While this year’s Super Bowl advertising delivered the usual mix of humor and celebrities, it was a rather unique year. The spots were mixed, as always; some advertisers did a terrific job while others missed the mark. But the recession clearly played a role.
Perhaps the single most astonishing thing was the presence of Cash4Gold. This is a company that melts down jewelry. You send in your precious items and get cash in return. The fact that this company thought advertising on the Super Bowl was a good idea clearly reflects that fact that the U.S. economy is very, very weak. Liquidating the family gems is a desperation move. When you go to a pawn shop, you have hope of recovering your items. When you send them to be melted down, you are giving up hope. This is simply scary.
A number of the spots this year went directly at competition. Teleflora attacked flowers that arrive in a box, deliberately bashing the competition. Audi left Mercedes and Lexus in the dust. Hyundai went after BMW and Japanese auto companies. Denny’s made fun of family- oriented pancake houses, indirectly slamming IHOP. This level of competitive intensity reflects the tough economy, too; advertisers are trying to differentiate and drive sales at the expense of competition.
The job sites carried the day. Monster.com was the top finisher in the Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review, with CareerBuilder very close behind. Both advertisers resonated because they featured people with lousy jobs. I suspect this is something many people can relate to. CareerBuilder takes the prize for most improved; last year CareerBuilder missed the mark with a horrific spot featuring a heart leaping out of a woman’s chest. This year’s effort was dramatically better.
Doritos breathed new life into the idea of consumer- generated content. Doritos ended up running two spots, both submitted in the Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” contest. Both worked quite well because they attracted attention and had exceptionally strong branding.
The E*Trade baby was back this year, and with good reason; last year E*Trade was one of the top advertisers. This year E*Trade again hit the mark; the spot delivered a clear message and was highly entertaining.
Denny’s rounded out the top group of advertisers in the Kellogg Super Bbowl Advertising Review. The Denny’s spot communicated a benefit versus competition, and then revealed a striking offer: on Tuesday, the Grand Slam Breakfast will be free. This is a huge deal and will generate enormous excitement. I hope they have enough eggs for the likely demand.
Five advertisers finished at the bottom of the 2009 Kellogg Super Bowl Review: Toyota, Vizio, Castrol, GoDaddy and SoBe.
The biggest disappointment was SoBe. This spot was part of the much hyped 3-D extravaganza at the end of the second quarter. People were encouraged to track down the special glasses, put them on at the appropriate moment and then get ready. And, after all the build-up, the SoBe spot was largely incomprehensible. SoBe’s spot in the 2008 Super Bowl wasn’t very strong. This spot was worse; it was an unintelligible muddle.
Toyota and Vizio were simply too dull to stand out on the Super Bowl. They weren’t terrible spots, really, they just weren’t very interesting. Castrol should have been better; the spot featured chimps, and chimps have a long and proud history on the Super Bowl. This one just fell a bit flat.
GoDaddy was, well, GoDaddy.
Other Interesting Advertisers
Anheuser-Busch stumbled this year, falling in the middle of the pack. A-B ran some very clever spots, such as the Bud Light spot with Conan, and a trio of nice, iconic spots for Budweiser. But A-B also ran a few dull spots, such as a skiing spot for Bud Light that was focused on drinkability (what is drinkability, anyway?) In addition, I suspect the trio of Clydesdale spots watered down the impact.
Pedigree ran a very cute commercial encouraging people to get a dog. The ad fell in the middle of the pack in the Kellogg Review, but I suspect it resonated with dog lovers, and that is the group Pedigree really cares about.
Pepsi and Coke both lacked fizz. The spots were all big and iconic but somehow fell flat. I suspect that in another year they might have worked, but in a grim economic time the light, fluffy stuff seems strangely out of touch.
The most inconsistent advertiser was Hyundai. The Korean company ran two commercials. One was quite effective at communicating that Hyundai recently won the North American Car of the Year, beating BMW, the Japanese autos and everyone else. The other was an old and fairly dull spot announcing the Hyundai assurance program, which lets you return the car if you lose your job. The mixed message was a problem.
I can’t figure out why GE was advertising at all. GE ran two spots, one highlighting how GE has wind technology, another highlighting GE’s smart electric technology. Why would GE do this? How will these spots drive sales? Remember that GE is a company about to lose its AAA credit rating; GE should have saved the money to shore up the finances.
But of course, GE is NBC’s parent. When sales of Girl Scout cookies are flat, you can always sell to your parents. The same rule applies for Super Bowl spots.