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The Best And Worst Super Bowl Ads

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The Best And Worst Super Bowl Ads

Helen Coster and Laurie Burkitt, 02.02.09, 11:20 AM EST

From the Budweiser Clydesdale's love affair to Bridgestone's hot-rodding Mr. Potato Head, ad experts' picks and pans.

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With a price tag of up to $100,000 a second, companies that bought ads in Super Bowl XLIII are banking on buzz. NBC sold spots up until the last minute, convincing marketers that even in a harsh economy, Super Bowl ads can help build a brand and drive sales. The network scored several first-time sponsors, including Mars’ Pedigree dog food, Denny’s and Cash4Gold.com.

Advertising’s big game will play out over water coolers and across the Internet for days after the Super Bowl. “It’s one of the few times a year that people watch for the commercials as much as the game itself,” says John Anton, the marketing chief of Pedigree. “If you want to maximize your reach, you can’t avoid the Super Bowl.”

Broad comedy--and, animals, as always--were among the night’s biggest hits. Careerbuilder.com created a spot with a hilarious list of signs that it’s time to change jobs, including the presence of a toenail-clipping, spandex-wearing colleague. Castrol used chimps as “grease monkeys.”

Many of this year’s sponsors decided that tough times called for peddling nostalgia and optimism. General Electric (nyse: GE - news - people ) used an animated scarecrow and the song “If I Only Had a Brain” to advertise its “Smart Grid” technology, which is the company's play to create a more efficient power system. Two of Coca-Cola's (nyse: KO - news - people ) commercials were part of the company’s “Open Happiness” campaign, which it launched in January. Another was a remake of the 1980 classic Mean Joe Greene commercial, with Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu in the starring role.

Even though the Super Bowl draws the biggest female audience of any NFL game--Anheuser-Busch was certainly playing to gals with a spot that featured one of its signature Clydesdale horses falling in love--most big advertisers catered to men. Pepsi (nyse: PEP - news - people ), with almost six minutes of advertising across several of its brands, used the Super Bowl to hawk a rebranded Pepsi Max, a diet soda aimed at men. And GoDaddy, a peddler of Internet domain names, aimed straight for the frat house crowd with two sexually suggestive spots with racecar driver Danica Patrick and other busty gals.

The GoDaddy spots were among just a few with big celebrities this year. Conan O’Brien was featured in a funny Bud Light ad. Cash4Gold featured Ed McMahon and MC Hammer--who have been public about their financial problems--selling their possessions for cash.

Forbes asked four advertising experts--Jerry Della Femina, Michael Lebowitz, Martin Puris and Elisabeth Vanzura--to weigh in on this year’s crop of Super Bowl commercials. What were our judges looking for when evaluating these ads? Says Puris: “An important idea combined with brilliant execution. Not one or the other--both.”

Audi

Michael Lebowitz: Jason Statham is a good choice. Funny, but doesn't rely completely on gags. A solid spot, but where's the URL? Am I going to be asking that all night long? It's 2009, right?

Elisabeth Vanzura: Can't help but comment on Audi since they chose to use Jason Statham in a "chase ad" featured in their smoking-hot supercharged A6. The inside story is that there was another high-profile luxury brand that was after Statham, so imagine my surprise to see him promoting Audi? He was such the perfect pick for the commercial. The chase spot showcased the car and made it look like a million bucks and gave a poke to the competition at the same time. Well done for Audi.


Budweiser: "Clydesdale Circus"

Martin Puris: Are these really good? How can I slam Clydesdales? My 12-year-old horse-crazy daughter would never speak to me again. But...
Jerry Della Femina: Works, works, works. A Clydesdale falls in love with a circus horse to the tune of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" is schmaltzy. But it always works and it sells beer.
Vanzura: This is my favorite of the Budweiser ads.


Budweiser: "Clydesdale Generations"
Puris: OK, I give up. I'm still not sure of the Clydesdales campaign. But what a story! What an execution. After the game I'm going out to buy a case of Budweiser!
Vanzura: I very much enjoyed it. This seems closer to the classic Budweiser spots highlighting the "American success story" that I have come to expect and love. Well-done, Budweiser. Just when I was beginning to wonder ...


Budweiser: "Clydesdale Stick"

Vanzura: This seemed OK, but somehow done before. It's not as good as some of their amazing classics of the past.

 


Bud Light: "Skier"

Vanzura: This seemed very predictable and doesn't really make me want to drink the beer.
Bud Light: "Conan O'Brien" and "Skier"
Della Femina: This makes no sense. Conan O'Brien couldn't save it. Skiing commercial didn't save it. Flawed concept. No one understands it.


Bridgestone: "Taters"

Puris: These commercials commit the classic Super Bowl commercial sin: No idea and orgasmic over-production. C'mon guys. Tires are all I have between me and the road.


Career Builder: "Tips"

Puris: Insightful. Amusing. Great. Except ... it was about 30 seconds too long.

Della Femina: Funny commercial. At least funny to the 93% of the people watching the Super Bowl who have jobs. For the 7% who are out of work, it is a sharp stick in the eye. Good commercial but a tough sell. Not too many viewers are planning on changing their jobs in a recession.

Vanzura: I laughed so darn hard when this ad came on. Very well-done ad and very memorable. I am sure Career Builder will get a lot of buzz and hits on their site after this ad. A standout ad for the game.

Cars.com: "David Abernathy"

Puris: It's not a 10, but it's good. Interesting insight, lovely story, nicely produced. Maybe a 7.

Lebowitz: Clever, but it doesn't rely on cleverness alone. The company could have easily taken the overt bad-economy route and didn't, to its credit. It's stressful buying a car. Cars.com can help you. Effective.

Cash4Gold:

Puris: Depressing! But good!

Coca-Cola: "Avatar"

Lebowitz: This is cute. But aren't there diminishing returns on ads like these? You're only going to get Happiness Factory once in a rare while.

Vanzura: The Coca-Cola Avatar spot was OK--again, I expected more. I can't remember the tag line, which is a bad sign. Very well-executed but not sure it was uniquely Coke. I think Pepsi has done a better job of grabbing the younger audience even though the avatar idea was probably aimed at accomplishing just that. Will look forward to seeing it again, which is a good sign, but again, is it uniquely Coke?

Coca-Cola: "Heist"

Vanzura:
This ad was extremely well-executed. I definitely think this spot will have great shelf life, and it will be interesting to discover something new in it every time you watch it. The tagline "Open Happiness" works, but I'm not sure I fully understand the tie to Coke. (This spot and the Avatar spot seem like great individual executions that may not tie together effectively as a campaign.)

Denny's: "Serious"

Lebowitz: This one's a smile. And, more importantly, finally a good reason to spend $3 million on a TV spot. Denny's made a mass audience aware of something that's going on--free Grand Slams for everyone. People on Twitter started planning "Tweetups" at Denny's immediately. Good move.

Vanzura: The Denny's breakfast spots, while very simple concepts, deserve a favorable mention. They will be very effective in generating renewed interest in Denny's "real" breakfasts by a lot of consumers. They did the job they were supposed to do--which is generate renewed interest in the brand and drive people to the restaurants.

Doritos: "Free Doritos"

Puris: Love the girl in the lingerie. What was the rest of the commercial about? I know it's not easy to make a case for a corn chip, but you gotta try.

Della Femina: Wins the annual Super Bowl "commercial showing a man being hit in the crotch sweepstakes." We see this every year. It always works for a laugh. Besides--what can you say about chips?

Vanzura: The Doritos commercials seem so predictable and not that exciting this year. My kids spend so much time on YouTube, I am always seeing these kinds of funny, homemade videos.

GE: "Scarecrow"

Puris: Maybe you can't take something like Smart-Grid Technology and make it fun. They tried, but failed. $3 million? I wouldn't have written the check.

Lebowitz: Branding for branding's sake? What does this do for consumers? For the millions of dollars that GE spent on this, they could have engaged thousands of people in an ongoing (and very topical) dialogue about green energy and infrastructure upgrades across social channels. This is a wank, pure and simple.

Hyundai: "Angry Boss" and "Contract"

Puris: Contract is a good idea. The execution misses a little bit. But the idea transcends.

Pepsi: "I'm Good"

Della Femina: Who conceived this commercial, the Three Stooges? Will it get more men to try Pepsi Max? I doubt it. It's not bold taste that sells diet drinks, it's the desire to cut calories, which is never even mentioned.

Vanzura:
Crack me up. Pepsi did a good job of capturing the silly things guys do. I am married to a "guys guy" and I think Pepsi's strategy to aim diet soda at men is good. I think this will draw men to the brand if the product delivers on taste.

Pedigree: "Crazy Pets"

Puris: Why, when next to babies, dogs are the thing people love seeing most, would you use a bunch of strange animals in a pet food commercial?

Lebowitz: This is cute. I like rhinos. Ostriches, too. But shouldn't a spot encouraging dog adoption provide some info on how to "Help [them] help dogs"? Am I the only one seeing a disconnect between the spot and the call to action? A URL for more info on adoption? Nope.

Monster.com: "Double Take"

Vanzura: The monster.com ad was well done. Almost everyone I know doesn't have a job, hates their job but are desperately hanging on to it, or are secretly looking for a new job.

SoBe Life Water: "Lizard Lake"

Puris: Still in the "Is it worth $3 million?" category. Before I saw this epic, graceful production, I had no idea what SoBe Life Water was. I still don't.

Della Femina: I once ate three bags of garlic potato chips and washed them down with three martinis with at least 10 garlic- stuffed olives. I had a nightmare that night that was exactly like the SoBe Lizard Lake drink 3-D commercial. It's proof that having all the production money in the world cannot get you an effective commercial if there is no idea and no sell.

Vanzura: Well-executed, but I'm not sure this lived up to all the hype. Digital Domain rocked the animation, but it felt like a lot of money was spent on talent and effects that may not result in the increased consideration they are looking for. Maybe the Web site will help fill in the blanks? When this ad plays again and again consumers may discover more in it.

Toyota: "Killer Heat"

Lebowitz: A car is a big purchase these days. Why should I pick this one? This spot could have been for nearly any car. If you're going to ask me if I'm a Venza, at least equip me with enough to respond with something beyond "probably not." Who's this ad for?



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