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Top 3 Lessons from Super Bowl Advertisers and #BrandBowl

I don’t know if you noticed, but there was a huge television event last night. Enormous. Watched by some 163 million people in the US alone, last night was a major television event by any standard. Oh, not the football game. Sheesh. This isn’t Fox Sports. Nope, I’m talking about the commercials. More specifically, I’m talking about the theme on Twitter, alternately known as #BrandBowl, #AdBowl or #SBAds.

As I and a few thousand of my nearest and dearest friends watched the commercials, we also rated them on Twitter. Based on what I saw, what I heard from people in the room with me (several adults and teens) and what was tweeted, here’s what we learned from the winners and losers at last night’s #BrandBowl.

Several advertisers stood out, garnering all manner of comments both in my family room and on Twitter. Some of those advertisers were winners:

  • Chrysler. Its “Imported from Detroit” spot featuring Emininem was my personal favorite—and received positive responses from all over the Twitterverse (though there were some snarky comments after his “I don’t do ads” line in an earlier spot for Brisk Iced Ted)
  • Volkswagen. All of its ads did well, though the young boy as Darth Vader and the new Beetle spot were particularly strong.
  • Chevy Camaro. Their “Miss Evelyn” advertisement was a winner.
  • Bridgestone Tires. Yep. A tire brand actually did really well.
  • Coca-Cola. No surprise here, I guess. You’d expect Coke to know a thing or two about advertising.

GoDaddy got mixed reviews for its ad choices (full disclosure: I am a GoDaddy affiliate). Its Joan Rivers spot received generally positive comments, while its later spot was, um… well, sexist, sophomoric and offensive.

Speaking of offensive, the night’s big loser, without question, was Groupon. The company came off, at best, as insensitive and at worst exploitative for apparently making light of the situation in Tibet, deforestation and endangered whales (only one of these aired during the game—the other two were immediately before and afterwards). Ostensibly to raise awareness of—and money for—those issues, the company claims the ads were meant to poke fun at itself. If that’s the case, it seems like no one got the joke.

If you missed any of these, you can see all the ads on YouTube.

Still, what can we learn from this collection of high-priced advertising talent? I took 3 lessons to heart:

  1. Connect with an emotional story. There’s no question that the Chrysler and Volkswagen ads, along with those from Audi and Motorola succeeded because they told an emotionally resonant story. Whether “our storied past” (Chrysler), “father and son” (Volkswagen), “boy meets girl” (Motorola), or “beaver meets driver” (Bridgestone), the emotional connections between the characters fueled the strongest audience responses (several teen-aged friends of my daughter actually “Aww-ed” at the end of the Motorola commercial). And all were among the most positively referenced last night.
  2. Tech—for its own sake— is boring. Audi claimed the first use of a Twitter hashtag in one if its commercials last night. No one I watched with seemed to catch it—or to care. Maybe a little too “inside baseball” for the SuperBowl? Meanwhile, a hidden cheat code for the popular “Angry Birds” game during an advertisement for the animated film Rio got people all a-Twitter. It was clear that the movie connected because it aligned with the audiences for the game and got them talking about the film.
  3. Humor can be great. But be very, very careful. Dorito’s probably had the LOL moment of the night referencing its finger-licking, and pants-licking, good chips. Volkswagen’s Darth Vader spot was one of the most talked about ads before the Super Bowl aired. Even otherwise maligned GoDaddy seemed to win when it revealed its “new” GoDaddy girl. But as HomeAway and, yes, Groupon learned, not everyone finds the same things funny you do. And a poorly told “joke” can seriously backfire.

Of course, we like to look at these ads and proclaim the winners and losers. But in reality, the real winners are going to be those brands that see a lift in business, not just web chatter, from their spots. For instance, Wieden and Kennedy, the agency responsible for the Chrysler spot helped increase sales for Old Spice body wash by some 50% following last year’s viral marketing smash “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.”

Growing sales should be the whole point of advertising—whether on Super Bowl Sunday or in your local Sunday paper. And, for me, that’s the best lesson of all.


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Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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