I couldn’t help but feel sorry this year for anyone who only watches the Super Bowl ads for entertainment. Perhaps the most defining feature of all the ads this year was how uniformly uncreative and dated they were. Marketers turned to old and obvious gags like girls in bikinis and dogs (lots of dogs) to try and carry their ads. The result was a very disappointing collection of ads for anyone who loves marketing and the hype of Super Bowl advertising. Still, there is plenty of marketing to learn from all the efforts this year, so let’s get started in breaking down the strategy behind the ads and my picks for the biggest winners and losers this year.
BEST STRATEGY – Samsung
For months now, Samsung has been running a brilliant series of ads poking fun at all the “iSheep” obediently waiting in line overnight for the latest Apple product with their tagline “the next big thing is already here.” Boosted by their recent announcement of record profits last quarter from strong sales of mobile devices, they are one of the small few mobile devicemakers who offer a viable alternative to the iPhone. What made this ad so good is how it took the message from previous ads and changed the “us vs. them” dynamic of the guy in the know about Samsung to give everyone in line the Samsung. Filled with celebrity cameos and lots of product shots, the ad got their overall strategic message across … the next big thing is indeed here, and it is a Samsung.
WORST STRATEGY & WASTE OF MONEY – Budweiser
This year Budweiser had 6 spots and all of them inspired more confusion than anything else. In half they focused on the heritage of Budweiser and how they have been around for a really long time (long enough to be served by bars after prohibition was lifted). In two they introduced a new kind of beer called “Platinum” which I think you might be able to earn airline miles for drinking. Or maybe it was a luxury version that they plan to offer in high end restaurants. No one was really sure. And just in case the lull wasn’t complete, they even went for the “dog gets guy a beer” gag. If there was a strategy behind any of these ads, it was surely tough to pick out. That alone isn’t unique for Budweiser, but at least in previous years they managed to entertain us and make us laugh. Not this year.
BEST AD – Fiat Seduction
My pick for the best ad of the night comes from Fiat with their ad called “Seduction” for the new unique looking Abarth. Unlike so many other ads this year, Fiat didn’t feel the need to put a hot girl in a bikini and have her play the part of dream girl. Instead, they create a sense of mystery by having her speak in Italian, make her clearly in control of her interaction with the guy in the ad, and use the familiar experience of the first time you see an unforgettably beautiful woman to explain the feeling of seeing the new Fiat Abarth for the first time. The connection was easy to understand, memorable and fit perfectly with what looks to be a great car.
WORST AD – TaxAct
Um, a kid runs around trying to find a bathroom and ends up going pee in a swimming pool … and this relates to taxes how? This was easily the dumbest ad of the night, not remotely strategic and completely unfunny. When drunk guys at home watching the SuperBowl tell their buddies they could create a better ad for $2 million, this is the ad they probably point to.
BEST TREND: CORPORATE REALISM
Throughout the night, there were a few examples of what is becoming a great trend in business which I have written about before – the rise of humanity. The way it came out through the Super Bowl was in more focus on real people and the things they are doing. I agree that on a day like today, the ads that took this approach were probably a bit drier and not likely to show up on a USAToday poll as favourite ads. But in terms of marketing strategy and demonstrating a real and human side to the brands, they were big wins. Best Buy, for example, featured real entrepreneurs who created mobile apps and tools (earning them great social media cred and buzz). GE featured real people in their two inspiring ads that continue to position GE as a brand that puts their employees front and center. The last great example was the NFL running their ad featuring players going to fan’s homes and offices to sing their own rendition of “wind beneath my wings” to thank fans for all their support. Whether humanizing employees, NFL stars, or visionary entrepreneurs … the ads that chose to do this universally worked on a strategic level.
WORST TREND: DOGS EVERYWHERE
Let’s just count the things that dogs did this year in Super Bowl spots:
1. Dog wins race wearing Skechers running shoes.
2. Dog buries cat and buys owner’s silence with Doritos.
3. Dog gets Bud Light beer.
4. Dog loses weight then chases car.
Add them to the clydesdale horses and cheetahs and it makes for a slate of Superbowl ads that would make the Humane Society proud. Unfortunately, none of them stood out as anything more than ordinary.
BEST ORIGINALITY – Bridgestone
In case you forgot that the Superbowl is actually a football game, Bridgestone was one of the few advertisers to remember that – using the idea of optimizing the balls for all sports as the background for the great creative concept in this ad. Using their high traction material to make footballs and basketballs was a great example of how they made their technology relevant to football fans and watchers in a new way.
WORST ORIGINALITY – Pepsi Max
Seriously Pepsi, haven’t we seen the “guy with the Coke shirt/hat/truck drinks Pepsi” gag before? This ad has marketing executive unwilling to pay for a new creative idea written all over it.
BIGGEST WINNERS – Adriana Lima and NBC
After the big game, one of the biggest winners are likely to be Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima who was featured in both the Teleflora ad and the Kia Dream Car ad. To be the leading girl in two Super bowl spots in a single year is unheard of and I am sure she is already seeing a big awareness bumb in her personal profile and career. The
other big winner will likely be NBC, who filled the broadcast with ads for their own new and upcoming shows. Everything from Celebrity Apprentice to The Voice to 30Rock was promo’d for the world to see.
BIGGEST LOSERS – GoDaddy & Budweiser
After a few years of sticking with the same gag of almost naked girls and the promise to “see more online” it is starting to get old. The live commentary recorded the same kind of sentiment. These were both traditional Super Bowl advertisers that seemed to be advertising again more out of tradition than any real strategy.
BEST NOSTALGIA – Acura
There were a few ads that pointed backwards in time, from Honda’s Ferriss Bueller remake to Budweiser talking about their long history, or the NFL showing an ad called timeline that looks at the evolution of the NFL. The best of the lot was Acura’s use of Seinfeld, where the ad took moments from the show that fans would recognize and incorporated them into an entertaining spot.
BEST CASTING – Dannon Oikos Yogurt
The Dannon Oikos ad with a woman head butting John Stamos for a yogurt was funny on its own, but to choose a dreamy actor who people haven’t seen in a while (and one with a Greek heritage!) was a perfect choice for promoting greek yogurt to women. Not over the top like the David Beckham underwear ads from H&M, but just right. Oikos itself may have been an unexpected brand to advertise, but one who likely did a lot to reach their target audience by remembering (unlike all the bikini-featuring brands) that plenty of women watch the Super Bowl too.
BEST USE OF HUMOR – M&Ms
Picking the funniest ad of the night is not a hard choice. Only one ad all night actually made me and several friends laugh out loud while watching … the brown M&M spot. Maybe it was funnier because I’m brown myself, but this was perfectly scripted and executed. The animated dancing of the creepy “naked” red M&M who strips off his red was perfectly done – and a great usage of the M&M candy personalities.
BEST RISK TO PAY OFF – NFL
Calling attention to the controversy of player head injuries and the dangers of football was a bold move for the NFL. In Evolution they offer up the timeline of everything that has happehend to help protect players through time and point the spotlight at the fact that they aren’t done yet. It was a risky move, but one that I think will pay off as a powerful reminder of how seriously the NFL is taking player safety as an issue.
BEST TIMING – TELEFLORA
while some have already objected to the underlying message of this ad (that flowers on Valentines will lead to getting action), the timing of this ad stands out only because no other advertiser seemed to realize that Valentine’s is less than two weeks away.
WORST OVERHYPING – Century21
For more than a dozen ads during the pregame show, Century21 played ad after ad showing their agent up against some recognizable celebrities in a few different categories. Each ad hyped their upcoming BIG ad that would play during the third quarter and warned viewers to watch out for it. The actual ad itself had been so built up, you were expecting something significant. The ad it self was little more than something ordinary. We get it, you can pay some celebrities to show up in your ad. Any other time, that would be cool. For the Super Bowl, we kind of expect that.
WORST KNOCKOFF OF A PREVIOUSLY SUCCESSFUL IDEA – VW
The whole connection of the dog losing weight both in the actual VW ad and the “prequel” ad that was released several days ago was stretched. While their Star Wars themed ad with the kid dressed as Darth Vader was a hit last year, this year just seemed like they were trying too hard to be just as cool. At the end of the new ad, the guy at the bar said the “Vader kid was better” … he was right.
BONUS ADS – 2 Non-nationally Televised Ads Worth Watching (SeaWeb + Kaufmann Foundation)
Often cause related ads don’t get the national spotlight because of the high price tag, but do get shown during pregame programming and regionally. Here are two that stood out for me – one for the message (which I truly believe) that entrepreneurs can change the world. The second from an organization that I have worked with in the past which used the bold strategy of fading to black for 5 seconds in their 30 second spot to illustrate the power of silence when used creatively.