Super Bowl Ads: What Worked and What Didn’t

This is not a post about the funniest ads. Or the most popular. If you're reading this post, you probably care about the marketing lessons you can take away from the Super Bowl. So, without further...
Super Bowl Ads: What Worked and What Didn’t
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  • This is not a post about the funniest ads. Or the most popular. If you’re reading this post, you probably care about the marketing lessons you can take away from the Super Bowl. So, without further ado – here is a roundup of the best and worst of the Super Bowl marketing from last nights game.

    Best Marketing Strategy: Volkswagen

    From their choice to release their "The Force" ad before the Super Bowl and rack up more than 13 million views before the game even aired, to how they brilliantly managed to promote the 2012 VW Beetle without showing a single image of the car. Their advertising was focused, strategic, memorable and well distributed. They were even using their Twitter account live during the game to point people online to see the full :60 second version of The Force ad.

    Worst Marketing Strategy: Groupon

    Groupon is a brilliant site with an amazing team behind it. I have corresponded personally with their team and know for a fact that the organization is filled with dedicated and personable employees … which makes their Super Bowl effort even more disappointing. The strategy behind their campaign is explained well by founder Andrew Mason on the Groupon Blog … however without the context of the thinking behind the ad, their 30 second spot in isolation came off as offensive, amateurish and insensitive. These are not qualities which represent Groupon at all, yet the ad has gone virally wrong, which is a reminder that sometimes the same creative developed as part of an online campaign can’t simply be translated to another environment and retain its meaning. The Super Bowl needed a different creative execution, and it’s a lesson Groupon is learning the hard way.

    Best Ongoing Marketing Strategy: Doritos

    This year, Doritos continued their leadership in airing consumer generated ads with 3 being shown in the first half. They were funny, on brand and the fact that they all aired during the first half was a repetition that worked for the brand as they stood out in post game reports and go to the #2 spot in terms of positive sentiment in the "Brand Bowl" tracking of conversation in social media. They have officially established ownership over what was a hot trend a few years ago that multiple brands were flirting with, of getting consumers to create ads. Pepsi, smartly capitalizing on this, also aired several consumer generated ads for Pepsi Max as well.

    Best Marketing No-Show: Pizza Hut

    A few days before the game, Pizza Hut chose to pull out of the game after having agreed for the first time ever to run a Super Bowl ad. Despite their almost universally hated product integration with the sportscasters from Fox artificially getting excited about feeding their crew Pizza Hut pizza – they chose to run extremely boring, but price focused ads. In contrast to Domino’s great campaign promoting their substantial transformation, Pizza Hut seems to have abandoned their focus on product quality from last year and went back to gratuitous images of fat laden pepperoni coated breadsticks. You could almost see the actor’s spit bucket off stage to make sure they wouldn’t have to actually swallow any of that stuff during filming. Unfortunately for the obesity epidemic in America, that is probably exactly what people want … and ads during pregame likely helped to stimulate sales.

    Most Significant Actual Announcement: Best Buy

    For anyone who has sat in an advertising pitch meeting, it is easy to picture the discussion that led to the Best Buy spot featuring Justin Beiber alongside Ozzy Osbourne. This kind of "celebrity mashup" can only come from an ad agency brainstorm. The commercial was not bad, but the excessive focus on trying to do something cool creatively obscured the fact that Best Buy was one of the few Super Bowl advertisers with something significant to announce. Their BuyBack program where you can trade in outdated technology is a concept that many consumers will LOVE. In this case, with news this good – it would have been nice if they found a creative execution that let them focus a bit more on the actual announcement instead of all the theater around it. Now they can just hope that in between all the glitz, consumers actually remember that this is a very cool program worth visiting Best Buy to find out more about. Or they could run lots more advertising in the coming months to remind consumers about it.

    Best Product Placement: Chevy

    Chevy was all over the Super Bowl, and several of their ads were good and worth watching – however the best aspects of their sponsorship were the moments where they used deep product integration to promote their products. Unlike Pizza Hut, their product placements were relevant and memorable. From the beautiful shot of the Chevy Camaro that Aaron Rodgers won for being the Super Bowl MVP to the integrated ad with the cast of Glee (including dialogue from the cast as part of the ad) all worked. You knew Chevy was sponsoring, but it wasn’t offputting or intrusive. It worked. Combined with their additional engaging ad featuring voiceovers telling the story of a dream ad, and their partnership with external communities like BzzAgent to help promote their ads – the overall strategy supported Chevy creating big buzz from their huge investment in the games.

    Best Smackdown Of A Competitor: Audi

    Audi created a great spot following on a theme they have used before of defining their brand as "new luxury" in contrast to competitor brands like BMW and Mercedes which they define as "old luxury." During the Super Bowl, Audi first ran their ad called "Release The Hounds" directly targeted at Mercedes, and then in a piece of good luck, the Mercedes ad later in the game played perfectly into Audi’s hands by taking a more historical look at the evolution of the Mercedes brand. The end result was the Mercedes ended up proving the perception that Audi was trying to create that their brand was "old luxury." Great strategy from Audi, helped by a bit of luck, made this strategy stand out.

    Most Poetic Ad: Motorola Xoom

    While the reference to Apple’s groundbreaking 1984 ad may have been a bit too deep for Super Bowl Sunday, I loved the philosophical message behind this ad … making the point that Apple may be becoming everything they had promised to fight against back when 1984 first came out. The moment in the ad where the girl takes out her signature white ear buds to truly see the guy in front of her was perfectly filmed. Fan boys won’t get this ad – but for anyone who has felt they are walking against a sea of people wearing the same white hood and listening to the same white headphones, this ad will strike a strong emotional chord.

    Most Compelling Story: Chrysler – Imported From Detroit

    As a big believer in the potential of Detroit, it was a thrill to see the city featured in a long form ad for Chrysler. In this case, the longer ad helped to tell a story that many other brands simply couldn’t do – and the point was clear. Detroit is reawakening and the resurgence of the American automotive industry is a big sign of that. For anyone who has spent time in a city like Detroit – separated from the hubris of the east and west coasts, this story was a powerful reminder that when the economy does rebound, it is cities like Detroit which will be reinvented.

    Biggest Waste Of Money: Papa Johns

    Papa Johns was the "Official Pizza Of The Super Bowl" which presumably gave them rights to put up posters in the actual venue and some other marketing rights online – but unlike the Olympics where being the Official sponsor is protected and treated with reverence … the vast majority of people watching the game might have named Pizza Hut as the official sponsor instead of Papa Johns. There may be some hidden elements of the sponsorship that make it worth it, but on the surface this seems like a waste of money for Papa Johns that could have been better spent elsewhere.

    Most Unintelligible Ads:

    If the point of a SuperBowl ad is awareness, perhaps succeeded as I was curious about what it was. But the creative execution was incomprehensible, offered no details about what the site actually was or why anyone should care, and ultimately the only people who likely visited were the ones who were simply curious about what kind of site was worth spending millions to promote through two indecipherable Super Bowl spots.

    Best Ad Remake: House Promo

    While many younger viewers may have completely missed the reference, the promo ad for House remaking the iconic 1980 Coke ad featuring Mean Joe Greene was the best flashback to a previous ad.


    Cheapskate Marketer Award: Geico, Citibank & TGI Fridays

    The brands listed above were apparently so set on blowing their budget on a Super Bowl ad that they left no budget to actually develop an ad to air. Those brands chose to recycle old ads which people had seen before on the world’s biggest stage – which is a bit like wearing an old bridesmaid’s dress to your own wedding. It might be a nice dress, but when that many people are watching, save up and get something new.

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