Why Hulu’s Super Bowl ad is as smart as it is funny

I’ve been answering press questions about Super Bowl advertising for a decade or more, both as an analyst and as an academic (used to teach advertising management at Syracuse back in the good old 90s when your only way to watch Super Bowl ads was on TV or VCR). It seems that every year I’ve been involved the press stories say the same thing: Ads cost too much and aren’t as good as they used to be. 

Once in a while, an ad comes along that is brilliant. That brilliance is usually measured on the funny-meter, however. Rarely does it mean that a product has been properly promomted.

That’s what makes the “Huluwood” ad from Hulu featuring Alec Baldwin so brilliant. Not only is it funny, but it actually accomplishes a very subtle yet powerful marketing objective. Watch the commercial, have a few laughs, then read on.

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Why is this ad so good? Because it positions Hulu in exactly the right light. Instead of trying to say that Hulu is some kind of new service “unlike anything you’ve ever seen before,” this commercial makes it clear that Hulu is just TV, taken to the max. Which is exactly what people want. They don’t want Gemini Division, they don’t want LonelyGirl15. They want Lost and Family Guy and The Office. And they want it whenever and wherever they want. This is exactly what Hulu gives them and it’s the USP (unique selling proposition, sorry, I’m slipping back into professor mode, I can almost smell the classroom now) the ad delivers.

Personal riff: I absolutely love the new phase in Alec Baldwin’s career that this commercial epitomizes. From the guy who first interpreted Jack Ryan on the big screen in Hunt for Red October to this slightly hefty but immensely comedic persona that 30 Rock unleashed, I think he’s a million times more interesting now than he ever was in his movie star days. I don’t know how big a role Tina Fey had in bringing this out of him, but I assume she had a role because she is, after all, a genius.

9 Responses to Why Hulu’s Super Bowl ad is as smart as it is funny

  1. Spot on with the brilliance of Hulu’s ad. My reasons, the ad requires ONE view and the message is loud and clear yet memorable. It’s funny, clever, great visuals, subtle sound. I disagree that other commercials have failed to live up the hype or worth. Many are extremely entertaining, but require the extra views to remember the message or the product because the humor overshadows the brand. Hulu’s investment here is a perfect blend that speaks to all audiences, all demos with simplicity. Anyone who didn’t know the power of online video before this, will surely get it now. Bravo.

  2. EquisBuffy says:

    My brain is a bowl full of mashed bananas. This was hands down the best commercial. And I couldn’t agree with you more on Baldwin’s new persona. I actually think it lent to the chastising of his daughter being a wee bit more forgivable.

  3. Dave Zatz says:

    I suspect only folks who’ve already heard of Hulu will understand what the service is from this ad. At least say Hulu *dot com* to give others some context as to where/how I get it.

  4. Dave Zatz says:

    Yep, just spoke to my mom. She was confused, thought it was some kind of Slingbox. Which is more/better than probably most in her demographic. They needed to emphasize ‘web service’ and ‘free’.

  5. James McQuivey says:

    I feel (appropriately) chastised for not recognizing that the Hulu ad didn’t adequately describe the product to the uninitiated. I guess the glitter of the shiny ad clouded my view — thanks for pointing that out, Dave. Though I saw the commercial again on American Idol last night and still loved it.

  6. Ross Rubin says:

    While the tongue-in-cheek commercial took fine advantage of Alec Baldwin’s charm, I found the alien plot angle puerile at best, offputting at worst. In fact, I question whether the commercial was even aimed at consumers at all. Running it during the SuperBowl seemed more of a nose-thumbing move on the part of Hulu to competitors.

  7. […] Maybe NBC and Fox are rethinking the power of the destination now that they have spent big for a SuperBowl ad featuring closeted alien Alec […]

  8. […] on here: Hulu is getting more and more powerful every day. And not just because it managed to get Alec Baldwin to promote it during the Super Bowl. It’s because Hulu gives people the thing they want most: easy access to top TV shows. But […]

  9. […] Quick note for those new to this kind of stuff, Hulu (Hybrid) refers to the fact that some portion of Hulu’s views come from its syndication partners like AOL and MSN. That means any Hulu views that occurred there are not counted there, isntead they count back at Hulu. We don’t have any solid estimates of what portion of views are coming from Hulu.com itself vs. its syndication partners, but I have a hunch it’s shifting more toward Hulu over time as Hulu has attempted to brand itself more aggressively. […]

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