04 February 2013

Super Bowl XLVII Advertising: What Worked

How did a Super Bowl advertiser know if she spent $4 million of her media budget wisely yesterday?  And what about that production budget?

The answer doesn’t depend on popular opinion surveys, like the USA Today Ad Meter declaring Budweiser’s Clydesdales the winner.  In the end, clients want results, and while some seek popularity, all advertisers look for sales, share and brand equity.

We can’t share any internal documents stating those goals and whether the ads achieved them.  But the universal laws of strong communication still apply.  Based on those, we can pick some winners.

Universal Laws of Advertising Still Apply on Super Bowl Sunday

Every commercial has to be memorable, persuasive and well-executed.  Most Super Bowl commercials are memorable, even if it’s a memorable failure, and even if it resorts to stupid attention-getting tricks like featuring babies, animals and/or celebrities.  And most are well-executed.  Or at least well-funded.

No, really. Where's the
copy strategy for this?
It’s the persuasive part that many Super Bowl commercials miss.  In many cases that’s due to a lack of clear objective.  In most it’s because the brand, product and story aren’t all present or linked together. 

I’m not prescribing a claim or product feature, although those are far and few between during any Super Bowl.  It’s more simple:  Did you remember the advertiser?  Did you remember what they told you?

Super Bowl Advertising Also Has to be Epic

There’s one more rule that applies to big events like the Super Bowl:  Advertising has to be epic.  That could mean making a special emotional connection, launching a (truly) revolutionary product, or even a celebrity.  Think of the Super Bowl as a premiere.  It would be silly to run an ad everyone has already seen.  (Oh.  Wait….)

The problem is, epic falls flat if there’s no story being told – not just the story on the screen, but the advertiser’s story.

Super Bowl XLVII Advertising: What Worked

Based only on the above thoughts, here were three that worked well.

“Morning Run” (Milk).  Milk’s marketing works best when it focuses on the “healthy body” claim.  In this case they turned the “Got Milk?” storyline into the promise of  “Protein to start your day.”  Dwayne Johnson’s role reinforces the product benefit.  And it was epic.

“Farmer” (Dodge Ram).  I admit that the Paul Harvey speech drew me in.  Which was necessary because I’m not in the market for a pickup truck.  Doubly necessary because of Dodge Ram advertising’s sophomoric track record.  Yes, it amounts to a product usage suggestion (“great for farming!”) but they effectively used the brand to herald a cause.

“Miracle Stain” (Tide).  I had to go back and watch it again this morning because I apparently missed the “Go Ravens” line while feeding tortilla chips to the children.  Kudos to Procter & Gamble for resisting the urge to feature a claim and/or a demo until the very end.

What didn’t work so well?

None of these spots had all four ingredients (memorable, persuasive, well-executed and epic).

“Crackin’ Style” (Wonderful Pistachios).  Even the star of the most viral video ever can’t compensate for lack of a point or an unmemorable brand name.  In fairness, salty snacks is a tricky category.  Past Super Bowl nut-vertising offers a cautionary tale.  The billionaire Resnicks should heed it.

“Effect” (Sodastream).  My in-game tweet on #AdHuddle:  “SodaStream verdict: The pre-game controversy did way more for them than the in-game #Advertising.”  They could have made a much more clear connection to saving the environment, or even saving money, than this botched attempt at a side-by-side comparison.

“Party” (Pepsi Next).  At first glance this is classic Pepsi: a situation comedy where young people raise Cain and get away with it.  But wait, it’s not classic Pepsi, it’s a line extension, and they don’t get away with it.  The entire situation is contrived to fit around a product usage occasion where the dad recites the brief:  “This is real cola taste.”

What about you?

I’ve only chosen a few commercials here, so please put your own reviews in the comments section below.  Which commercials did you think were memorable, persuasive, well-executed and epic?


  1. Steve, I loved the Jeep spot honoring the military. If ever a brand could authentically own that territory, it's Jeep. And the use of today's Jeep to bring troops home vs. as a tool of war was brilliant.

  2. Good point, Fred. Similar to the Ram truck spot, Jeep did just the right amount of branding. They can credibly claim to know the troops... and as you point out, bring them home. Good one.

    Now...which spots did you dislike?

  3. Where do I begin? The pistachio spot is a great miss. I'd add the black crown bud work. Rich, goth hipsters appeals to no one but rich, goth hipsters. I thought the Pepsi and Coke work were, frankly, boring and nothing new from either of them. Finally, the beck sapphire fish spot was awful. You?

  4. Agree on all those, Fred, plus the others in my post above. Most of the spots failed to tell a coherent story. There is too much effort put in to being "epic". Said another way style seems more important than substance. I believe Super Bowl ads jumped the shark during the dot-com/dot-bomb era, when too many inexperienced marketers were spending VC money too freely.