Super Bowl Duds

  • Article by: JOHN RASH
  • Updated: February 7, 2011 - 8:20 PM

Ads were a study in contradiction

John Rash

John Rash

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Super Bowl TV commercials -- the game within the game -- are an inherent contradiction: What other event results in viewers scrutinizing the spots as much as the show?

The Super Bowl advertising creative process and product itself also offered up several contradictions this year, including the way we experience them.

Transformational technologies like the Internet, and social-media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, were employed to make ads into viral videos and to expand their shelf life far beyond the 30 seconds rented expensively from Fox.

Most marketers believe that exposure makes it worth the $2.8-million-per-spot investment. And the record-setting 111 million viewers don't hurt, either.

But this "Jetsons"-like technology was often met with "Three Stooges"-like humor, be it Pepsi Max cans hurled into heads or crotches or dogs attacking over Doritos.

The sophomoric steak also had its usual "sexism sells" strain, including the GoDaddy.com girls and Teleflora's tacky Valentine's Day poem from a guy about his girlfriend's "rack."

And just as American football fans find futbol (our soccer) foreign, Groupon showed it may understand the Web but not the world. Its cynical spot started out about troubled Tibet but turned into a plug for its web-based coupons.

It meant to convey thriftiness, but came off as cheap.

Coke, conversely, understands that international relations are ultimately about human ones and had a heart-warming spot about two border guards who literally and figuratively blur the line between their countries in order to share a soda.

But the biggest contradictions were in the key car category, which had two of the best spots amid the worst.

Volkswagen's "The Force" ad, with the cute kid dressed as Darth Vader, perfectly captured the essence of toddlers and their parents (and in the process showed a product benefit).

Conversely, the Chevy Cruze "Misunderstanding" spot, which plays upon hard-of-hearing seniors in a retirement home, was itself a misunderstanding of its brand: When the tagline is "Chevy runs deep," don't mock the one generation that stuck with you all these years.

But if the Chevy ad was an Edsel, the Chrysler ad was a Cadillac.

Clocking in at two minutes, which seems like a miniseries in today's short-attention-span society, Chrysler's "Born of Fire" spot was a homage to hometown grit that inverted industry, city and brand images that have been hard to shake.

And the "Imported from Detroit" tagline deftly challenged car buyers to embrace the domestic manufacturers' recovery as a metaphor on the nation's comeback.

Hopefully Madison Avenue was watching and will heed the Motown lesson. Because after a mostly lackluster year of Super Bowl spots, many marketers need to rediscover their roots, too.J

John Rash is an editorial board member. His column, Rash Report, appears on Saturdays.

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