Why Mercedes Did It Right: The Super Bowl Ad That Makes Boomers Want to Bond Instead of Bolt from a Brand

02/07/2017 12:06 pm ET Updated Feb 07, 2018

Commercials are big business and a complicated mixture of creativity hits and misses-- and nowhere is that highlighted more effectively than during the Super Bowl. Ads can be entertaining, informative, hilarious, heartwarming, and insulting. And while insulting isn't typically on an advertisers 'to do' list, it can be the most memorable part of a commercial and the kiss of death when it comes to brand bonding.

On the tail end of the boomer generation, I've become fascinated by the seemingly non-stop, unintentional advertising insults hurled at my demographic on a daily basis. Take your pick from one of an assortment of pharmaceutical ads that suggests sick individuals and anyone over the age of 50 enjoys dancing around with a cartoon character illness or body part. And yet, every day you can find a boomer-targeted ad featuring an older adult or two acting just plain foolish. But here's the thing, would you open your wallet to someone who makes you look foolish if you had other options? I want to go to the store where I'm treated like the cool person I am or aspire to be.

As a psychologist and human behavior expert who spends much of her time in the entertainment world, the mistakes seem obvious. But the fact that they are made again and again suggests that some are clueless as to how an older generation with significant spending power (and cross-generational spending influence) wishes to be perceived. Enter Mercedes 'Easy Driver' Super Bowl ad, my new favorite prototype for effective advertising that makes the target demographic smile, laugh, and pull out their wallets. Was that so hard?

What made Mercedes hit the mark, when so many before them have failed? They tapped the perceived needs of their high-spending older demographic instead of just acknowledging a list of variables. Reaching and positively resonating with a demographic is more than just painting a picture, it is sculpting out a personality. In doing this, Mercedes also tapped a younger-spending demographic thanks to building on great cross-generational nostalgia (especially music-- who do you think was in the back of those minivans strapped in their carseats listening to their parents' playlists in 1980-something? FYI: Those kids are buying cars now!). Mercedes also knew the difference between funny and foolish. We love to laugh at our generation, but we can't do it if we are demeaned in the process.

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Nancy Berk, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, author, comic and entertainment analyst. The host of the showbiz podcast Whine At 9, Nancy digs a little deeper as she chats with fascinating celebrities and industry insiders. Her book College Bound and Gagged: How to Help Your Kid Get into a Great College Without Losing Your Savings, Your Relationship, or Your Mind can be seen in the feature film Admission starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd.