MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world

Super Bowl Ads, Pt. 2: What Didn’t Work | February 15, 2011

Yesterday saw the first half of 2011 Super Bowl coverage, which highlighted the gameday ads that worked best. Today explores the worst commercials, whose ideas are either ignorant, overblown or just plain ineffective. Still, one has to wonder whether there’s much difference between a great spot and a horrible one — both result in heightened brand awareness, and some might even argue that failure can become more memorable than success over time.

Nevertheless, bad publicity has its repercussions. Groupon, far and away this year’s most cited source of advertising inefficacy, was forced to pull its Tibet ad (see below) for its offensive nature and content. Once confident in its recently-announced expansion into China, the company has grown understandably skittish because Chinese customers don’t have a vibrant sense of humor when it comes to Tibet. And on the heels of another questionable PR move, in which Groupon CEO Andrew Mason skirted questions on The Today Show about a potential Google buyout of his company, Groupon might be running the risk of its public gaffes outshining its unique market appeal. The now-cancelled Tibet ad, further explored below, makes the shortlist of Super Bowl XLV’s least impressive ads. Continue reading for analysis.

Groupon, “Tibet”
Why It’s Weak: No matter the PR fallout explained above, this ad fundamentally misses the context of the Super Bowl and pays the price. Advertising associated with football most often centers on the family, the party or the fandom that accompanies American sports; Groupon, meanwhile, highlighted Asian culture, fine dining and the relatively-unknown Timothy Hutton for product promotion. All in the name of satire, perhaps, but this strategy also requires that viewers read multiple levels within thirty seconds of an ad. Surrounded by entertaining beer spots and high-octane Hollywood trailers, Groupon is quite understandably lost in the mix. And most importantly, it blatantly courts controversy. The result, unsurprisingly, is more realistically alienation than admiration.

Kia, “One Epic Ride”
Why It’s Weak: This overly busy ad — which follows a Kia vehicle from modern day society into Poseidon’s hands, then to an alien society who bequeaths the car to ancient Mayans — was not worth its assumed Hollywood budget. With its involvement of time travel, bizarre characters and non-linear storytelling, the ad arrives at its historically-unrealistic conclusion without heart. Taken literally, the spot suggests that buying a Kia would invite a litany of obsessive swindlers into a consumer’s life; taken figuratively, it promotes desire for a product rooted in wanton gluttony, not emotion. What’s more, the Kia brand is difficult to remember — and not traditionally associated with the luxury portrayed in the ad, creating a disconnect between the company’s output and its image. Lastly, Kia has clumsily rerun the commercial in the wake of the Super Bowl, using 30-second snippets of the minute-long ad and directing viewers to the Kia website to view an ending they’ve already seen. This ad misses the beauty in simplicity, and the importance of etching a strong message into even the flashiest of narratives.

Coca Cola, “Siege”/”Border”
Why It’s Weak: Coca Cola had somewhat of a dud year this Super Bowl thanks to these two ads (one above, one below). The first, titled “Seige,” features two clashing civilizations suddenly rendered pacifistic by the taste of Coke. The second, “Border,” watches two warring guardians as they make an exception to their otherwise-fastidious borderline to share the beverage. One problem with these two spots is that the soft drink provides temporary peace in one ad (“Border,” in which the patrolmen return to their unfriendly conditions by the ad’s end) and permanent peace in the other. Furthermore, both commercials communicate immediately a sense of hostility, which is not a favorable emotion to link to a product — and both rely on unfamiliar characters to make their points. Our final criticism is of pacing: “Seige” overflows with action, colors and quick cuts, while “Border” is extremely slow-moving and uneventful. A happy medium between the two might have suited Coke — and its “Open Happiness” slogan — much better.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] offensive Tibet ad, which ran during the Super Bowl in February, is a recent and memorable example — while others, thanks to PR teams as quick-witted as ad agencies, are swept under the rug […]

    Pingback by Commercial Controversy: Past & Future, Pt. 1 « MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world — March 14, 2011 @ 3:41 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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