Superbowl Superstar Super-Ads

The Superbowl took place last weekend in the USA, the annual showcase of America’s best advertising efforts, where you can also watch a live Football game during the breaks. While some sporting purists might argue that it’s supposed to be the other way around, the statistics don’t lie – 16 minutes of gameplay over a four hour period, compared with over an hour of commercials, each costing an estimated $5 million to produce. And then, Batman’s latest nemesis/Lady Gaga jumped off the roof.

One of the brands to make headlines due to their Superbowl adverts was T-Mobile. It wasn’t for the advert featuring a tuxedo’d Justin Beiber. Nor was it the one that featured real-life odd couple Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart. No, it was this pair of ’50 Shades of Grey’ themed commercials featuring comedian Kristen Schaal taking aim squarely at Verizon. As soon as the commercials aired, reps from Verizon headed straight to Twitter for some attempts at damage limitation. But T-Mobile’s rogue CEO, John Legere was, as always, already waiting for them and once again got the better of the exchange. It’s a testament to T-Mobile’s attacking tactics that they’ve done so well in such a short space of time, taking the fight directly to their competitors, whose efforts seemed tame by comparison, choosing to focus on loyalty perks, the horrors of billshock and the lengths that people would go to to avoid it.

Phone companies leveraging star power to sell their products is nothing new. In fact, in the UK, it’s been happening for some time. Kevin Bacon stars in a long-running campaign for EE (Everything Everywhere), which has been (mostly) well-received. The star of Footloose is one thing, but for A-List stars, you’ll need to turn to BT (British Telecom) who have splashed the cash to invite over big-name stars such as Bruce Willis, Ryan Reynolds, Alec Baldwin and, most recently, Jeremy Renner to publicise their brand.

So there’s no shortage of stars willing to travel to the UK to make a quick buck, but is there much traffic going the other way? Well we’ve yet to see Dame Judi Dench appear in an advert for Geiko, but there is plenty of work for one of Britain’s more controversial performers. Well, we say ‘work’; the truth is, Ricky Gervais didn’t put a whole lot of effort into this pair of commercials for Verizon a few years ago. But at least these ones have props, and mention the product – which is more than can be said for the two commercials he made for Australian operator Optus.

As with all types of advertising, things can quickly take a dark turn. Feast your eyes, if you dare, on this horrendous reimagining by smartphone manufacturers LG of a world in which we are all Jason Statham. Or perhaps this nightmarish alternate reality is more your speed, in which your smartphone has been replaced by comedian TJ Miller. The worst is saved for rapper Lil’ Wayne, who begins his smartphone journey in wide-eyed innocence as he discovers Samsung’s Galaxy S7 is champagne-proof. But then we see him, presumably some time later, stuck in an endless loop. It is heart-breaking.

As competition between network operators and phone manufacturers heats up, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see even more A-List stars appearing in commercials. Not all of them are going to be successful, of course, but it’s important to remember that we’ve come such a long way since the early days.