MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world

Super Bowl Ads, Pt. 1: What Worked | February 14, 2011

This year’s Super Bowl, the single most-watched event in the history of TV, drew 111 million viewers worldwide. So purely in terms of impressions — an industry term for how many people physically watch a given advertisement — February 6th was a gold mine for exposure, and the ensuing week-long publicity blitz, which focused on the controversies and success stories of various ads, only fueled the frenzy of brand awareness and recognition. First the Darth Vader kid showed up on NBC’s Today Show. Then ABC profiled Oko NoNo (see below), the five year-old pug who crashed through a glass door in a Doritos spot. And to cap it all off, Groupon was forced to publicly apologize and pull its Tibetan-themed ad from future programming. (Perhaps the lesson here is to go with cute kids and dogs, not cultural insensitivity and black comedy.)

But now, with the dust of Super Bowl XLV settled and market stats reported, it’s time to reflect on the only day in America that costs upwards of $300 million in ad buys alone. The first major point, it seems, is the superiority of social media, which is seeming to matter more and more in the assessment of each ad. According to ClickZ, an insider marketing group, Mercedes Benz — whose minute-long spot featured a fleet of classic Benzes racing to the midnight debut of its new line — saw a 40 percent increase in “Likes” on Facebook following the Super Bowl, a high marker of visible brand engagement. Mercedes can thank its two-month Tweet Race, an online contest whose winners raced cross-country to Arlington while competing to recruit Twitter followers, for its online likability. (Razorfish, the company’s digital agency, reports that its unique Twitter campaign earned 10,000 new followers per week.)

Similarly, social media enabled certain ads to make impressions well before kickoff, a new and intriguing strategy given that traditional wisdom suggests only teasing expensive and elaborate Super Bowl ads — not exposing them in full — to an eager public before airtime. “The Force,” Volkswagon’s cute and clever Darth Vader ad, was posted on YouTube five days before the Super Bowl, and amassed 13 million views — effectively going viral — by game time on Sunday. Meanwhile, Doritos — now in the fifth year of its annual Crash the Super Bowl competition, in which regular consumers direct and produce their own commercials — built an online community around the creative ad-making process that promoted positive product emotion across various social networks. Continue reading to find out why these two advertisements — as well as one more iconic ad — are among the best Super Bowl moments of 2011.

Volkswagon, “The Force”
Why It Works: Some of the most effective car ads in history have sewn themes of family into their messages, and this is no exception. Volkswagon’s cute premise allows exposure to its technical prowess without compromising the sentimentality of a parent getting creative to stimulate his son’s healthy imagination. As previously mentioned, Volkswagon also chose to share the spot on YouTube previous to Super Bowl Sunday — specifically streaming the minute-long version of the 30-second in-game ad so that viewers could fill in mentally the full storyline come game time. The only criticism of “The Force” is its limited brand exposure: the VW name doesn’t exactly track through repeated viewings of the ad, so we wonder whether a typical audience would remember the genre of car given its muted onscreen presence.

Doritos, “Pug Attack”
Why It Works: Even without knowing the inspiring story behind “Pug Attack” — it was filmed for just $500 by two USC film students, who were eventually rewarded $1 million by Doritos for the spot’s glowing reception — it’s clear the locus of the ad’s appeal. By using a tiny dog, a familiar strategy since the breakout of the Taco Bell chihuahua, Doritos guarantees instant accessibility and fixation on the predictable (but nevertheless rewarding) outcome. The obvious desire for Doritos is communicated effortlessly, and the contrast between a pug with manlike strength and a man acting like a silly animal relays charm and well-intentioned humor. No wonder the ad topped consumer lists in the wake of the Super Bowl.

Chrysler, “Imported from Detroit”
Why It Works: This last choice, perhaps more debatable than the previous two, is the Chrysler spot which paired invigorating music with iconic snapshots of Detroit, Michigan. The big reveal arrives in the form of Eminem, a Detroit native who speaks one definitive line — “This is the Motor City…and this is what we do” — to conclude the ad. Certainly Chrysler adopts a subjective and romantic view of its natal city; by and large, Detroit is still knee-deep in economic crisis and far from the full recovery that the ad suggests. But that’s exactly the point of the spot: to suggest revival and revolution in the auto industry, and to tie those themes to patriotism and pure adrenaline. Slightly unfortunate for the company, however, is Eminem’s involvement in another major Super Bowl campaign: the Lipton Brisk Iced Tea ad in which he espouses that “I don’t do commercials” and, in claymation form, acts rather like an anarchistic hellion. The diametric clash between that puerility and his nationalistic resolve in the Chrysler ad perhaps reveals too much of the artificial image manipulation within the advertising industry.



  1. […] we issued the first half of our Super Bowl reaction and highlighted the gameday ads we liked best. Today we look at the worst commercials, whose ideas […]

    Pingback by Super Bowl Ads, Pt. 2: What We Disliked « MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world — February 15, 2011 @ 11:44 am

  2. […] around $1.2 million, as compared to the $3 million for the same duration during last month’s Super Bowl.) To host the games, CBS paid upwards of $10 billion for broadcasting […]

    Pingback by March Adness: NCAA Hoops as a Brand « MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world — March 21, 2011 @ 3:37 am

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    Established in 2009 at USC, the Master's of Science in Human Behavior is designed to equip students with knowledge of consumer psychology, social media and market analysis skills. This is our blog. Subscribe

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