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Which Super Bowl Ads Were a Smart Marketing Strategy?

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Which Super Bowl Ads Were a Smart Marketing Strategy?

Super Bowl XLV is history and so is the advertising that generated so much buzz and discussion before, during, and now, after the game.

Best and worst ad lists are everywhere after a Super Bowl, and there generally is agreement among marketing experts about the winners and losers. Here’s a link courtesy of Adweek to all the spots.

But when you look more closely at Super Bowl ads, a smart marketer has to wonder about their strategic marketing value.

According to the Wall Street Journal, marketers spent $2.8 million to $3 million for a 30-second spot during this year’s matchup. Did the massive investment these marketers made in Super Bowl ads pay off? And even if the ads were clever, were they a smart marketing strategy?

Here are 10 criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of advertising from my experience as a strategic marketing consultant, and my take on how ads from last night’s Super Bowl measured up.

10 Criteria for Measuring an Ad’s Effectiveness

  1. Does the ad connect with the target audience emotionally? Though the Volkswagen Darth Vader ad came close, none of this year’s Super Bowl ads had the emotional impact of the Google ad from last year that chronicled a young couple’s meeting, courting, marrying, and starting a family through their Google searches.
  2. Is the ad true to the customer’s experience with the product? Even if you thought the ad had a bit too much of an “eeewww” factor, Doritos captured the finger licking everyone does when they finish eating the product to get that last delicious taste.
  3. Is the creative approach a simple one the audience can immediately grasp? One reason the Darth Vader ad is a big winner on many lists is that it’s so easy to understand and relate to. Kia, Audi, Chatter.com, Mercedes Benz, Homeaway.com, and Coca Cola’s dueling dragons failed for the opposite reason. Their ad concepts were so complex that the audience had to work too hard to figure them out.
  4. Does the creative concept support and exemplify the brand? The Bud Light commercial starring dogs that help a dog sitter put on a party captures what Budweiser is all about. But how does it help Teleflora’s brand to have Faith Hill assist a clueless guy in sending a tasteless message to his girlfriend with a bouquet of flowers?
  5. Is the product woven into the creative concept so well that the concept couldn’t survive without it? Or could you insert any product into the concept and have the same result? Most of the ads were unsuccessful here. Coca Cola almost pulled this off with border guards who share a Coke, reminding us of Coke’s old branding about teaching the world to sing. But the Chevy Truck Lassie concept, while clever, probably would have worked with any truck.
  6. Does the ad demonstrate some differentiating product value or attribute? The Chevy Cruze “first date” ad successfully showcased the car’s cool ability to report Facebook news feed updates to the driver, but the nursing home ad for the same brand succeeded only in insulting the audience by mocking elderly people with hearing loss.
  7. Does the ad make you want to do something differently? Will it influence your behavior? Best Buy got attention for the new Buy Back program by combining rock legend Ozzy Osbourne and teen star Justin Bieber, though viewers may be more likely to remember the stars than Buy Back at Best Buy when shopping for audio or video products.
  8. Does the ad make you feel differently about a product or marketer? Does it influence your perceptions in a positive way? Etrade continues to build goodwill and position itself as the choice of savvy investors with its hilarious talking baby campaign. Groupon’s awful dismissal of charitable causes probably turned off millions of viewers who felt duped and offended.
  9. Does the ad have legs? Can it be used for months after the Super Bowl or is it a one-time flash-in-the-pan? Snickers succeeded last year in creating a concept that’s still working. Betty White carried it in 2010 and Richard Lewis probably will in 2011, though perhaps not quite as effectively.
  10. Is the ad part of an integrated marketing strategy? Being from Cleveland, Ohio, I’m a sucker for any ad that promotes big, industrial, Midwest cities making a comeback. My personal bias aside, the Eminem Chrysler ad has great depth and breadth that can be the foundation for a full “imported from Detroit” campaign. The GoDaddy girls? Not so much. It’s doubtful GoDaddy will use them in other marketing before next year’s Super Bowl.

The Bottom Line: What You Remember Later

The Super Bowl victors have been crowned, both on the field and on Madison Avenue. But here’s the bottom line on the real value of Super Bowl advertising.  A day or a week later, will you remember an ad primarily for the PRODUCT or primarily for the creative?

If it’s the former, it’s a smart marketing strategy. But if it’s the latter, the marketer probably wasted their marketing investment.

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