How a Super Bowl Ad Combines Humor and Nostalgia to Tackle a Difficult Topic

Did you catch that knee-slapper ad about climate change? Mixing humor and current events in an ad is risky. But the Super Bowl — oops, Big Game — is a safe space for advertisers to (try to) be funny. If the spot works, the advertiser enjoys mega impressions, engagement, and maybe even a boost in sales. If the ad flops, hey, it’s the Super Bowl, and in the long run, who’s really keeping score amid the blizzard of ads? General Motors understands this reality, which is why GM didn’t shy away from climate change in a new spot that re-unites the cast of Austin Powers.

In the ad, Dr. Evil (Mike Meyers) needs help to keep the world from deteriorating if he is to have a society to control. He takes over GM and ushers in a new era of electric vehicle production to save the earth for his ultimate dominion. Oh, and if you’re paying attention, Dr. Evil name checks En Vogue and their 1992 hit song, “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It).”

The ad works for one reason: nostalgia. By invoking Austin Power, GM is targeting the Millennial generation that is old enough to remember the 1997 hit movie (and its sequels). The shout-out to En Vogue underscores the ’90s vibe. Millennials are a sizable population, and older Millennials are reaching peak purchasing power.

Is the ad funny? Your mileage will vary. Is the ad nostalgic? No question. Humor does not always sell. But nostalgia usually does.

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