Most marketing blogs the day after the Super Bowl are sharing the same disappointment at the ads and how universally average they were. Meanwhile, some of the best campaigns of the Super Bowl season were efforts launched online or that had a significant online component, but the fact remains that many Super Bowl ads simply didn’t work this year. Not from a creative point of view, and likely not from a sales point of view either (though it’s obviously too early to know that). So, in honor of the Super Bowl winners and losers, here’s my list not just of the best and worst ads, but some lessons I think any marketer can learn from why the worst ones failed.

  1. Forgetting about the economy – This may not seem like a great reason to say that an ad failed, but the facts are that any brand who chose to pay the $2 million to $3 million price tag took a serious PR risk. Call it the “corporate jet phenomenon” – where people are more likely to believe that companies are wasting lots of money on stuff like corporate jets instead of doing things that actually relate to the bottom line, like trimming costs or creating jobs. The economy created a lot of pressure this year for any Super Bowl advertiser to justify why it would spend that much money on a 30 second spot. At least half the brands advertising this year failed that test.
  2. Lack of authenticity – Everything in the marketing and consumer world is pointing towards authenticity in marketing and in what people are beginning to expect from brands. So when you have John Turturro selling Heineken by telling you “this is not a beer” or some girl sitting at a cafe (without a drink) eating Cheetos … the authenticity is missing.  When we can’t believe the situations, and the creative isn’t good enough to “suspend disbelief” then the ad ends up unbelievable (and not in a good way).
  3. Being entertaining isn’t a strategy – As is the case every year with the Super Bowl, we see many ads that try too hard to be entertaining and forget about strategy. As a result, the ads make no sense and though the entertainment works on occasion, the brand message is easily forgotten. Most of the Coke spots fit this category (a fact even though the Coke Picnic ad was technically beautiful), and the SoBe Dancers crazy lizard ad from this year as well as last year is probably the best example of this, as well as a brand trying way too hard to stand out.

And now on to the three brand campaigns that I thought worked:

  1. Hyundai – Despite the fact that they are part of a battered industry, Hyundai came out big for the Super Bowl, sponsoring elements of the game as well as promoting their new Genesis. What made their campaign so good, though, was that they covered every question a car buyer might have. One ad focused on their assurance program where they will let you return the car if you lose your job. Another showed all the other big car companies tearing their hair out that Hyundai Genesis won the 2009 North American Car Of The Year award and making fun of how no one can say their name. Together their strategy produced the rare combination of a reason to buy and product information simultaneously.
  2. Hulu Hulu’s spot with Alec Baldwin talking about how the service works and joking about TV killing brain cells is my choice for the best ad of the Super Bowl. Firstly because the use of celebrity actually made sense (he’s the star of an NBC show 30Rock). Secondly because he humorously took on the perception that many might have of TV executives and the Hollywood complex being disconnected from the average American consumer, and thirdly because it was introducing a new service that represents a pretty significant great new service for most people who don’t live their lives on Twitter and might not have heard of it. Making all the TV spots available for viewing on Hulu after the game as a reason to drive people there – and offer an easy widget to embed on your blog (below) were also smart moves.
  3. Miller High Life – Miller followed their strategy from last year and avoided the Super Bowl directly, but indirectly used their “Miller Delivery Guy” to make fun of other advertisers and how much they were spending on ads by launching their “1 second ad.” This follows from their “common sense platform” and the general idea that their beer is the common sense choice, delivered by a guy who most people could relate to. To counter, Bud continued with their “buy our beer because we have cute All-American horses” campaign. Advantage? Miller.

Finally, a few honorable mentions and my pick for the “sleeper hit” of all the ads:

  1. NBC – Despite their technical problems during the Obama interview, NBC met expectations and used the Super Bowl to shamelessly plug their own shows from a Heroes integrated TV spot to featuring lots of NBC stars on the “red carpet” 5 hour pregame show. They will likely see a good bump in audience for their programming as a result.
  2. Intel* – Using an innovative 3D glasses campaign tie-in with the movie Monsters vs. Aliens worked well for Intel because of how overtly branded the glasses were, and the fun factor of 3D. This should continue into tonight’s all 3D episode of Chuck. *Intel is a client, however neither I nor Ogilvy worked on this particular campaign.
  3. Teleflora – And, my pick for the sleeper hit for ad effectiveness is Teleflora’s ad about how you should never send flowers in a box. No one will likely be talking about it today, except those that hated it, and it will not make any lists. But the next time you’re ordering flowers, you’ll remember the simple message and if not go with Teleflora, at least think twice about sending flowers in a box … which was their whole point.