Super Bowl Ads 2011: The Good, the Bad, the Obnoxious

BlogHer Original Post

Last night’s Super Bowl was full of surprises, but perhaps the most surprising was that the GoDaddy commercials were not the most tasteless. That dubious honor goes to the pseudo-Tibetan PSA that segued into actor Timothy Hutton pimping social couponing site Groupon.

Overall, this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads was pretty disappointing. Unusually, the game itself was actually more interesting (and I don’t really like football that much). Here’s my report card.

 

The Best Super Bowl Ads of 2011

Ad agency Deutsch usually delivers for client Volkswagen, and this year was no exception. The Darth Vader spot that was leaked at the end of the week was superb, and as @edwardboches commented on the #brandbowl twitter stream, it was genius to pre-release the 60-second spot on YouTube but run the shorter (less costly) 30 during the game. By the time the spot aired, people were actually waiting for it.


And the agency’s New Beetle ad featuring the song “Black Betty” was perhaps even better -- a clever use of animation that actually highlighted the brand’s personality versus CGI for CGI’s sake (Salesforce.com’s lame spots for Chatter.com featuring the Black Eyed Peas, anyone?)


As a body of work, the Fox and NFL house ads were among the best of the bunch this year, especially the NFL’s Best Fans Ever TV nostalgia spot that aired late in the game.


Overall, I think it was my favorite of the night. It has something for everyone, left you feeling good and made the point -- the Super Bowl and football are part of American culture. Even if you don’t watch a minute.

That “good feeling” is what I expect to get from Coca-Cola’s commercials, and it just wasn’t there this year, even though the production values met the company’s usually high standards. "Border Crossing" was clever, and on message for the brand, but I didn’t really get the dragon breathing fire one. Perhaps it was that both commercials played off confrontation and war, themes that I generally don’t associate with the brand.


As usual, there were lots of movie ads. Other than the Kung Fu Panda “We will wok you,” which was clearly done for the Super Bowl, these were typical movie spots for films expected to entice the Super Bowl audience. Personally, I am looking forward to Captain America and Thor, thank you very much.

Speaking of house ads, there seemed to be an awful lot of Fox house ads -- particularly for House, Glee and the Daytona 500. More than usual? I don’t know but it sure felt like it.

Retro was definitely in this year -- among others, the aforementioned NFL fans spot, Mercedes Benz, and Chevy Volt and Motorola all played to the past to good effect.

[BTW, if you are looking for the review of the Chevy ad that ran during Glee and featured the show's cast, it’s not here. I am not a Gleek and it was past my bedtime.]

 

Beer, Chips and Soda Ads

As always, Anheuser Busch debuted a number of commercials. Loved, loved, loved the "Tiny Dancer" spot. It uses surprise so very well. Plus the Clydesdales.



I also got a big kick out of Dog Sitter -- especially the final frame of the dogs playing cards, evocative of the turn-of-the-century cigar ads http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogs_Playing_Poker. The product placement spot was a bit forced, and at this point in this column, I don’t remember any of the others.

Doritos was a mixed bag. The finger-sucking, pants-licking kid? Memorable. But creepy. And not in a good way. The other spots were also a little creepy, but you really can’t miss with a pug, and the power of Doritos to revive dead fish, plants and even grandpa was very amusing.



Pepsi’s PepsiMax commercials, on the other hand, were disappointing. I absolutely love the company, but was not impressed with the ads, all of which were structured around gender stereotypes. Yes, I know PepsiMax is the boy diet soda, which is probably why all the spots were aimed to appeal to an adolescent male, but I honestly think they could have gotten their message across without sexist innuendo and nut shots. Makes me wish they had given the money to the Refresh Project again this year.



 

Car Commercials

Other than the Volkswagen ads, the auto ads were pretty pedestrian. Most were trying to create emotional resonance with the brand (you know, instead of talking about features), but fell pretty flat. I was particularly confused by the Ford Explorer ads featuring New York. And the connection is?

Chevy’s geriatric-bashing didn’t impress, but the Silverado ad with “Timmy down the well -- in a volcano etc.” cracked me up. It was a funny riff on the unlikely rescues that tend to be front and center in the action adventure movies and TV that are often advertised during the Super Bowl -- in fact, it was followed by an ad for a film starring action icon Bruce Willis



Chevy’s Volt ad was very evocative and certainly positioned Volt as revolutionary, but I have to admit being a little let down that all that set up was for a car. On the other hand, even though I don’t much like P Diddy, I loved the Mercedes commercial with all the classic cars.

Lots of people loved the Bridgestone and Carmax ads. They were okay, but overall, the auto advertising left me missing last year’s Kia plushies (and I didn’t even like those ads). Other automakers with Super Bowl spots advertising: Audi, Hyundai, Kia, BMW, Jeep, Honda, Toyota, Mini Cooper and Chrysler.



 

Tech Ads

The tech ads were a mixed bag. The Best Buy ad with Ozzy Osbourne and Justin Bieber was inspired. Best lines of the night: “What’s a Bieber? I dunno. Kind of looks like a girl.”



The Sony Experia ad, on the other hand was simply creepy. Really creepy. Even creepier than the pants-licking Doritos guy, and that’s saying something.



Motorola’s Zoom ad was highly evocative (dare I say imitative) of old Apple ads. 1984 redux. Nothing special really. Verizon’s ad for the iPhone on Verizon was pretty much what I would have expected, but still amusing.

 

Lions and Tigers and Definitely Bears

As usual, anthropomorphized animals were featured in many commercials. We just love talking bears and groundhogs I guess. I liked the bears going to McDonald’s -- especially since I now imagine that it is the Time Warner Cable guy in the car. Career Builder had chimps, and more than a few brands went to the dogs.

 

Random Celebrities

Eminem was featured in two ads last night -- an ad for Chrysler that was more a love letter to Detroit than an auto ad, and a CGI piece for Brisk Iced Tea.



With Eminem, Black Eyed Peas and P Diddy all featured in ads, you might think it was the year of the rapper, but my favorite musician was actor Adrien Brody’s turn at the mic for Stella Artois:




 

Blecch: The Most Obnoxious Super Bowl Ads

GoDaddy and the E*Trade talking babies are on my life list for worst ever, so no further commentary here. This year’s Snickers commercial was not a worthy successor to Betty White and Abe Vigoda last year. Betty White playing football is funny. Roseanne Barr getting knocked over by a log? Not so much.



 

Missed the Boat

HomeAway’s branding was totally muddled. If you didn’t know what HomeAway was before this ad ran, you still don’t.



That’s my take on this year’s Super Bowl ads. What did you think? Share in the comments, and if you haven’t seen them yet, you can watch all the Super Bowl ads, by quarter at fanhouse: http://superbowlads.fanhouse.com/ and check out the most popular at the Brand Bowl: http://brandbowl2011.com/

Susan Getgood blogs at Marketing Roadmaps, Snapshot Chronicles and Snapshot Chronicles

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