The Super Bowl Ads...a day in review

I spent the day at Hulu HQ with a team of folks watching the Super Bowl to release ads to the Hulu AdZone as they aired on TV during the game. It's a crazed day, and I only have a fuzzy recollection of how the game itself actually unfolded.


But here's a running diary of my notes from watching the ads as they aired...


Pregame


It was a much ballyhooed battle between similarly unstoried franchises with many similarities. Of course I'm referring to the battle between LivingSocial and Groupon. After Groupon confirmed it had bought a Super Bowl spot, LivingSocial quickly followed suit. If this coupon site war is one of scale, LivingSocial didn't want to be left behind.


Which company's ads will come out on top? And will their ads during the Super Bowl help consumers to understand the difference between the two companies?


Both aired spots during the pregame. LivingSocial's spot came with the message that it could change your life, a lofty claim indeed. Strangely, the transformation it showed was the evolution of a Harley Davidson-looking grease monkey into a...woman?! Transsexuals may not be large enough a demo to raise too much of a protest online for being used as a punchline, but regardless, it's an odd way to debut your service to over a hundred million people.


Groupon's first ad features beloved forgotten actor Cuba Gooding Jr. enlisting our help to save the whales. Oh, wait, no, we're not appealing to your environmental sympathies, we're using it as a joke! See how edgy we are! Early votes on the AdZone are not rewarding this strategy. Somewhere, an ad agency is working on his "Any PR is good PR" explanation.


And then Christina Aguilera screws up the lyrics to the National Anthem. This will be amazing if it's a live ad for Southwest Airlines: [ding] "Wanna get away?"


Commercial Break 1


The first of the Doritos crowdsourced ads runs: "Pug Attack." Since the Doritos and Pepsi ads were chosen by user votes, they've already been vetted and should do well in the Ad Zone. If you treat this entire body of work from the crowdsourced creative community as coming from a single ad agency, the style holds up as coherent: the ads are all comedic, featuring some twist of a punchline in which someone either does or doesn't get away with something.


Audi runs "Release the Hounds." It feels like a direct attack on Mercedez-Benz and a more tangential attack at BMW. Mercedez = old luxury. Audi = middle-aged luxury. And an appearance by Kenny G! Where has he been? Does he have a Vegas show?


Commercial Break 2


The second crowdsourced ad: Pepsi's "Love Hurts." Yep, it fits my earlier thought on the style of the crowdsourced ads. I wonder if the tone would be similar if a more luxury brand crowdsourced an ad, though by definition those brands would probably be least likely to try such a move.


Commercial Break 3


Budweiser's places a product ad about product placement in the Super Bowl.


Commercial Break 4


Hyundai's "Hypnotized" is an attack on some of Volkswagen's past spots (like this). Will enough people actually get that? I didn't realize Hyundai was attacking that ad style until the end of the ad, and I enjoy the VW ad style, so the reversal didn't work out quite the way they'd intended.


Commercial Break 5


In Kia's "One Epic Ride" a wealthy tycoon surrounded by bikini-clad babes a 200 foot yacht hires a henchman to steal a Kia Optima with a helicopter and fly it over the ocean to the yacht. The Kia ad ends noting that prices start under $19K. I think that guy on the yacht could just buy a Kia Optima with his black Amex card. I feel cognitive dissonance.


Commercial Break 6


The Bridgestone ad serves as a good time to remind people that the ability to recall an e-mail doesn't really work.


Commercial Break 7


Budweiser's "Wild West": copyright Cameron Crowe.


Teleflora's Faith Hill ad is a historic moment. I have no evidence to support this claim, but I believe it's the first time a nationally televised ad in the U.S. has used the word "rack" in that connotation. You know what connotation I mean. Not like a spice rack. Unless, well, I guess with some people you could use it that way.


Commercial Break 8


The girl in Motorola's "Empower the People" spot looks like the offspring of Eliza Dushku and Sarah Michelle Gellar, if they could actually conceive a child together.


Commercial Break 9


We meet yet another one of the Matthews clan, this brother is starring in Thor.


And then we see an ad that was already unveiled to the world earlier this week, Volkswagen's "The Force." Like most people, I'm a fan. What little boy didn't want so much to believe in The Force when they first saw Star Wars? The boy who lived in the house across the yard from me growing up believed so strongly in the idea that he'd blindfold himself and have me throw objects at him while he yielded a plastic sword and tried to swat them away. What occurred was more of an endorsement for the scientific method than the existence of The Force, though I draw on the visual memory of racquet balls bouncing off of his head whenever I need a laugh.


Incidentally: German auto manufacturer, John Williams "Imperial March" theme song, the well-known intentional visual parallels between the costumes and formations of the Imperial Army in Star Wars and German troops from WWII? Interesting subtext.


Speaking of Hitler Germany, if an advertiser licenses the Hitler rant scene from Downfall and remixes it into a Super Bowl ad one of these days, the Internet will explode.


Commercial Break 10


Snickers is doubling down after its success with Betty White last year. Richard Lewis, Roseanne...can Eric Roberts and Joan Rivers be far behind?


Finally, more footage from J.J. Abrams Super 8. The music (James Horner?) and imagery evoke early Spielberg. My nostalgia for early magical Spielberg (E.T., anyone) is almost as strong as my nostalgia for my childhood.


Also, it features Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) from Friday Night Lights. The series finale is this week, and I am beyond sad to see the series end. Why the networks will replace such a fantastic show with some new show that gets cancelled after 3 episodes is beyond me.


Commercial Break 11


Many are disappointed that we live in the year 2011 and haven't achieved the Jetsons future once predicted for us. We don't have jetpacks or robot maids that we can order around just by speaking to them, we can't live forever, we haven't cured cancer, and our cars don't hover or drive themselves...but what's this? Our cars can now read our Facebook news feeds to us? Hah! Advantage...ummm...Facebook?


Paramount unveils its trailer for Captain America: The First Avenger. It looks like the usual paint-by-numbers superhero action flick, but if there was ever a time for a Captain America movie, this might be the year. Given our economic difficulties in recent year, the story of a scrawny American who takes a super serum and turns into a muscular superhero may be the type of escapist fantasy Americans turn to Hollywood for. Let's have him create some jobs at home while he's unseating oppressive regimes around the world.


Commercial Break 12


Given some of the occasional social controversy over where and in what conditions our consumer goods are manufactured (e.g. Foxconn), it's a bold and bizarre move for Sony Ericsson to play into that meme head on with their ad depicting an Android mascot being operated on in some dingy back-alley hovel in some unnamed Asian country. Also, the metaphor of grafting a thumb onto the Android mascot is a strange one as it implies, perhaps unintentionally, that the gaming controls in the ad were grafted onto this smartphone rather than being built into the phone from the start.


Halftime


The Salesforce.com ads for Chatter.com (here and here) were shot to bookend the halftime show by the Black Eyed Peas, so they may not play as well out of context. Actually, they didn't play that well in context, either. Were they meant to be abstract? Their only saving grace was the fact that the Black Eyed Peas' halftime show was so awful it served as a much larger target for vicious feedback on Twitter.


Commercial Break 15


Not content to just offend environmentalists, Groupon airs its second ad: "Tibet." Perhaps the blowback from the ad will fade in time. How many people still nurse a grudge over the homophobic Snickers ad or the two racist SalesGenie.com ads from Super Bowl XLII? But for now, it serves as an distasteful nudge to unsubscribe from the Groupon mailings, none of which have been topically or geographically relevant to me for months now.


Coca Cola doesn't dance anywhere near the line of controversy. Their second ad, "Border," and their first ad, "Siege," are two data points that draw a straight line. This is the Watchmen plot remixed. It's not a common foe that will unite is in world peace but our love of sugary carbonated sodas.


Commercial Break 17


This entire ad break is one epically long two-minute ad, and it's a great one. It builds to a dramatic and unexpected twist, signaled by the quiet fading in of that great guitar riff from "Lose Yourself." Who better than Eminem as the symbol of Detroit reborn: raw, blue collar, tough, steeled by rehab? B-Rabbit! B-Rabbit!


By the way, when is Eminem going to act again? He was good in 8 Mile.


Commercial Break 20


Looking for the Angry Birds secret code in the Rio trailer? It's in this moment embedded below.








Or if you just want to see it...


Hulu - AdZone 2011

Commercial Break 21


With their second ad "Black Beetle" it seems that Volkswagen will be the big winner in the Super Bowl ad battle. Some brands and agencies might extrapolate from this that they should also release their Super Bowl ads before the game itself, but that's the wrong conclusion.


Commercial Break 24


Kim Kardashian for Skechers. You know, I think that sex tape worked out for her after all.


And your Mr. Irrelevant for 2011: Fox's house ad for their new program Terra Nova. The tagline should read: Lost, except on Fox.


Okay, I'm headed home to catch up on this football game that happened today. It's amazing how much people have started caring about that football game that runs during the ads each February. I really think this whole Super Bowl concept might turn into something for the NFL.


Louie

One of the best new shows of this summer TV season was Louis. As with Seinfeld, the series stars the titular comedian playing himself, a standup comedian, and each episode commingles scenes of Louis CK doing standup with dramatizations of events in his life.


Unlike Seinfeld, the series isn't family-friendly. It's what you'd hope Seinfeld would be if it got translated for FX. Louis doesn't tone down his standup material subject matter or language for this show, and that's one reason it works (unlike his previous TV series Lucky Louie). Each episode can start on one subject and end up somewhere entirely unexpected, almost like a Simpsons episode (Seinfeld always brought its story threads together each episode, but episodes of Louis can skip across multiple subjects, giving it the feel of a standup routine). The wide tonal range of the show is one of its signatures. Some episodes aren't comedic at all, and many of those are the strongest of the series.


One standout was the episode "Bully" which covers as much ground as Louis himself in the episode, starting one place and ending somewhere entirely unexpected (because of its meandering subject matter from one episode to the next, watching the series out of order isn't problematic):








The series ranges from the dark tragedy at the root of standup, but within the same episode can introduce sudden moments of grimy sublimity as in the visually lyrical closing scene to the first season:








The show has been renewed for another 13 episode season. Good stuff.


A Hulu success story

I'm fairly certain this is the most successfully named movie in Hulu's catalog. Not that you need to make a movie with "sex" in the title to hit it big, but given the powerful bloc of young males voting with their mouse clicks and search queries, it was a built-in advantage. You still need to make something people want to watch; attracting that first click doesn't get you the full check, but with each ad break you keep a viewer through earns you additional revenue.


Still, the naming shouldn't be discounted here. The filmmaker Stevie Long didn't know his movie would end up on Hulu so it may just be chance, but knowing your distribution medium and tailoring something to break through on that medium is something more independent artists looking to break through should consider. When Jeff Bezos founded Amazon, he specifically wanted a name for the company that began with the letter A because so many directories for the web were organized alphabetically back then. Being on page 1 was a big deal.


Strictly Sexual is also a testament to the power of free, or in this case, semi-free. There are many sites that will charge you $5 for an online rental of indie films, but if you're an independent filmmaker who thinks someone will drop $5 on a movie they've never heard of, you're likely overvaluing monetary payback and undervaluing exposure. But Long's example shows you don't always have to trade off between the two. Per CNN, he's reinvesting his profits into his next film, "Porn Star: The Ugly Life of a Beautiful Girl," which he'll release directly on the internet.


Why mess with the formula?



Weeeeiiirrrddd

Last night's opening segment of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart cracked me up and puts the revelations from Game Change in perspective, though I'm still going to read the crap out of it. It's difficult to tell how readers are receiving it as the reviews for the book on Amazon are skewed by dozens of 1-star reviews from users who haven't read the book but are angry that a Kindle version wasn't issued. Amazon does show when a user was a verified purchaser of a book; it would be useful someday if they could allow you to see only the average rating and reviews from that subset of readers.


Also, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are up in widescreen on Hulu now. We had to work through that workflow with the Comedy Central folks, but we were able to retain captions in the widescreen files which was important for us.








Alicia and Stephen

Monsieur Colbert gives Alicia Keys an assist on "Empire State of Mind."







At the start line of the NY Marathon this year, as we stood at the foot of the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, waiting for them to release our wave, they had someone sing the National Anthem and God Bless America, and then they blasted Jay-Z and Alicia's majestic "Empire State of Mind" over the loudspeakers. We were all so pumped up that when the pistol shot fired to start us, all thoughts of not going out too fast were tossed aside and carried away by the stiff winds that morning. We all blasted through that first mile up the bridge in record time; I'd pay the debt for that some 17 miles later.


When I hear that song, I'll always think of that moment at the foot of the bridge, thousands of people hopping and vibrating in place, all overflowing with anticipation and nervous energy.



Art forms America produced

Quote from this interview with Neal Adams on Hulu:



If you scratch a French fellow who is interested in this sort of thing, he will tell you that America is responsible for three forms of art: jazz, musical comedy and, guess what, comic books.



What about obesity?! Is that not an art form?


The interview occurred in conjunction with the launch of the Astonishing X-Men motion comic on Hulu, the first miniseries being Gifted, scripted by Joss Whedon. The problem with earlier motion comics was that they were just a series of Ken Burns-esque pans against stills that seemed to have neither the benefits of holding a comic book (e.g. the ability to control one's pacing through the material, the fun of seeing how the artist uses the page layout to control the flow of one's eye) nor the joys of actual motion pictures (those should be apparent to all who love movies).


This new Astonishing X-Men motion comic adds an axis or two of motion (heads bob, lips move, eyes blink, etc). It is an improvement, reminiscent of some 80's cartoons (Voltron comes to mind) which weren't truly full motion but which contained just enough to qualify to be called cartoons.



El Bulli, Dan Brown, et al

Man hits the culinary lottery and gets a reservation at El Bulli, then recounts his meal in comic book form. 30 courses! I felt engorged and exhausted just reading about all the dishes.


***


Bill Maher rants at Huffington Post about the idiocy of Americans in an article titled "New Rule: Smart President ≠ Smart Country." Bryan Caplan would be proud.


At times like this, trying to pass some form of healthcare reform, even a watered-down version because of the difficulty of getting any big change through the conservative institutional roadblock that we call the Senate, one wonders how the government has ever achieved anything on behalf of anyone other than a special interest.


Obama took his argument directly to the people in an Op-Ed in the NYTimes. I'm curious who was the last President of the U.S. to write an Op-Ed in a major American newspaper. I'm going to go out on a limb and say it wasn't the previous occupant of the office.


An interesting sidenote to the whole debate on healthcare reform is the uproar over Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's editorial in the Wall Street Journal arguing against the health care bill on the table. The Opinionator over the the NYTimes tracks the timeline of the whole brouhaha. If you disagree with Mackey, I don't think boycotting Whole Foods is the solution, but I do think CEO's of companies need to be careful of what they say because it's too convenient to read their comments as representative of the views of Whole Foods as a company, and it's dangerous to ascribe too many coherent policy decisions to a capitalist institution, even one like Whole Foods which many people associate with a progressive lifestyle.


***


Andrew Collins examines the global phenomenon that is Dan Brown, universally reviled by literary critics and other writers but whose next novel The Lost Symbol will command the largest first print run in Random House history at 6.5 million.


I'm not sure it's such a paradox that someone can be a bad writer yet spin a real page-turner. What grabbed me about The Da Vinci Code was the fabricated secret that tied together so many known quantities in history in a clever way, from The Last Supper to Mary Magdalene and everything in between.


The plots of his stories themselves never strike me as plausible or gripping, his characters are two-dimensional (and that may be generous, though perhaps I'm being sexist in finding gorgeous and leggy nuclear physicist Vittoria Vetra of Angels and Demons a bit implausible), nor is his command of the English language that noteworthy. After all, one chapter of The Da Vinci Code concludes with this sentence, one that would have failed me out of my first year fiction writing class in college:



Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.



***


A physicist writes that The Time Traveler's Wife may be the most scientifically accurate movie treatment of time travel ever. No comment on whether the cheesy slow dissolve of Eric Bana each time he travels through time is also consistent with the laws of physics, or whether his expressionless acting is a consequence of too many leaps through time and space.


The article's a good read, though, as I didn't realize that physicists had come to such consensus around these constraints of time travel. I still say The Terminator remains the most brilliant time travel movie because of its stunning revelation that by going back in time to change the future you just create it, illustrated in the movie by the Moebius strip of a plot in which John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect his mom, only to have Kyle Reese become his father.


In that twist, the movie adheres to one of the principles stated in this article, the so-called "self-consistency problem," that is, "You can't kill your own grandfather."


***


Justice Antonin Scalia and Thomas, the Twiddle Dee and Dum of the Supreme Court, argued in the minority against allowing a prisoner to challenge his murder conviction after many witnesses recanted their testimony and implicated another person as the actual murderer. Scalia, in his dissent (PDF), claims the following:



This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually

So...

Ann Shaff examines the ascent of the word "so" among this technology-raised generation.


***


Pics from some lucky person who received the Mad Men season 3 press kit.


The season 3 premiere is this Sunday at 10pm. I will be planted in front of my TV then, yes.


***


Can you measure grit? Maybe so.


Many books and articles have been written recently about how genius is overrated and hard work underrated, so that idea isn't the interesting point here. The idea that a survey can assess a person's grit with some accuracy is a bit surprising. Let's get this to be a standard test in the NFL so I can use the data in my upcoming fantasy football draft.


***


My So-Called Life is on Hulu now. Among the most beloved of the "one and done" shows in my lifetime, I'm looking forward to catching up on it online.








Live from the Artists Den

We just launched Live from the Artists Den at Hulu. It's a concert series in which an artist is invited to perform in a non-standard venue in a town, the performances recorded for broadcast.


Long before we signed this content provider, I received an invite to attend one of their concerts, an Aimee Mann performance at LA's Vibiana Cathedral.







On the road last week I perused the video to see if I made it into any shots, and 4 minutes in, I caught a glimpse of myself as I was sitting in the front row.


Hulu - Live from the Artists Den: Aimee Mann


Here's another good one in the series, The Swell Season, of Once fame.








Sports Guy, we love you

Eric (our CTO) and I are both card carrying members of Sports Guy Nation. So it's extra special whenever he posts any reference or link to Hulu.


He tweeted about an episode of Miami Vice on Hulu:



Go to the 42-minute mark of this Miami Vice clip: http://tinyurl.com/lkfome ... Has there ever been a better use of a song in TV history?



With over 100K followers on Twitter, he has some influence, and so that ep of Miami Vice is creeping up our Most Popular Videos list, up to page 4 at last check, which is pretty strong for a random library episode of a show that isn't new to the service.


Here's a direct link to just the music reference he mentions:







This song was used later to end another TV episode to great effect, the "Two Cathedrals" episode of The West Wing. That was actually the season finale of the second season of the show. It's one of my favorite West Wing episodes.


Here is a reciprocal link for Bill Simmons: his new book on the NBA comes out this fall.