Super Bowl XLVI: Which Ads Were a Smart Marketing Strategy?

Hitting-target1-300x208Another year, another Super Bowl, and another advertising extravaganza by America’s brand marketers.

Best and worst lists are already out. Many spots were creative and funny. But when you look more closely at Super Bowl ads, a smart marketer has to wonder about their strategic marketing value.

A 30-second spot cost $3.5 million. Even if the ads were clever, at that price, were they a smart marketing strategy?

Here are seven criteria for evaluating the strategic effectiveness of advertising and my assessment as a marketing consultant of this year’s ads.

  1. Does the ad connect with the target audience emotionally? Emotional connections were hard to find this year, though Clint Eastwood’s Chrysler spot hit the mark. Some nostalgia-driven ads were strong, especially Honda’s Ferris Bueller spot, but Coke’s bears felt mechanical and predictable. Plus, few people under 25 even know who these characters are.
  2. Is the creative approach a simple one the audience can immediately grasp? Chevy’s graduation gift ad was the best example. Everyone got the joke in an instant. Skechers nailed it with Mr. Quiggly and H&M used David Beckham’s body with great effectiveness.
  3. Does the creative concept support and exemplify the brand? More misses than hits. VW’s dog was cute, but the connection with the brand was weak. Acura’s exclusivity message is true to its brand, but Jerry Seinfeld’s star power outshone the car. Chevy’s end-of-the-world truck spot supported its brand positioning, though the Twinkies joke at the end is the most memorable moment.
  4. 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 with the same result?  Doritos was successful with its blackmailing dog; you can’t recall that ad without remembering the dog owner eating Doritos. Chrysler did well, too, with its emphasis on Detroit’s survival. Miss Brown, the newest M&M, had all the attitude and personality that have made M&Ms characters so beloved. But most ads failed here; plug almost any car brand in any car ad and there’d be little difference.
  5. Does the ad demonstrate some differentiating product value or attribute? Skechers’ Mr. Quiggly did this well and Samsung’s ad showcased the phone’s stylus (though everyone I followed on Twitter mocked the technology as outdated: “I’m pretty sure there’s an app for that.”) Audi’s bright headlights are so close to daylight, they vanquish vampires, but the concept felt creepy. See below.
  6. Does the ad make you feel differently about a product or marketer? GE’s ads with workers who meet the people who benefit from GE technology was almost heart-warming, but the execution was ponderous and it felt a tad false. (Employees who make cancer screening medical devices don’t know ANYONE who’s survived cancer?) At the opposite end of the spectrum, GoDaddy.com cemented its reputation as a lowlife marketer with trashy ads. Besides young single guys, would anyone seek out GoDaddy.com for a web URL as a result of these spots?
  7. Most important, is the ad part of an integrated marketing strategy? Last year’s Chrysler spot with Eminem is the classic example of a Super Bowl ad with the depth and breadth to be the foundation for a full campaign. H&M is already building a campaign around Beckham and Miss Brown is sure to be the star of M&Ms marketing in the year ahead.

My List of Super Bowl Advertising Hits and Misses

  • Worst disappointment: The first bad eTrade baby spot; sad to see such a great campaign fall so flat.
  • Best cameo appearance: The midget from Twin Peaks as the last living Munchkin in the Acura Seinfeld spot.
  • Most confusing: Hulu’s baffling spots with Will Arnett, the Okay Go guys using a car to record a song, and the Chevy Sonic doing stunts. What was the point exactly?
  • Can’t remember the product: The cheetah who would rather eat the guy who opened the cage than race a car (which car was that?); the sled driver who buys a car and returns to the igloo (again, which car?); a team of workers singing the Rocky theme to inspire a coworker (name the company).
  • Tired concepts that should have stayed in the can: Another Mean-Joe-Green-in-the-tunnel ad (Downy); CareerBuilder’s chimps (same concept they used six years ago); the beautiful Clydesdales (wasted in a Budweiser spot—remember when they were great?).
  • Worse “ewww” factor: Audi’s blood delivery to a vampire bonfire (a tasteless mismatch with such an upscale brand); Hyundai using a car to revive a man whose heart has stopped; a robot baby from Toyota.
  • Should have saved their money: Cadillac, Toyota, Best Buy, Chase, Suzuki, Bridgestone, TaxAct.com—weak, forgettable ads that were lost in the shuffle.
  • Best paid product placement: Motorola headsets worn by the coaches, bearing no less than six brand references per headset.
  • Best unpaid product placement: Apple iPhones being held by Giants players who shot pictures of the Lombardi trophy.
  • What I won’t do next year: Preview all the ads online before the game. Most felt stale by the time they ran and many suffered in the shorter format, especially Honda and Acura.

The Bottom Line: What Do You Really Remember?

Two days after the Super Bowl, most of the ads have disappeared from the American consciousness. Smart marketers have to ask if this massive investment of marketing resources paid off.

My bottom line on the value of Super Bowl advertising in a marketing strategy is this: A day or a week or a month later, will you remember an ad primarily for the PRODUCT or 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 money.

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