Villing & Company

Super Bowl XLV Commercials: Is it me or is it smart in here?

OK, younger readers, bear with me through these first two paragraphs as I once again date myself and you will probably have no clue what I’m talking about. But I got into this business not long after the so-called golden era of advertising in the 1960s. Back then creativity was king and really smart agencies produced really smart advertising. One of the top shops of the era was Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), which produced much of the classic advertising for the original Volkswagen Beetle and AVIS. The work of this agency was an inspiration for me and many other aspiring young ad guys of that era.

Now many generations, acquisitions and mergers removed from the original agency, DDB still exists today. So a few years back when I had the chance to tour the agency in Chicago, I hoped I would still see some of the magic that had inspired me so long ago. Sadly, it was not to be. After the prerequisite tour of pretentious offices, we spent some time looking at their TV reel, which consisted mostly of Budweiser commercials. Some of the work was quite good including a few of those delightful Clydesdale commercials so prominent in Super Bowls past. But the ultimate disappointment was when the DDB official candidly admitted there was no real strategy behind any of their Super Bowls spots. Despite years of declining sales, the sole objective was to create commercials that would win the annual water cooler conversation the day after the Super Bowl.

I believe that strategy, or lack thereof, has driven most Super Bowl advertising in recent years. As a result, we’ve had to suffer through an inordinate amount of dumb and dumber attempts at humor. Exhibit A: GoDaddy. Exhibit B: Homeaway. Exhibit C: Best Buy (Ozzie Obnoxious and Bieber Fever). Well, you get the idea. And now finally you will get the point of this commentary.

While generally the commercials on this year’s Super Bowl were nothing special, I thought the good ones were very good. And those of you who rated the Top 5 for us obviously agreed. In order, the top five were:

  1. Chrysler (Anthem to Detroit starring Eminem)
  2. Volkswagen (Darth Vader)
  3. Bridgestone (Karma)
  4. Audi (Prison Break)
  5. Snickers

Only time will tell if they were truly effective, but each of these succeeded in capturing attention, then holding and rewarding the viewer with a positive feeling about the brand. Everyone always talks about the importance of good story telling in a commercial. These spots were all exquisite in their delivery of a strong marketing message within the context of a compelling story.

Personally, the Volkswagen spot was my favorite because it was like a good novel. It captured attention from the get-go and didn’t let go until it paid off the brand in a way that touched the heart. The humor was simple and subtle but profound.

Chrysler touched a different heart string, but one very much in need of attention. Detroit “has been down so long it looks like up” to its residents. Americans love a good comeback story. And even though Detroit has a long way to go, this was a powerful statement that reminded the world of what that city has meant to industrial history and resonated accordingly.

I know Bridgestone ads are not the belly laugh variety many people seem to prefer, but I thought the "Karma" spot demonstrated the value of simple, subtle humor as a means of delivering a marketing message. Unlike so many commercials where it’s all about the joke and the marketing message is secondary, this spot used humor to drive the brand’s value proposition.

By contrast, there was nothing simple about the Audi “Prison Break” spot. For that reason, I had mixed feelings about it. It was complex with a lot of humorous subplots, like the anesthetic effect of Kenny G music. But the spot held my attention throughout the twists and turns and makes its point.

Snickers was obviously a continuation of the series started with last year’s wonderful Betty White spot. This one wasn’t nearly as good, but it was consistent with the campaign and delivered its message well.

I don’t honestly know if this year’s Top Five Super Bowl commercials represent a trend or an aberration in terms of marketer or consumer judgment, but I applaud the overall smartness of these examples and hope it bodes well for the future.

Filed Under: Advertising, Super Bowl

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