Industry News: Colgate Super Bowl Ad Has Impact of a Great Short Film

I’m struck as we reflect on Sundance and as I prepare to cover the Academy Awards in-depth for this site that the coming Super Bowl 50 broadcast of February 7, 2016, is a short film festival of sorts in its own right with celebrated commercials packing a punch into multi-second vessels surrounding and adjacent to the sporting clash. Many companies have hired top-flight directors and sometimes celebrities to help craft ads that will stand out, that will “move” people to buy something or change a behavior. Some brands are even releasing these short films in advance, knowing the eyeballs on the “second screens” of computers, smartphones and tablets are the domains where many are viewing these micro narratives during a week of a particularly American anticipation.

Of the ads released so far, one is particularly on-trend, serious in tone but highly effective in making its point. Oral-care products brand Colgate has eschewed its business-as-usual hawking of toothpaste and related products to advocate for a higher message of water conservation. Their “short film” can have the same sort of resonant message that Spotlight, The Big Short and Concussion are having in theaters in tackling abuse scandals, financial malfeasance and football injuries, respectively.

Colgate’s Super Bowl 50 commercial is simply entitled “Save Water,” and it effectively gets its idea across in an engaging and non-fussy way. A man turns on his water faucet and begins the ritual of brushing his teeth. He leaves the water running, even when he isn’t using it. Then, we see hands reach under the running water to wash off a piece of fruit and fill up a cup. The advertiser reminds us that brushing our teeth with the faucet running wastes up to four gallons of water, more water than some people around the world have access to in a week. Following a little girl standing at the same sink voraciously grabbing handfuls of the water to drink, Colgate urges us to turn off the faucet.

If I were reviewing commercials the same way I do films, I’d give Colgate accolades for its minimalist cinematography and simple storytelling. The spot is memorable and immersive and addresses something every family can impact in his or her home. Plus it doesn’t use an overly precocious or plucky kid or unnecessary humor or pathos to get across its direct message and call for change. It does exactly what an ad should do in the modern age. And you can’t ignore it the next time you stand face to face with a faucet.

Red Fuse/Y&R launched their campaign in Mexico and Argentina with Director Pipe Ybarra’s imagery in an ad called “Sink Child” before quietly running the ad in the States at the end of 2015 and then leveraging the U.S. Super Bowl platform to bring this message to the widest possible audience in prime time. With recent events such as the California droughts and the Flint, Michigan water scandal adding timeliness to the message, the American adaptation of this ad builds additional resonance while raising water sustainability awareness (#EveryDropCounts).

For championing the higher good in its brief seconds during the Big Game, I nominate Colgate for your consideration as a model filmmaker and corporate social responsibility catalyst.

I've reviewed films for more than 20 years. Current movie reviews of new theatrical releases and direct-to-video or streaming films are added weekly to the Silver Screen Capture movie news site. Many capsule critiques originally appeared in expanded form in my syndicated Lights Camera Reaction column.

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