Creating an effective Super Bowl spot is a huge challenge. The 2011 game made this point very clear; while some advertisers created exceptionally powerful spots, many others, including some of the world’s most highly-regarded marketing companies, missed the mark.
This year we once again assembled a panel of Kellogg students to review all of the ads through a strategic and business lens. The question for the panel was simple: which of the ads would be most effective at building the brand and driving sales?
The Best (A)
This year Volkswagen won the Kellogg School Super Bowl Advertising Review. VW ran two spots that were fun and simple. The first spot featured a child dressed as Darth Vader and the Passat. The second spot portrayed a beetle zooming around the forest, supporting, of course, the functionality of the Beetle while also laddering to an emotional benefit.
These spots weren’t strategically complex but they were very effective at communicating a benefit. In addition, they were very consistent with the VW brand.
Perhaps the most unexpected spot this year was from Chrysler, a two-minute, gritty ad that featured the city of Detroit, Mich. and Eminem.
The spot was unusual. Many car ads feature smiling people, happy scenes and shiny cars. This ad showed abandoned buildings and a forlorn, desperate city. The spot ended with the very strange line: “Imported from Detroit.”
But the ad worked. The creative hooked people, so they stuck with it for two minutes. It was distinctive, so it stood out. The spot gave the rather nondescript Chrysler brand a heart and a spirit.
This was an astonishing and breakthrough piece of advertising.
Doritos has become a very consistent Super Bowl advertiser with spots featuring slap-stick humor and good-natured violence. The brand relies on consumer-generated creative to keep the flow of ads going.
The creative still works. The ads are funny and very well branded with the brand serving as an integral part to the plot.
The most effective spot this year featured a fellow sucking on fingers. It was slightly creepy but based on a very real insight into how people eat Doritos.
One of the funnier spots on the game this year was from Mini Cooper. It was also one of the most effective when it came to strategy.
The set up: a game show called “Cram it in the Boot” where contestants had to load a Mini Cooper with lots of stuff. The spot was very well branded and delivered a clear message: the new Mini Cooper Countryman has a lot of space. Importantly, the spot was also consistent with the Mini Cooper brand.
This year E-Trade ran a spot featuring the E-Trade baby, which worked very well.
E-Trade now benefits from building on a very established and unique creative campaign. The E-Trade baby is well known as an advertising icon. This means every E-Trade spot starts with good branding simply by showing the baby.
Bridgestone has advertised on the Super Bowl consistently. And the spots have generally performed poorly in the Kellogg review. This year, however, the panel gave Bridgestone an A.
So what worked? This year the spots were exceptionally engaging. One spot featured a heroic beaver, the other a fellow sending an e-mail “reply all” by mistake.
The product benefit in the spots is very subtle: apparently Bridgestone tires perform really well so you can stop and accelerate quickly and generally do great things. But this message is buried; you have to really work to connect the story to tires.
Apparently the strong creative was enough to offset this for the Kellogg panel.
The Good (B)
This year CareerBuilder brought back the chimps; the company last ran the chimps on the Super Bowl in 2006.
The 2011 spot worked well; it got attention and delivered a benefit. Branding has always been a challenge for the chimp ads, since the CareerBuilder brand shows up just at the end of the spot. This probably at least partially explains why CareerBuilder didn’t manage to break into the As.
Bud and Bud Light ran four spots this year, three for Bud Light and one for Budweiser. The Bud Light spots were very consistent with the brand’s equity; they were funny, brand-focused and entertaining. The best of the bunch was one about product placement. Some of the others didn’t work quite as well.
Strategically, Budweiser made a huge shift. In prior years, Bud ran ads that featured the Clydesdales and sweet stories. The spots built the brand, certainly, but didn’t deliver a clear and concrete product benefit. This year, Bud tried to keep the Clydesdales while linking the Budweiser brand to a benefit of great times.
The spot was quite effective; the benefit came through while the equity remained. The spot won’t be remembered as one of the most endearing Bud Clydesdale ads, but it might actually do more to build the brand than some of the earlier, more imagery-based ads.
Stella Artois ran a sophisticated, elegant spot that worked quite well. It certainly delivered a benefit and portrayed Stella in a very appealing fashion. The branding was strong.
The ad was a bit dark and smoky for the Super Bowl, which is probably one reason why it didn’t finished higher in the Kellogg Review.
Stella is owned by AB InBev, the same company that owns Bud and Bud Light.
Audi has become a core Super Bowl advertiser; the brand has consistently run spots featuring powerful visuals. This year’s spot attacked the idea of old luxury, portraying Audi as a brand of new luxury.
The ad was very distinctive and unique. It had rather sophisticated humor and was exceptionally well-produced.
Audi ran into a simple challenge, however: the spot directly compared Audi to Mercedes, but this created some confusion. Some people on the Kellogg panel didn’t know if the ad was for Audi or for Mercedes. One student stated after the ad ran, “Wow, I really liked that Mercedes spot.”
In 2010, Snickers ran a very successful Super Bowl ad featuring Betty White and the line, “You’re not you when you are hungry.”
This year Snickers played it safe and continued the idea, just with different characters and a different setting. Once again the idea worked, but lacked the gusto to break into the A category as it was not as surprising or endearing as last year’s spot.
There was a lot going on in Best Buy’s spot, but it broke through by cleverly using celebrities. The spot featured Ozzy Osbourne and Justin Bieber, with Ozzy representing old and Justin representing young. The point: Best Buy helps you keep up with technology.
The ad also featured one of the best lines from this year Super Bowl:
Ozzy: “What’s a Bieber?”
Assistant: “I don’t know, but he kind of looks like a girl.”
The least effective spot on the 2011 Super Bowl, according to the Kellogg panel, was for Brisk. This is the only advertiser to receive a failing grade.
The Brisk spot simply made very little sense; it featured flashy computer-generated graphics, branding was weak and it lacked a clear message…other than that Eminem is a fan of Brisk.
Apparently the spot was created with substantial input from Eminem, make what you will of that.
Vacation rental website HomeAway had a good strategy, promoting home rentals instead of hotels.
Nonetheless, the spot clearly missed the mark: it was hard to follow and featured a rather disconcerting smushed baby. The ad also promoted the “Ministry of Detourism” which made little sense. As one Kellogg panelist observed, “If you are renting a house, you are still a tourist. I don’t get it.”
In 2010, Hyundai ran two very effective spots. This year the brand didn’t do as well; the Kellogg panel gave Hyundai a D.
Hyundai stuck with a similar creative theme, airing ads that were bold and challenging. The core issue: the brand didn’t have enough news to justify the build-up.
Other Notable Spots
One of the most anticipated spots was from Groupon, but it ended up as perhaps the most disappointing spot.
The ad started with a serious message about the treatment of people in Tibet. It then shifted to the happy news that, with Groupon, you can save 50 percent at a restaurant that serves Tibetan food. This was hard for many to make sense of. It is also offensive; many people on the Kellogg panel thought the ad was in poor taste. This is the danger of trying to employ potentially dark humor.
Chevrolet ran a lot of ads on the Super Bowl. As standalones, the ads could have been good. The problem is that the ads were all different: one featured the Silverado truck, another GM’s new electric car and another the high-powered Camaro.
Chevrolet has a basic branding problem. What does the Chevrolet brand stand for, anyway? It feels like the brand is trying to be all things to all people. It certainly felt that way on the Super Bowl.
Chrysler took a real stand at the Super Bowl; that approach is risky but ultimately the best way to create a distinctive, valuable brand.
One of the strangest strategic decisions this year was from BMW. The brand decided to use one of their two spots to proclaim that BMWs are made in the United States.
This probably wasn’t a great decision. Although BMW was going after an American-made positioning, there is an inherent risk of consumers actually accepting it. In fact, many people like BMW because it is an imported German brand. Communicating that BMW is made in the U.S. is a lose-lose proposition.
Coke’s first commercial on the Super Bowl was a computer-generated mess. The spot featured battling dragons—somehow a Coke bottle appears and then the battle apparently rages on.
Although a possible homage to MMORPG’s, the Kellogg panel was baffled at the choice.
Advertising that confuses people is rarely effective.
This year the Super Bowl lived up to its billing as the world’s biggest advertising event. Many of the spots were well branded, attention-getting and benefit-focused.
This year there was huge demand for advertising space on the Super Bowl, and an extraordinary growth in integrated marketing campaigns featuring Facebook and Twitter. We expect to see both trends continue in 2012.
-Tim Calkins and Derek Rucker