Super Bowl ads are super expensive, super perplexing

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category icon Columns, Opinion

Why would any company spend $5.5 million for a 30-second Super Bowl ad which leaves viewers perplexed as some glitzy and abstract commercials did? After production costs are tacked on, you’d think advertisers would want their messages clearly understood especially in difficult times.

Some prominent advertisers, such as Coca Cola, Budweiser and Pepsi, traditional large buyers, skipped Super Bowl LV; however, WeatherTech did not.

After the game, the list of best and worst ads was released. It did not include three commercials sponsored by WeatherTech — the privately held Chicago-area manufacture which is known for its high quality custom-made auto floor liners.

On a 1-5 scale, its ads received 3.5 ratings, which doesn’t make sense. While WeatherTech’s ads may have only scored 3.5, buyers consistently give its products at 5.

WeatherTech’s messages were clear and compelling about the company, its culture and products. In addition, they were as much about the importance of American manufacturing, workers and technology.

David MacNeil, company founder, proudly proclaims his company uses raw materials and advanced technology “Made in America.” One WeatherTech Super Bowl ad features workers saying the company doesn’t have to worry about coming back to America because it never left.

Two years ago, Forbes carried the headline: “As WeatherTech’s MacNeil Keeps Promoting ‘Made in USA’ in Super Bowl Ads, America Agrees.” The company’s ads resonate with viewers. “He may sell floor mats, but David MacNeil’s real product is American manufacturing,” Forbes Dale Buss wrote.

WeatherTech is an American manufacturing success story. It exposes our country’s key advantage — our ability to freely take risks to build new products which consumers want to buy.

MacNeil started WeatherTech out of his home in Clarendon Hills, Illinois, in 1989, because he was dissatisfied with the quality of existing automotive floor mats. He was convinced that he could create a better product in America, using American workers, and America’s best machinery.

In 2007, the company opened a new state-of-the-art plant south of Chicago which houses more than 1,000 workers.

In Washington, there are private manufacturers who share similar success stories although they are not Super Bowl advertisers.

For example, Dr. Edmund L. Schweitzer, founder of Schweitzer Engineering Labs, (SEL) invented and marketed the first all-digital protective relay for electrical power systems which can pinpoint power problems and reroute electricity. The company started in his home in 1982 and today employs more than 5,000 people.

Schweitzer’s invention revolutionized the transmission of electricity and its systems are used worldwide. SEL’s manufacturing base and headquarters are in Pullman, Washington.

There are other examples across Washington, such as Nelson Irrigation in Walla Walla; Pearson Packaging Systems in Spokane; and Janicki Industries in Sedro-Woolley, where determined entrepreneurs have taken ideas, taken risks, built factories in America, and competed globally.

WeatherTech’s ads are well done featuring its workers, not actors. Their workers’ testimonials are authentic and powerful.

Moving beyond the pandemic, our leaders must make sure they enact policies which encourage entrepreneurs to continue to invest money in American research and development, modernizing factories, and worker training.

It is in America’s collective interest that we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic with strong manufacturers who can generate tax revenues and jobs to help pay down our soaring national debt.

We need to re-focus on what makes our country the envy of the world. We’ve witnessed the collapse of totalitarian countries, such as the Soviet Union, when the government’s attempts to control production and suppress people failed.

As WeatherTech’s workers clearly pointed out, American workers and manufacturing are our keys to our future. Remember it was the private sector — companies like Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — which developed coronavirus vaccines in record time.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at