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Super Bowl Ad Review: Shock Top’s Web Trailer May Not Electrify TV Screen

T.J. Miller has an interesting conversation with the top of a beer tap in a funny Super Bowl ad for a brew called Shock Top. Will he have the right conversation with the suds-guzzling crowd watching the game?

The people who make Shock Top would have you believe that it’s an upstart Belgian White, lovingly brewed in some entrepreneur’s tiny office based on a recipe treasured in his or her family throughout the ages. Yet the drink is actually a move by giant Anheuser Busch InBev to succeed in the growing category of craft beers. By devoting some of its massive ad buy – three minutes and 30 seconds – to Shock Top in Super Bowl 50, the beer company hopes to get the masses revved up about what they might think is a insouciant little brew that has nothing to do with Budweiser or Bud Light.

You want Miller to succeed. He plays the buddy no one wants along for the ride in HBO’s arch tech-industry chronicle “Silicon Valley.” He has the kind of slacker sociability that would seem to appeal to the young  (but not too young!) viewers Anheuser wants to quaff its potables on a regular basis.

In the ad, the actor sits down at a bar and is instantly handed a Shock Top (would that all bartenders paid such attention to their customers).  Before he can even take a sip of the brew  – and is this the drink he really wanted? – he is accosted by an anthropomorphic Shock Top icon, a talking orange slice “Wedgehead” with sunglasses who wants to play the dozens, as it were, with the affable fellow.

The red-headed bearded Miller is informed he looks like “an unemployed Civil War general,” appears as if he was “about to get evicted from your parents’ basement,” and resembles “a toddler who took growth serum.” Miller has good retorts. He asks the little fellow if he considers fresh-squeezed orange juice murder. All of this is presented in an “extended trailer” put up on YouTube and other digital venues that makes it easy to watch and listen, and then watch and listen again.

It’s an engaging conversation, but will anyone be willing to eavesdrop on it come Super Bowl Sunday? These sorts of back-and-forth ruminations are great for venues where consumers can come upon them and watch multiple times at their leisure to hear all the nuances and to-and-fro, or get distracted by other elements of the video (is anyone else distracted by the sound Miller’s glass makes on the bar each time he puts it down?).

But a Super Bowl ad has to do more than work well in previews. It has to stand up under the scrutiny of viewers who will likely have had more than one or two Shock Tops – or, Heaven fore-end, some other beer! – and won’t have the ability to study the commercial as much as they would have online. And let’s be honest, the American consumer is busy. Do we think that everyone who watches next week’s Super Bowl is going to have studied the ads as if they were required reading or some kind of homework assignment?

There is some reason to be optimistic. Samsung ran a massive two-minute long commercial in Super Bowl XLVII featuring Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd reprising some of the insult-tossing conversations they had in the 2007 film “Knocked Up.”  By buying up 120 seconds of ad time, however, the electronics manufacturer had some assurance its commercial would dominate its assigned ad break and capture more attention.

Shock Top won’t have that luxury, and why should it? Yes, American consumers are drinking less beer and hard liquor, according to data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, but when they do, more of them drink Bud and Bud Light than they do Shock Top. And that’s the way it will likely stay.  So those are the brands that will get more of the spotlight on February 7.

Anheuser will have to cut its Shock Top palaver down to 30 seconds for Game Day, and is likely banking that consumers will spend more time with its extended promotion than they will while eating wings, guacamole and being dazzled by more than 70 different pitches from national and local sponsors of the game. This is, for all intents and purposes, a Web ad – and a very funny one. But Super Bowl ads work best on TV.

Grade: B –

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