Thanks to teaser trailers and shifting advertising philosophy, few Superbowl ads in recent years have been noticeably different from the types of ads played throughout the football season. But this year, one was jaw-droppingly shocking:
It’s a win for Letterman, obviously, who promoted his show with a memorable and hilarious ad. But even in appearing in a competitor’s ad, Leno helped his own cause considerably.
As discussed before, Conan O’Brien handled his Tonight Show departure with a solid communication strategy that set him up for future success. In part because of that, and in part because of O’Brien’s enthusiastic fan base, NBC has been faced with very public rebukes of the new arrangement. His predecessor/successor Jay Leno has necessarily shifted to damage control mode in the month leading up to his re-assumption of hosting duties.
If Leno wants to return to the top of the ratings, he has to convince viewers he’s the same old, nice, safe Jay Leno they used to have on in the background as they fell asleep – and not a calculating, back-stabbing schmuck. Much like voters sizing up a candidate for office, the majority of late night viewers are looking for someone likeable who doesn’t resort to petty squabbling (at least, not obviously).
Leno’s first attempt to repair his image, an interview with Oprah, had mixed results. (Seriously, who quotes Bob Sugar while trying to win sympathy?) But in filming this ad, Leno is able to diffuse the situation and put the late night shakeup in perspective.
But this isn’t all image rehab; Leno gets some real, tangible benefits as well. Superbowl viewers were going to see an ad for the Late Show one way or another – it will likely be the highest rated program CBS airs all year, and they were not shy about pimping their own shows. Leno’s appearance puts him in front of a large viewing audience in a positive light. In essence, even though the ad displayed the Late Show logo, it was also an advertisement for Leno’s Tonight Show.
The content of the ad catered to Leno’s interests as well. As Leno’s 10:00 p.m. variety hour sabotaged NBC’s local news and late-night programming, Letterman has climbed to the top ratings spot after spending a decade playing second fiddle to the Tonight Show. So when Leno explains Letterman’s grumpiness by saying it’s “because I’m here,” it means more than just Oprah Winfrey’s Superbowl party.
And by the way, Oprah’s Superbowl party was kind of lame… perhaps it would have been better with Betty White and Abe Vigoda?