Super Bowl Ads Split The Difference

Did you have any nightmares last night that involved Puppymonkeybaby?

That’s the name of the computer-animated, part-pug, part-monkey, part-human infant creature that Mountain Dew debuted yesterday (Feb. 7) in its Super Bowl ad for its Kickstart product.

Based on social media response, many people found the pint-sized anthropomorphic beast (whose purpose, in the vague narrative of the commercial, is to inspire a group of millennials to find the energy to party; you keep doing you, Mountain Dew) to be disturbing, to put it mildly.

Regardless of individual opinions of the mascot, can Mountain Dew call its debut a success based on the sheer numbers of people that are talking about it online? At the very least, the outcome gives the company a metric by which to measure the ad’s — and, therefore, the product’s — exposure, one that it would not have been able to access in the pre-social media era.

While it cost Mountain Dew $5 million (give or take) to debut the 30-second spot in the first quarter of the NFL’s Championship Punt-A-Thon, one could argue that the commercial’s “life after broadcast” — i.e., the aforementioned online conversation and view counts approaching 9 million (as of last night) — is the real payoff of the ad spend, more so than the immediate, fleeting discussions it might have garnered at any given Super Bowl party across the country yesterday.

Heading into the big game, covering the bases (or hash marks, maybe?) of the multiple formats through which an increasing amount of people consume televised media was part of many brands’ strategies. The result was a TV event dotted largely with commercials that were — by design — smaller in scope than in Super Bowls past but simultaneously positioned to gain viral traction beyond TVs themselves.

“The gold standard [of Super Bowl advertising] is a creative, clever approach that reinforces a key brand benefit, whether functional or emotional, at a deep level,” Charles Taylor, a professor of marketing at Villanova University, told Variety. The directional shift that Super Bowl 50 marked, however, was defined by quick-bite spots that “grab attention but really don’t do much to reinforce the brand’s unique selling proposition.”

One example that the Variety piece highlights is a commercial for Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Shock Top beer. What the brand chose to air of comedian T.J. Miller’s conversation with Shock Top’s talking orange “wedgehead” mascot during the game was only part of the campaign’s story; a number of alternate versions were assembled and posted to YouTube.

Taking the integration of online-friendly television advertisements even further, the website-building platform Squarespace, Variety points out, used its in-game Super Bowl commercial, featuring the comic duo Key & Peele, as merely a launching point for a live online session during which the pair — staying in their characters from the spot — commented on the continuing game broadcast.

The New York Times, in its recap of yesterday’s Super Bowl ads, argues that brands’ split focus across multiple media channels resulted in the television broadcast playing host to a large amount of what Andrew Essex, former vice chairman of the advertising agency Droga5, calls the “same old, same old. Celebrity, silly and deadly serious seems to be the new formula.”

If there was a competitor to “Puppymonkeybaby” in a brand’s attempt to generate online conversation through shock (and not a small amount of disgust) in its Super Bowl 50 ad, it might have been Doritos, whose offering depicted a fetus diving out of its mother’s womb to satisfy its craving for nacho cheese tortilla chips. That spot, NYT shares (relying on data from, accounted for 3.5 percent of online activity and 100,000 social posts during the game, eventually garnering 12 million online views by day’s end.

As Carol Goll, partner and head of global branded entertainment at ICM, told Variety, brands (and their advertising companies) went into the Super Bowl “looking at ways to extend their conversation. They want it to start before the game and to continue after the game.”

By that measure, then, ads like Mountain Dew’s and Doritos’ can be counted as successes, albeit perhaps not in traditional terms.

Once was a time when “nightmare fuel” was not exactly looked at by retail brands as a chief goal in advertising … but that was back when television was the one and only platform for commercials. With so much more ground to cover, now, many companies are more than willing to get consumers upset, as long as that keeps the conversation going.


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