Super Ads, Super Messaging, Super ROI?

I know, I know. By now Super Bowl XLVI -- the game and the commercials -- has long since lost its novelty as water-cooler fodder. However, being a huge aficionado not only of televised sports, but also of the advertising that drives the business, I feel compelled to weigh in on what I consider to be the best Super Bowl ads of 2012, and how they compared on my personal scale of advertising success: The ROI Meter. ROI is one key metric that all the other rankings of TV commercials are now only just managing to capture.

Here they are, in order of ROI success:

1. “It’s Halftime in America”  (Chrysler)– Thanks to Clint Eastwood, Chrysler’s Super Bowl entry was as iconic as the man himself and as compelling. I’ve been a devoted fan of Eastwood since his Spaghetti Western days -- I even have a poster for “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” in my office (in Italian, no less). Fan or not, I would’ve been hooked by this ad. Its message -- like the brand it advertised -- was rough, tough, and all American. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have only bought American cars since working in the Bush Administration from 1989 to 1991.) Car ads are making a comeback, not unlike the auto industry itself. Thanks to Big Data’s transformation of the television advertising landscape, automakers can now buy airtime -- for great ads like this one -- more easily and more strategically than ever before.  And, most importantly, the results will drive ROI for the industry -- though perhaps not as quickly as in the high-velocity CPG and pharma categories.



2. “Fatherhood” (ETrade) – This spot didn’t rank too high on USA Today’s Ad Meter (#17), but it resonated for me. Chalk it up to the enduring success and humor of its central character -- the ETrade Baby. Great messaging, highly engaging, and continuous with previously successful campaigns -- just like all good commercials should be. Will this commercial drive ROI? Perhaps. But my guess is that the ETrade Baby probably does. Just ask him.

3. “Matthew’s Day Off” (Honda) – Honda’s Ferris Bueller mini-remake garnered something like 10 million views before the big game, and more since.  It was cute, funny -- who’s more likeable than Ferris? -- and it engaged viewers across generations. Most important, it was a conversation-starter. If you consider that one person in each living room across America had seen it already, think about how many people it got talking about Ferris, and Hondas. Not bad. On the ROI meter?  TBD.

4. “The Tease” (Dannon Oikos) -- This one was funny, sure -- it might’ve been the only LOL ad of the whole game. But that’s not why it makes my list. The reason, in fact, is that the punch line was inextricable from the product. Lots of ads are funny, but leave viewers with absolutely no impression of the brand they promote. Here the product was the subject. And the surprise head-butt was just icing on the… yogurt.  Now go out and buy some Oikos to drive ROI.

5. “Cheetah” (Hyundai)  -- What I want to know is, what happened after the cameras stopped rolling for this spot? Hyundai took a classic advertising cliché -- man races beast -- and turned it on its head. The message to viewers? It’s important to be fast, but it’s even more important to be efficient. The big cat just wants his meat, right?  The question is whether people will remember that the ad was for Hyundai.  ROI meter: jury’s out.

So those were the winners this year, in my book. There were losers, too: The body painters from Go Daddy were stale and forgettable, and Fiat’s so-called seduction totally flamed out. But overall, this year’s ads were as fun to watch as the game itself, which delivered on its promise of stellar entertainment you can’t get anywhere else. From the pre-game show to Tom Brady’s Hail Mary at the finish, a record-breaking 111 million viewers were glued to the television for four-plus hours. While ROI will tell whether or not it was a great day for the advertisers, it was a great day for football fans, and an even better one for New Yorkers -- even for this Jets fan.




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