Monday, February 02, 2009

Drinking, Driving and Cash for Gold: Super Bowl 2009

America's current champion of sporting spectacles delivered the goods: Close game, 4th quarter drama, the underdogs looking like they could...go...all...the...way...if only for a few minutes...and then there were the ads...

In the lead up, much buzz began (here and here for examples on the RKDNA blog). And now that the ad deal is done, time for the assessment. I've' asked a few of R+K's ad experts to share their informed opinion. Here's the post-game analysis:

Robert Landa:
There can be only one answer to the wasted money, time and effort to write, produce and air the batch of Super Bowl ads for XLIII – it must be a Blackwater contract!

With very few exceptions the ads weren’t even entertaining – the price of entry for this legendary event. Maybe it’s the ad industry that’s bankrupt. Of smart, clever, unexpected ideas. Maybe there is just too much pressure on agencies to over deliver that they simply take to paths well worn. Haven’t we really seen all these ads before?

Kudos to Miller High Life for doing it different. Shame on you Pedigree for taking one of the most poignant campaigns in the last ten years and turning into a joke – and a bad one at that. Budweiser could not be more mean spirited, and I have always admired the teams who can do beer humor well – this category can be amazing. The also-rans are too numerous to mention.

Being that I didn’t have an entry in the game, I will humbly congratulate all who had the chance to participate. Maybe next year you will show the world what great minds and hearts exist in this industry, and how we are actually contributing to the world of entertainment and commerce.

Jim Myers:
As I sit here at a Super Bowl party, squinting through my cardboard 3D glasses and trying to will the SoBe critters to appear even remotely 3D, a truth reveals itself. Just as good is the enemy of great, complicated is the enemy of the Super Bowl spot at a Super Bowl party.

Dialogue? Lost. Storylines? Wasted. Character development? Please.

When a spot's playing at a big party, the recipe for success is different: Be fast and funny. Rise above the fray. Earn your moment away from the chips and beer. And for crying out loud, don't make us think.

Take a look at the crowd reactions:

Man getting hit in groin by crystal ball: Rousing approval.
Budweiser yet again flogging its Clydesdales: So totally over.
Chairbound office worker flying from window: All good.
Danika Patrick's dirty little firesuit: All sad.

The reality is stark and a bit defeating, but if you want to succeed among the party chaos, be visual, be hilarious, and don't require too many neurons to fire.

Wes Meador:
I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the ads last night. In fact, I was horrified when the first spot after the National Anthem was an Avon spot urging viewers to start their own businesses. I’m not sure if this was a national or local ad (I’m thinking local, but I have no idea). It’s such a terrible spot I don’t know why anyone would have wasted money to air it in the Super Bowl. (Not to mention the same ad has been airing for weeks during reruns of Will & Grace on Lifetime.)

The inclusion of an ad targeting women confirms that ads in the big game shouldn’t just be geared toward men. But this one, really? And, from a placement standpoint, having it appear right after Jennifer Hudson’s appearance seemed appropriate if we assume that viewership by women and gay men (potentially the target of the Avon ads) spiked or peaked with Ms. Hudson’s performance. That was the most interesting ad moment of the game…and it happened before kick-off.

Other than that, I thought NBC severely missed the boat with their promos. And the remaining ads (with the exception of the Pedigree ads – which I found amusing) were not entertaining to me. I did, however, notice several movies I’ll be avoiding in the coming months.

Maybe I’m jaded? Or, maybe the game was interesting enough that the ads paled by comparison for a change?

Deron Johnson:
Is it just me, or is the pressure to watch and pass judgment on Super Bowl ads more intense than ever? (Thank God the past two games – including last night’s – were good. Otherwise, we’d all be tuning in to the Super Outrageous Ad Bowl, with the game on the field serving as a great opportunity to go get more queso.)

But this whole spectacle got me thinking – who are we (and by we, I mean the general public, not those of us in marketing communications) to judge a great commercial anyway? Marketers spend infinite amounts of time and bags of money researching and considering their target audience. Every ad we see is not supposed to personally resonate with us – or make us log on to to see the rest of the “unrated” Danica Patrick train wreck.

Do the Dorito’s “crystal ball” ad and the Audi “progress” ad speak to the same target? Unless frat guys have suddenly become 38, upwardly mobile and flush with cash, I doubt it. But these spots and dozens of others are all thrown into the same big goofy pot (i.e., the three hours or so between pre-kickoff and post-show) and we’re asked to judge them on supposedly equal merits. All of which forces a conversation not about whether an ad succeeded on its real merits (does it inspire its target to do something) but on a much more superficial one (“Damn, aren’t those monkeys funny?”).

So, when Bruce finished his half-time show, somebody at my house asked why we’ve suddenly been subjected to all the old white guy rockers the past few years. I reminded him to think about the target audience. And then I went to the kitchen for more queso.

Eric Painter:
My impressions of the night mostly lie with who I think got a lot for their money.

Of the commercials I saw (missed quite a few) were Dennys for being so right for the times. Interesting commercial with a nice twist (mafia bosses talking and getting interrupted as the waitress spritzed whipped cream on pancakes) and the kicker of offering a free breakfast to America seemed to hit on a number of smart angles:
  • Entertaining creative plot
  • Free breakfast-who can think ill of a company doing this-this year -Re-introduced Dennys to anyone who has forgotten about their low prices.
  • When is the last time you even thought of Denny's???

Second was Pepsi's Bob Dylan and Will I Am generational spot. Interesting to watch the then and now photos, nice to listen to, and the take away, ties into a long standing theme of Pepsi's...Taste of a new generation. It was their way of trying to position Coke as a has-been years ago. So all the equity they have built through the years is referenced. Spots like this have to be able to be watched over and over without becoming obnoxious. Solid advertising for my money.

The 3D commercials-
I was so busy trying to find my glasses and get the 3D illusion to work (it didn't), I forgot to listen or remember who paid for them...there may be something building here though?

And my own
assessment based on commentary among the 20+ folks in the room....

Good: The ridiculous Pepsi take on the SNL MacGruber take on the 80s show Macguyver...featuring Macguyver...near the end of the game. Runnerups: The Doritos Crystal Ball ad where a snow globe is used to break into a vending machine; the humorous parody of the Mean Joe Greene Coke ads from the 70s.

Bad: The Sobe water 3d glasses...noone in our group of 20 even remembered to get the glasses out...the advertisers made the mistake of thinking we would care enough to remember to keep them handy. Runnersup: GE's old Ecomagination ads showing smart grids and windmills....someone in our group asked where they could buy one of those...maybe good for Sunday morning talk shows, but for the Super Bowl?

Odd: Two bankrupt C-lebrities hawking Ed McMahon and MC Hammer promoting a virtual pawn shop were a frightening look at Super Bowl advertising in a tough economy. The plethora of beer ads, career ads, and the lack of ads from the not-so-big-3 automakers speak volumes about the state of the ad economy.

What did you think?


  1. The Career builder ad with the moose head was funny.

  2. Per husband: Doritos ad was the best. Others: The crystal ball: funny; pawn shop ad: too weird, 3D ads:annoying; Budweiser: lame, over done and really? you're puffing your feathers about the American dream when you company is a sellout?? Pepsi and Coke ads: nostalgic but not new memory makers; GoDaddy ads: WHATEVER! I'm sure the 12yr old boys love you; Ads from the 2 online job sites: winners all the way. Honestly- the moose commercial had me on the floor and who hasn't done the screaming in the car thing? I've got some additional ideas if they are interested.

    But overall, disappointed. Ticked at the millions spent for overall crud. Only thing lacking was a military recruitment ad and woulda really summed up the crap state of how most families are feeling right now. Free roof over your head, 3 meals a day, free clothing. Sounds damned good to the millions losing their homes, no insurance, no income. Shame on the advertisers for not being more in tune w Main street/side street, whatever term you want to use. Now enough chatter, I'm gonna go grab me a High Life.

  3. For me there were a couple of bright spots. Namely e-trade. The "golden pipes" spot and the "golf baby" spots
    were both very funny and bold for the client to run in a tanking economy.

    They also continue a campaign kicked
    off in last year's super bowl with
    "clown" In that commercial the baby makes so much money he rents a clown for his nursery.

  4. Nielsen IAG ad ratings just came out with the consumers choice(

    For Best Liked it went: #1 Bud Clydesdale playing fetch, #2&#3 Doritos and #4 Pedigree. (Personally, I liked the NFL spot... it ranked all the way down at #9.)

    Most Remembered: #1 Bud Clydesdale playing fetch, #2 Bud Clydesdale with female circus horse (Daisy), #3 Bud Light drinkability at the ski lodge and #4 Doritos crystal ball.

    Surprisingly, the Denny's free breakfast ranked #8 on most remembered... they still exceeded their estimated 2 million free grand slam meals.

  5. RE: Denny's spot...Everyone likes free. It remains to be seen if giving things away is a viable business model for restaurants.

    Calculating the value of impressions you didn't have to pay for-or earn-is not something shareholders can take to the bank.

  6. I had the best of intentions of focusing on the Superbowl ads. However, a really good game made it hard to focus on the commercials. And yes, the Avon spot completely tripped me up. A Dorkito's ad in the first pod of commercials (I don't like Doritos and the Dorkito's ads during superbowl reinforced my dislike) coupled with NBC program spots set a disappointing tone for me. And I think the rest of the evening delivered on the disappointment. I always try to watch the spots knowing I'm not the target audience, but look for enviable work. Didn't see much. Saw spectacular production values, and attempts to differentiate with annoyances and weirdness, but nothing I wish I had done.