OpEd: Y&R’s Lora Schulson Says the Best Super Bowl Ad Belongs to E*Trade

By Matt Van Hoven Comment

Lora Schulson is the executive director of content production at Young & Rubicam. We asked her to talk about her views on whether or not TV is dead. Yes, it is, she says, but controversial Super Bowl ads bring it back to life (if only for one day a year). And after this bowl, it may all be over.

This year there are a couple of new tricks, like starting a political brawl during a sporting event (Thanks Tim Tebow!) and a couple of old ones, like getting your ad banned before the game even starts (Nice work, Mancrunch.com!)

I have to admit that I was part of a team that pioneered that last gag. But it was a total accident. Really. I produced a Snickers Super Bowl spot a few years ago that was pulled after it ran once on the game. The spot showed two macho mechanics working together over a car engine and their lips accidentally meet when they chew on both ends of the Snickers bar. We thought it was a sweet homage to “The Lady and The Tramp.” But we ended up pissing off both the extreme right and the gay community. We managed to offend everyone. And the spot probably got more exposure than it would have otherwise.

But we didn’t set out to offend. Our intention was to make a funny ad, making fun of dumb dudes. You know, beer ad advertising without the kick in the balls. We had no idea it was going to cause so much drama. In retrospect, I guess we were kind of naïve.

Mancrunch.com has really taken it to the next level because they didn’t even have to spend the $2.5M in media on the Super Bowl to get on Larry King and own a piece of the Internet for a couple of days. There’s a rumor that they didn’t even have the media dollars to run their ad. But I think everyone is starting to wise up to this little game and this might be the last year that Super Bowl advertisers can get all this attention without actually running their ad on the Super Bowl. It’s just fake controversy to fill up time on cable news and space on HuffPo between more ads. Ironic, no?

And fake controversy is a little like a sugar high. Short and sweet and followed by a crash. If you’re Mancrunch.com maybe it’s marketing genius. If you’re a Fortune 500 company, I’m not so sure you can build brands on controversy alone.

With the hungry social-media mouth to feed, controversy is the easy way to get people talking. Easier than making a good ad. I was thinking about one of my favorite SB ads of all time. It didn’t involve two guys kissing, or a girl shaking her enormous boobs. It was for E*trade. It has a monkey and two slow guys (trying to avoid my own controversy) clapping to a song in a garage with the tag line “Well, we just wasted two million dollars. What are you doing with your money?” It was really funny and tied back to what they were selling. If there was Twitter in 2000, I think it would have fueled the conversation.

I guess I think of it this way. You go to a party. You want people to remember that you were there. You want to make a lasting impression. So you take a crap in the punch bowl. No one will forget you were there. But couldn’t you make a lasting impression in another memorable way?

After Sunday, everyone will have another 364 days to try and get it right.