Super Bowl 2009 Advertising Review
By Mike Wien
The 2009 Super Bowl will be remembered for an incredible number of game changing plays as well as the number of critical penalties that contributed to making it a dramatic cliff hanger, or more appropriately a toe hanger, until the very end. As for the advertising, while we did see some great creative this year, I am not sure many would be considered game changers and I believe a lot of yellow flags should be thrown in some marketing departments on Monday morning.
The Super Bowl has become an annual tradition for both the best professional football players to show their talent as well as some of the most sophisticated agencies in the world to show their creative prowess. At $3 million for 30 seconds to reach 100 million people, the stakes for the NFL teams and the agencies are high. While hundreds of fans and sports writers will get to play Monday morning quarterback and evaluate every aspect of the game, I look forward to playing Monday morning quarterback each year and providing a perspective on the winners and losers in this annual advertising event. As I attempt to objectively evaluate the creative, I focus on the same three things I look for in all marketing or business development plans:
Are they focusing on the right target?
Have they developed a compelling message? (Does the viewer know what they are famous for?)
Did they pick the right vehicle to deliver their message?
Based on these three simple criteria, here is how I called the game in the order the commercials were aired. To review any of these commercials, go to http://www.hulu.com/ .
Bud Light Budget Meeting – Budweiser took the lead spot again this year with a budget meeting focusing on cutting costs. When a young executive comes up with the idea of no longer serving Bud Light in meetings, he gets jettisoned out a tenth story window of the building. In these difficult times, one can imagine meetings like this taking place. By so violently rejecting the idea and the person who came up with it, the Budweiser team made their product king. Bravo.
Audi Car Chase – Car commercials are very difficult to pull off successfully in a Super Bowl environment. That is why I traditionally do not comment on them. This Audi commercial involves too many cars and too much of a story line to have anyone focus on the product – Audi. While image is important, the message got lost in all the traffic.
Pepsi For Ever Young - Borrowing from the Forrest Gump concept of traveling over many generations, Pepsi delivers good music and entertaining footage that is more meaningful to the original Pepsi Generation of the sixties, but does not capture the emotion or connection of today. For a brand that used to develop the winning Super Bowl commercial, this was a lost generation.
Doritos Crystal Ball – Frito Lay understands that they are selling a fun product. If you want serious food, eat carrots. So they appropriately stick with fun and unexpected twists. In their first commercial, a guy uses the crystal ball to throw it into a Doritos vending machine as he predicts free Doritos for the day. It works. His associate tries the same technique in asking about a promotion and accidently throws the ball into the crotch of his approaching boss. The result is very funny and very different. Just the right recipe.
Bud Light by Conan O’Brien - This commercial starts out with Conan telling an agent, “I just don’t do commercials. It is not my thing. “ He should have kept that policy in force. The commercial, while trying to be funny, was a double miss. It was the wrong image for Conan and the wrong image for Bud Light. The story line was so complicated; I had to re-watch the commercial to remember who paid for it.
Bridgestone Mr. Potato Head - Bridgestone delivers another entertaining commercial using Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. Entertaining, yes, but what did this have to do with tires? Bridgestone needs more than just entertainment to get traction on this one.
Castrol Edge Monkeys – e-Trade used chimpanzees 8 years ago in some much loved spots. Career Builders used chimpanzees for many years and should have never walked away from that formula. So it is no wonder that Castrol thought they found the magic formula by sticking a bunch of chimpanzees in a garage. They are about to find out that developing great creative is not that easy. What a mess.
Doritos Crunch – The guy chomps on a Doritos and the crunch makes absurd things happen, from clothes dropping off a woman to money flying out of an ATM, to a policeman turning into a monkey. Just what Doritos is supposed to be…absurdly funny.
Go Daddy.com – The good news is that Go Daddy.com finally told people what they did – create domain names on the internet. However, I assume after three years of this campaign, they really know their audience – guys who love pornography on the internet. If that is their target, then they have the right message.
Pepsi Max I am Good – This commercial features a number of macho guys recovering from doing really stupid guy things. This must be the type of person who loves large amounts of caffeine. Go for it.
Pedigree Adoption Drive – This short set of vignettes featuring people owning ridiculous pets is very funny, but I am afraid the animals hog the message. What are they selling?
Budweiser Fetch - In a curtain call appearance, our favorite Budweiser Clydesdale is re-united with our star Budweiser Dalmatian for a game of fetch. But the Clydesdale showing off takes away the warmth and emotion that made previous commercials so effective.
Budweiser Lover Boy – Maybe Budweiser decided to develop a commercial that would appeal more to women. I would run this one with the previews at a “chick flick.”
Mission G – A very interesting and attention grabbing commercial with no apparent sponsor. By doing some research after the game and playing the commercial over, I was able to discover that the commercial mentions a web site during the last two seconds of the commercial – MissionG.com. I am not sure what the site does, but I am pretty sure it was paid for by Gatorade. For $3 million, I expect advertisers should not make it so difficult to find out who sponsored the commercial.
Cars.com Super Kid – This super kid from birth does some amazing things that demonstrate great confidence at a young age. However, he has no confidence in his ability to buy a car. My guess is that the audience hates negotiating a price for a car and hates this kid. Two wrongs here make a bigger wrong.
e-Trade Babies – The folks at e-trade developed this concept last year and it worked. So stick with a winning formula. Not my taste, but I am probably no longer in their target.
Bud Light Drinkability – This is an example of a serious message (drinkability) converging with a very humorous visual (obstacles being inserted in front of skiers digitally for crashing effects). Serious and humorous just don’t mix. And when did drinkability become an issue with beer anyway?
H & R Block Father Time - This commercial brings the two requirements of life – Death and taxes – together to focus on H & R Block’s new service – a second look. What a great message for the high volume king of tax returns. And when they find something that was missed, they end up with a customer for life.
Monster.com Prize Stuffed Elk – This commercial captures the great disparity between the executive office and the manager’s office and drives home the message – if you hate your job, get a new one - in a lighthearted but effective way. In today’s environment, when so many people are looking for new jobs, this one hits the mark.
Cheetos Ms. Negative – In this commercial, Cheetos is used effectively to chase away an obnoxious lady who is complaining about everything. Not only is Cheetos the hero, but Chester Cheetos, the mascot even gets to play a secondary role. Smile and say cheese on this one.
Bridgestone Spacemen – Astronauts on the moon have their tires stolen off their lunar vehicle. It won’t win awards but it was effective.
Denny’s Free Breakfast – This is a big message – offering a free breakfast to everyone on Tuesday. However, the message got lost in the commercial. If you have an important message, deliver it. Don’t hide it in between the whipped cream and pancakes.
Budweiser Clydesdales Generations – If this was the traditional Clydesdale pull at your heart strings commercial for 2009, it missed. You can’t pull on heart strings when you start off in a vaudeville act.
Coke Ladybug Animation – Here is a wonderful use of animation to create a feel good commercial about Coke. Fun creative animation is right on for the real thing.
Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes Plant Some Seeds - Kellogg’s came up with a beautifully done commercial that provides a nice tie-in to local communities. It is the right commercial for Kellogg’s, but the wrong commercial for the Super Bowl. Next time, try family oriented programming.
Coke Zero – Do you remember Coke’s Mean Joe Green commercial? One of the best in Super Bowl history. This sequel must have been really funny to the guys in Coke marketing who approved this commercial. But do they really think the rest of the world cares about inter-brand competition? Give me a break. Inside jokes don’t work on national TV. This one was a whopper.
Cash4Gold – In today’s environment, this communicates an important message in a pretty straightforward way. While it will not be a crowd pleaser, it will bring in the gold.
Taco Bell Call Me Sometime – I am not sure who will be scared more by this one – guys or girls. The customer for your products is supposed to be a hero, not an overbearing turkey.
GE Scare Crow Smarter Grid - GE continues to demonstrate their creative talents by leveraging a classic story with current technology. But who is the audience and what was the message? If it was stockholders or public utilities, why promote this to 100 million people?
GE Capturing the Wind – Another creative commercial from GE about wind power. This is a little more main stream and does a nice job associating GE with renewable energy.
Pepsi McGruber - The idea of a really dumb commercial works well with a Saturday Night Live audience. But this is not a Saturday Night Live audience. Keep this under wraps until after anyone with a functioning brain goes to bed.
Bud Light Lime – This commercial delivers the Bud Light fun image and still manages to communicate the unique selling proposition in the creative – summer state of mind. This commercial has sizzle.
My congratulations to the Steelers fans and my sympathy to the Cardinal fans. The same goes for many professionals in the advertising industry as we celebrate the winners and try to understand what went wrong with those who did not fare so well. For those of us dealing with more modest budgets, we can learn from this irreverent review the importance of staying focused on the three critical elements of success:
Define a very specific Target.
Develop a Compelling Message that is meaningful and relevant to the target.
Select the most effective Vehicle to deliver that compelling message to the target.
The Super Bowl is more than just about muscle and brute force. It is also a demonstration of the importance of solid strategy being executed in a successful manner. The Steelers did a better job in executing their strategy to the delight of millions of fans. So did many of the advertisers.