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

February 4, 2009

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.

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Do you pay attention to DVR ads?

October 8, 2008

In my house, we don’t watch anything live if we can help it — it’s all DVR. (Okay, I lied, we do watch So You Think You Can Dance live, let the embarrassing facts be known – btw, I called Josh as the winner way before you did). In this process of going 98% DVR, I have been caught by surprise on one issue: My kids love to scan the commercials as we skip them to find ones they like. They then call out, “oh, go back, go back, that’s hilarious.” I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gone back to watch the “Don’t throw away those minutes” AT&T wireless commercial and its equally witty follow-up, “Milky minutes” spot with the ultra-funny ending.

I have been amazed that my teenagers — in this generation that some feared wouldn’t pay attention to commercials ever again — keep a keen eye out for movie trailers they want to see, funny commercials they want to joke about with friends, and even products they want to buy.

Now there’s research to prove that people are still paying attention, even in fast forward mode. Great research by Innerscope Research, by the way, employing biometrics to see how people respond physiologically to the ads they are skipping on the DVR. My kind of stuff. I almost did my dissertation on using brain waves to predict whether people will like a movie or not. Well, that was one of six topics I proposed…

What about you: do you pay attention to DVR ads as you skip through shows? Am I a sucker for doing so? How does this change the model for advertising besides the obvious of keeping logos up longer?