Recap: 2012 Super Bowl Ads

Jake Daubenspeck  Follow

With two huge-market teams facing off in this year’s Super Bowl, odds were that you had a rooting interest in yesterday’s championship game. Being an Eagles fan, I, however, did not. Fortunately, that left plenty of time for me to root for the advertising industry!

By my unofficial tally, a quarter of all ads this year were for car companies. Food/drink products were featured in roughly 20 percent of ads and consumer products took up about 16 percent of all ads. Online services (such as Hulu, Cars.com and Go Daddy, which kind of counts) came it at only 8 percent. Please note that these stats don't take into account the 6,198 ads that NBC ran for its new show, Smash.

Notable Successes and Failures

Honda stole the show with its spot for the CRV, which featured Matthew Broderick reprising his role from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. If you haven't already, check out the full version online. Honda plays into one of the strongest of all feelings - nostalgia - with a spot that any Ferris Bueller fan can't help but watch with a permanent smile on their face. It’s the same feeling on which VW rose to fame with their mini-Vader spot.

For sheer laughs, E*Trade's baby was the biggest hit, at least for the Super Bowl party I attended. (Note: CJP represents E*Trade and this ad campaign, and I fully realize that this looks like a shameless plug for our client. But honestly, I call ‘em like I see ‘em, and from what I saw, this ad got the biggest laughs of the night!)

Honorable mention goes to Pepsi's ad, which featured a star-studded roster (capped by Elton John) that fell short and had viewers waiting for a punch line for a grueling full minute of airtime. However, in the last 4 seconds of the spot, Flava Flav makes an unexplainable appearance to shout his trademark “Yeah, boooooooy!” phrase. And you know what? It somehow works. Kudos to Pepsi for avoiding what could have been a train wreck. 

Mars, Inc. took a break from its now-famous Snickers ads to feature its most popular product, M&M's. Mars has been hit-or-miss with its ads featuring talking candies in the past, but their lighthearted spot wins points for creativity and execution.

Acura's entry in the "blockbuster ad" category fell short, despite featuring two of the biggest brands in comedy, Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno. Supporters of Conan O'Brien will notice that Leno is once again stealing something that belongs to another comedian.

Season Two: Car Ads

Some of the major successes of 2011 were car ads. Volkswagen's pitch featuring a pint-sized Darth Vader was the de facto winner of all Super Bowl ads, and Chrysler's memorable "Imported from Detroit" spot evoked a level of emotion (and filmmaking cred) not often seen in auto commercials.

This year, VW and Chrysler hosted follow-up ads in similar veins, with varying degrees of success. Chrysler pitchman Clint Eastwood gave the US a pep talk after Madonna's show, with an ad called, literally, "It's Halftime in America" (a subtle nod Ronald Reagan’s campaign ad “Morning in America”) The spot was okay, but it featured a gratuitous - and distracting - amount of cheerleading for the nation and ultimately fell well short of last year's high mark.

VW's ad was the winner of the two and fit both of this year's unofficial themes: car ads, and ads with dogs. Like Chrysler, VW couldn't work in last year's major angle without it seeming forced. A Star Wars tack-on to the ad's close featuring the memorable Cantina scene (memorable if you're a nerd like me) from the original film put smiles on the faces of some and brought looks of confusion and derision to others.

Other auto advertisers included Hyundai, Audi, Chevy, Toyota, Fiat and Lexus. Hyundai received a lot of buzz for its Rocky-themed spot and it appears that folks either loved or hated Audi’s vampire-killing commercial (I admit that I smirked in appreciation).

GoDaddy.com flops, yet again

There's been a groundswell of resentment for Go Daddy, the only domain registrar you've probably ever heard of (and for all the wrong reasons). The content of the ads have always been rude, crude and demeaning, but this year they managed to outdo themselves. I won't help their commercials garner more views, but if you missed them, head over to YouTube and be prepared to feel ashamed.

Bad PR and bad advertising should not be rewarded - no matter how many "conversations" you're creating in the process of causing a controversy. A free tip for Go Daddy: you do a lot of philanthropic work to organizations that combat domestic abuse and breast cancer - you know, the type of organizations whose work DOESN'T seek to offend and demean women. Why not feature a few of the women from your sponsored Domestic Violence Center in your next ad? Turn this story on its head and reap the resultant free - and positive - PR that follows.

Hulu? COME ON!

Hulu’s spots featuring Will Arnett fell regrettably short, which isn’t all that surprising considering the ad it was based on (their old Alec Baldwin spot) wasn’t all that popular to begin with. The ad depicted Will Arnett as being unable to open the door to Hulu’s headquarters, which are apparently located in the Hollywood sign. Ultimately, it just wasn’t funny. In fact, Hulu may have shot itself in the foot here; with my favorite YouTube comment being: “Hulu... whenever you want it to open, an error occurs and it takes forever to load... sounds about right.”

One hat-tip, though – the ad’s creators were smart enough to include a reference to one of Will Arnett’s most famous roles, that of Gob in the cult hit Arrested Development. If you’re a fan of the show, check out the line at :20 of the ad.

With 70 ad slots sold for this year's Super Bowl, we could go on for hours about the trends, lessons and pontifications brought on by the 2012 ad blitz. Instead, we'll leave it to you to discuss. What were the highlights and lowlights of your Super Bowl watching experience? Is the "ad pre-release" trend here to stay? Will David Beckham find his missing clothes? Chat about it in our comments section! CJP  

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