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Super Bowl ad preview: Pop overload

Imagine an alien from another planet—such as Europe—landing in America and trying to make sense of what we call Super Bowl commercials.

First of all, Super Bowl commercials these days don’t necessarily air during the television broadcast we call the Super Bowl. Granted, that’s where most people see them (over 100 million viewers), but people really paying attention see them in advance (the tens of millions of us who view the commercials online). These days, the online versions are longer edits released to build buzz.

Second, Super Bowl ads increasingly require a great deal of cultural context just to make sense. Ad writers are loading them with layers upon layers of movie, TV and music references. That’s fine if you’re a geek, a scholar of American culture, or of the exact right demographic to have have watched “Star Wars” more than twice. But what about the rest of America?

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Some examples. How many people will really get this commercial for Honda (agency: RPA)? It’s funny if, like me, you’re a nerd who has the 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” practically memorized. But most people interested in buying a Honda SUV probably aren’t that committed to the canon of 1980s high school comedies—in which case this whole spot will whoosh right over their heads.

Or how about this ad for Acura, a multi-layered fantasy that seems to take place entirely in Jerry Seinfeld’s subconscious? (Agency: RPA’s rp& division.) You’ll might get a chuckle out of it, because you’re a culturally plugged-in person who uses the Internet to learn about advertising. But will your average Acura shopper get it, as it flashes by fleetingly between ads for snacks and beer?

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These are just two examples, but watch for more to be released this week.

Pepsi is planning some sort of commercial starring Elton John.

And there’s also yet another homage to “Mean Joe Greene” Super Bowl spot for Coke from 1980—with Greene reprising the role. The remake is by Grey advertising for Proctor & Gamble’s Downy brand. (Coke Zero also did a spoof of the Joe Greene ad in 2009.)

Here’s the Downy ad:

And here’s the original Joe Greene commercial to refresh your memory (or if you weren’t born yet):

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Bottom line is, get in gear for pop culture quiz night when you watch the Super Bowl this year.

The other takeaway: These are big-budget commercials with expensive talent. If there’s any trend shaping up for this year’s Super Bowl commercials, it’s that: Brands aren’t afraid to look like they’re spending money again. They must think the hype is worth it.

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Related link: Adweek is doing a nice job collecting news about the upcoming Super Bowl ads.

Also: Follow @BreakingCopy on Twitter, where I’ll be live-Tweeting Super Bowl ads, with a copywriting spin.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Advertising

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