country roots that are being celebrated, either. This year's Super Bowl ads referenced key points in American culture. The New York Times' ad columnist, Stuart Elliott, described the ads surrounding the event, which attracted a record 111m viewers - as 'a wild -- and somewhat welcome -- ride through six decades of popular culture.'
Take the spot for Carmax.com, which offered a cheeky nod to 1985 classic flick Back To The Future by showing a confused 2011 driver at an old-fashioned gas station, circa 1955. The driver is deeply suspicious when an embarrassment of staff come up to the car and spontaneously start cleaning it. Relevance back to the brand? ' At Carmax we believe that customer service shouldn't be a thing of the past.' Neat. The NFL, meanwhile, resurrected footage from sitcoms throughout the years and turned stars into boosters, putting everyone from Richie Cunningham to Steve Urkel in fan apparel for its promo spot.
And the undoubted star of the Super Bowl was Volkswagen which netted first and third position in a Hulu survey of the overall most-liked spots. The most popular ad, 'The Force', which has now been watched over 20.5m times on YouTube alone, references one of America's best-loved cultural exports: Star Wars. (Contagious reported on the ad -- and picked it as a front-runner for most popular spot -- as it broke prior to the Super Bowl last week.
Probably the most hotly anticipated spot aired during the third quarter of the game, a two-minute paean to the gritty determination of the Motor City from Chrysler. The airtime alone cost $12m, a fact noted by many who've begun to mind the automaker's pennies for it since it received bailout money and became partly owned by the US government. But that advance notice had many waiting to see what the company had up its sleeve. The spot itself, featuring rapper Eminem, captured hearts, and the longer-form content enabled by the media buy created an actual poignant pause in the orgiastic rush that certainly overshadowed the on-field action this year. (The Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in a game they led most of the way.) In perhaps a rare moment of celebrity serving as voice-of-reason for the brand, sources say Eminem was paid $3m for his appearance, but also given final edit rights over the spot, and wound up cutting himself out of most of the footage.
Expect this trend to stick around as American culture is mined for nostalgia and reasons to be cheerful while what has been dubbed the Great Recession continues to take its toll.