72 hours after the big game, dust has settled on this year’s crop of the most expensive ads on American TV. At $3 million a 30 seconds pop and 111 million viewers this year, the SuperBowl has always been the most coveted advertising stage.
As TBWA\CHIAT\DAY creative head Rob Schwartz (@schwartzie14) put it: “The $3M brands spend on SuperBowl spots isn’t only for the spots. It’s the price a brand pays to be in the cultural conversation.“
And boy, did everybody try to hack that conversation!
From VW seeding The Force, to Groupon building up expectations for their first ever TV commercial, the SuperBowl of Ads started well before Sunday. Yes, what made this year special was the promise of the most social and viral Superbowl ever.
DID IT WORK?
Only four out of sixty-one spots managed to make it to the top 100 most shared videos of the past seven days (two from Volkswagen, Chrysler, and Doritos). Putting things in perspective, it means Charlie Bit My Finger was still more viral in the past week than 57/61 Superbowl ads. And some the ads that tried the hardest to become the talk-of-town, actually ranked at the bottom of the USA Today Ad Meter.
Now, I’m sure we’ll read accounts of how well some commercials actually drove sales and other business metrics despite not winning in the polls. This will be great: it’s what advertising is for, really.
But the reason advertisers fork out millions to be on the Superbowl, is to go beyond ordinary advertising benefits: to be in the conversation, build legendary status, earn epic creative kudos. All things measured by the Ad Meter and viral charts. So what went wrong here?
A disclaimer before I continue – as you know this blog reflects my own thoughts, not any opinions of my employer, PepsiCo. Still, I’ll refrain from making any comments on the PepsiCo SuperBowl line-up (which I took no direct part in), or ads by our competitors.
Here we go.
5 CONVERSATION HACKS THAT FAILED
1. Supersize My Spend
If you think $3mm is too much, consider Chrysler.
With the first ever two minutes spot, Hollywood production values and celebrity cast Eminem, the bill got closer to $20mm, a fact the auto-maker leaked in hopes of building up anticipation for the most expensive Superbowl ad ever. Only #44 in the ranking, “Imported from Detroit” was not exactly a crowd pleaser. Yes, 46,000 social shares tell the story of an ad that found a core of true fans, but it’s light years behind the real viral champion of 2011, which did not cost that much (VW The Force with 700,000+ shares).
Learning: “We stand up for Detroit and the American worker” is a fantastic brand message. It stands for something. But did it need that splurge? ”Biggest spender” isn’t a story the public cares about.
Controversy is often a great conversation starter. But controversy for controvery’s sake, created out of thin air, is a poor creative device. Groupon, your Tibet fish curry joke was not that funny… but it was just insensitive enough to rank you #41, and earn you over 80% dislikes on YouTube, thank you very much.
Learning: getting a new brand out calls for some risk-taking. But alienating the majority to sell coupons does not strike as a winning strategy.
3. Too Sexy For That Screen
For heaven’s sake, Skechers and Go Daddy, I had my 5 year old watching when you started flashing Kim Kardashian’s curves, and zooming on Joan Rivers’ rack. Very. Bad. Idea. Other watchers agree and ranked you #47 and #52 respectively.
Learning: a basic here – know your audience. NSFW also applies to the family room.
4. The Whatever Wars
As passionate as I am with Cola Wars and PCs vs. Macs, I bet no-one slapped hands on their knees exclaiming “up yours, Apple!”, watching this Samsung tablet launch film. Oops , I mean Motorola (whatever). No one outside Madison Avenue or Silicon Valley gets the white earbuds and 1984 clever references to the Apple brand. Xoom rank? #46.
Learning – as much as we care about rivalries with such and such brand, no one else really does. Consumers want to hear what’s in it for them.
5. Bieber Fever
Who would have thought using Justin Bieber (Best Buy) wasn’t enough to create an instant hit? or Eminem. or Kim Kardashian. or Will.I.Am. Aren’t these the modern demi-gods of social media and sharing? Only Gaga was missing from that line-up. All bottom of the AdMeter ranking.
Learning: celebrity does not trump ideas. Never did, never will.
THE ONE HACK THAT WORKED (SADLY)
6. Soooo cute
Take a look at the top of the Ad Meter, and what do you see? Not the epic mission statement of “1984″ (Apple), or ferocious humor of “When I Grow Up” (Monster.com). No. Cutesy little 5 year olds, dogs and CGI beetles. Yep’, we’re in rollerbabies world now, where “cute” is the open sesame of all things shared and viral. From Volkwagen’s Mini Vader to Bridgestone’s Beaver and even Bud Light’s Dogs Party, it seems the path to SuperBowl XLV success was not funny, controversial, or sexy… it was sugar-coated nice, cuddly and cute. Ouch, that hurt.
That said, Volkswagen got a massive viral hit with The Force, but… what car was it for? Selling what? Remote ignition?… remind me – what’s the unique benefit here?
Humm… Maybe the learning is to forget “viral” as the holy grail of advertising, even during the SuperBowl, and go back to good old “does it say what it’s supposed to and will it drive sales for my business?”