The Seinfeld Super Bowl Ad: A Marketing Lesson
BY Adam Vaccaro
A lesson from Jerry and George in brand awareness and the perils of expectations.
On Sunday night during halftime of the Super Bowl, something amazing happened. In what ultimately amounted to a commercial for his web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld suddenly graced the screen, sitting opposite Jason Alexander for a cup o' joe. They were in character as Jerry and George. And they were bantering, for a good three minutes!
Though "Seinfeld" quickly trended on Facebook and Twitter, I was surprised to encounter multiple takes--both in the media and from friends--saying the mini-reunion didn't live up to the show's glory days.
I, on the other hand, was enthusiastic about the short reunion. I like to think of myself as a Seinfeld expert, but at the very least you could call me a superfan. If any of your customers have a similar sort of love for your product or service, I think there are two lessons worth taking to heart from the spot (which, despite publicizing the new show, I should note technically wasn't a commercial).
Self-Awareness Is Underrated
In an era wherein Seinfeld reruns are generally limited to a loop of the most popular episodes, more people are likely to remember the show for some of its most outrageous moments--Festivus and the Soup Nazi come to mind.
But though those loud moments stand out in memory, the show's bread and butter was always witty banter over coffee, with one-off jokes. With the show off the air for nearly 16 years, perhaps people have become conditioned to expect one of those larger-than-life experiences if we were going to see these characters again. I have a feeling Jerry's criticism of George's Super Bowl party behavior will stand the test of time better than contrived wackiness--which would have likely required way more exposition than could be accomplished in just a few minutes--might have.
Self-awareness is an underrated trait in brands.
Knowing why your key customers come your way makes it all the more likely you will please them. Remember when Netflix almost destroy itself when it tried to split itself into two companies? It learned its lesson: Less than two years after that fiasco, the company had rebounded big time, and it had done so by recognizing and emphasizing its core competencies.
An example from outside the realm of show business comes from Lego, and is explored in The Moment of Clarity, a new book by Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel B. Rasmussen about using soft skills to solve major business issues. The authors explore the turnaround of the toy company LEGO in the last 10 years. LEGO was struggling in 2004 when it undertook a major self-diagnostic. One of its findings: Children responded better to anti-authoritarian toys. Some suggested turning the LEGO brand a bit more rebellious.
While LEGO implemented a number of changes, it left the rebellion angle behind. "It's a big credit to LEGO that they turned something like this down. It shows that they actually stand for something."
Seinfeld's understated Super Bowl reunion, I'd argue, did much the same.
Don't Show Your Cards Too Soon
Still, the reunion might have been muffled in that Seinfeld telegraphed his Super Bowl pass more than Peyton Manning. Last week, he said a reunion of sorts was on the way "very, very soon." He also said it was "not not" a Super Bowl ad. It wasn't hard to put two and two together and see that it was coming.
Imagine how much more gripping it would have been if you had absolutely no idea that anything like a Seinfeld relapse was coming down the pike. Especially so for us superfans.
In that regard, one could say Seinfeld showed his hand a bit too much. In business cliche terms, he might have overpromised--even if he said very little, the level of cultural nerve he touched by hinting at a reunion no doubt put expectations sky-high.
Overall, the mini-reunion did very well. Its was the most TIVO'd part of the Super Bowl. It got everybody talking on social media. Plenty of people, including diehards like myself, loved it. It accomplished its goals. But a little bit of subtlety can sometimes go a long way. If less people were on the lookout for Jerry and George, they might have been all the more ecstatic when they saw them.