Robert Boler
service + software designer


Thoughts on design, behavior, technology, and inevitably Star Wars.

Sports fans are tired of robots

Four things that Super Bowl LIII ads said about brands’ approaches to automated services, sustainability, and ethics

1/ Companies are noticing consumer technology/automation fatigue, and aiming to relate with them.

This was the strongest trend. Digital assistants and humanoid robots were portrayed as inept conversationalists, one-trick ponies, emotionally incapable, or downright scary. Non-tech brands are leveraging the tech industry’s hype (and failings) to portray themselves as more natural or more human. Even Amazon highlighted tongue-in-cheek situations that just don’t make sense with an Echo.

While use of conversational interfaces will continue to increase, these ads reflect the public sentiment that artificial intelligence (an umbrella term for various software techniques, by the way) is both incompetent and potentially dangerous. Given this sentiment, companies are better off using technology to bolster their employees’ skillsets and satisfaction, rather than trying to automate conversations or replace roles. Nobody likes an IVR system, even when it has a cute name and text message bubbles.

2/ A few forward-thinking companies advertised an experience, rather than focusing on a specific product or service.

Microsoft makes some fun accessibility tech, and shows off the experiences it enables instead of the tech itself. - Microsoft: We All Win

In this piece, Hyundai differentiates entirely based on a better car buying experience. This car ad had no car in it. - The Elevator | Hyundai

3/ There were stories about sustainability… with mixed success.

The good: Budweiser marries pastoral Americana imagery with renewable energy windmills, bringing the idea of sustainability down to earth. - Budweiser | Wind Never Felt Better

The bad: Audi creates an overly dramatic car ad… for the car that won't arrive for over two years, rather than the one that's coming out soon. It has nothing to say about electric— in fact, it paints it as "heavenly", as if it's not approachable or financially accessible in this life. - Audi Presents: Cashew

4/ Tech giants dug themselves out of scandals.

Google tries to create warm fuzzies, even after a year of privacy scandals. - 100 Billion Words | Google

Verizon panders to first-responders… to try and make up for restricting their service during the California wildfires. It's not an apology, it's a cover-up. - Verizon | “The Coach Who Wouldn’t Be Here”

Honorable mention:

Mercedes launches its own voice assistant. Bonus points for "Mercedes" already being an actual name. - Mercedes-Benz 2019 A-Class "Say the Word"

To see some design work from the same brain that wrote this post, take a gander at my case study page.

Robert Boler