Super Bowl Provides All Sorts Of Ad Drama

The NFL and CBS clearly weren’t thrilled with the Super Bowl’s partial stadium blackout. But marketers at Subway and Anheuser-Busch may have been high-fiving. The turmoil looks to have given them free spots in the most expensive TV property out there.

Each company had an ad that unexpectedly ran twice – once as CBS took the first break during the power failure and then again about 35 minutes later after action resumed. (The NFL also had an ad that ran both times.)

CBS isn’t commenting on how it all went down, saying only all advertiser purchases during the game were “honored.” Subway and A-B did not immediately provide comment.

As the blackout that affected half the stadium began, CBS did its best to inform viewers about what was happening with several wide shots of the dark New Orleans dome.

Cut to break and Subway offered a less-than-breakout spot about "February" being hard to pronounce, featuring its roster of sports stars, its meal ticket Jared Fogle and “The Office” star Brian Baumgartner.



A-B followed with an initially confusing Bud Light spot featuring Stevie Wonder and a quest to cast a spell on a would-be lucky chair. The NFL followed with an ad promoting the specialness of Friday night football.

Once the game finally returned after the long delay, the first break brought the Subway, A-B and NFL ads again.

During the power failure, one can imagine frenzied calls between CBS and agencies letting them know the bonus runs were coming. It’s unlikely. But would CBS have said, “We owe you some make-goods anyway, so now we’re even -- because you’re getting another chance on us to reach over 100 million people.”

CBS may have gone with the re-airs in order not to interrupt its schedule for the remainder of the game or because viewers may not have been paying much attention to the three ads as they were bewildered by what had just happened with the lights out.

CBS’s attempt to cover the blackout as a news story was uneven. Suffice it to say, its work won’t be remembered alongside ABC’s pivot during the 1989 World Series earthquake with play-by-play man Al Michaels shining.

A glaring failure: no camera shot of Commissioner Roger Goodell. It would have been interesting to get a look at any emotion on the usually stoic executive. If Goodell had moved out of view to deal with the matter, it would have been nice for CBS to note that.

One positive was sideline reporter Steve Tasker, who found himself in the role of anchor, noting the delay could affect the rhythm of the Baltimore Ravens. He was right. The Ravens had a big lead they lost after the game restarted and San Francisco nearly won.

If CBS could have done better with news coverage, another consequence of the blackout was beyond its control: a late start for its post-game broadcast of “Elementary.” Networks count on shows immediately after the big game to gain exposure with a huge audience. It’s also a solid platform for advertisers.

But the blackout helped bump the start of “Elementary” to 11:15, the latest start for an after-game show since at least 1988. Not only had many viewers likely gone to sleep, but the delay left some viewers who set their DVRs to record the first-year drama unable to capture it. While “Elementary” is a far less popular show, its ratings Sunday were way down from NBC’s post-game airing of “The Voice” last year, which began at 10:19.

Outside CBS’s issues, how did Madison Avenue do Sunday? What about the ads that ran between the auto nameplates on the kick-off show (Hyundai), halftime report (Jeep) and on post-game show (Toyota)? 

After its well-received 2012 spot unveiling a female brown character, M&Ms didn’t offer much to get excited about with its ad this year, featuring Meat Loaf’s 20-year-old hit “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).” The song was the best part. A red M&M suggested he would happily play the role of a romantic – to a degree. He did not want to be licked or placed in a piñata or on a cake. It would have worked better if he would not have been willing to carry a woman’s shopping bags or paint her toe nails, but pleased to fulfill his role as a delectable treat.

Also in the first quarter, Audi hit it out of the park with a touching and hilarious spot.  There was sympathy as mom told her son not to worry about going to the prom dateless. “Lots of people” do that nowadays, she says. But little sister offers a cute (and biting) response: “No, they don’t.” Dad helps soothe the matter by giving him keys to his Audi. Driving it, his confidence builds and he walks in and gives the prom queen a lengthy smooch, then drives away proudly with a black eye.

Much has been made about whether marketers should release a teaser or full ad before the game in order to get maximum publicity. At least in the case of the GoDaddy spot with supermodel Bar Rafeali smooching an uber-geek, the company should not have made the spot public before kickoff. Its strength is its shock value and to anyone who’d seen it, that was gone and there wasn’t much else to care about.

Not only is the NFL taking in huge rights fees from networks, but somehow it’s also able to wrangle lots of promos in the game. They’re well-produced and credit the NFL for confronting the trouble it and the game of football are facing by taking on safety issues rather directly, saying on several occasions it’s working on making the game “safer and better.”

The Best Buy spot with Amy Poehler was superb, poking fun at how people hear tech buzzwords, but often wonder what they mean – things like a dongle and the cloud. She asks: “What’s LTE, is it contagious?” and “What makes a smart TV so smart?” The concept is Best Buy can offer answers. Very entertaining and message delivered.

Calvin Klein is a strong nominee for worst Super Bowl spot. What a waste of $4 million or even $4. It was nothing more than 30 seconds of a ripped male model in Calvin underwear doing poses and acting like an Adonis. It was as if “Saturday Night Live” were spoofing an underwear ad.

It must be said that Volkswagen should not have gone with the concept of a Minnesota man speaking with a Jamaican accent, seeking to suggest its cars breed a “get happy” attitude. The company’s Super Bowl spots will always be compared to its 2011 mini-Darth Vader ad, which was one of the best ever. But this year’s not only wasn't particularly creative, it was culturally insensitive.

The Coke Chase concept was a good one, where three groups raced for a Coke in the desert. They wind up at what they think is the prize, but it’s a billboard and there's more distance to cover. There was plenty of online integration that could have made the ad a richer experience for some participants, but it also worked well on its own.

After two memorable ads the last couple of years – the 2011 one with Eminem was one of the best Super Bowl spots ever -- Chrysler clearly felt the pressure to stay at the forefront of the post-game conversation. So, it hired Oprah Winfrey to do the voiceover in a two-minute spot for its Jeep brand. The concept: how much Americans appreciate our servicemen and how missed they are when they’re abroad. The shots of Jeeps were gratuitous, but it was an advertisement, after all. “When you’re home, we’re more than a family, we are a nation,” Oprah says. The spot worked. A reminder about the privilege of being an American on a day (Super Bowl Sunday) when the country comes together proved a winner.

Chrysler in the second half ran another lengthy spot – this time plugging its Ram truck brand -- with Paul Harvey’s paean to what being a farmer is all about. Harvey died in 2009. The commercial had beautiful visuals and it may have appealed to farmers and their families -- rightfully so -- but the tribute to “the farmer in all of us” may not have resonated with all.

In New York, there was only one memorable commercial on the local CBS station: an ad for the Church of Scientology. Whether one is a church supporter or not, the production was top-tier, featuring young faces and the encouragement: “Dare to think for yourself … to make up your own mind because the one thing that’s true is what’s true for you.”

As it looks for reinvigoration, BlackBerry probably needed to do better than a spot showing a young man using the device to do some unexpectedly remarkable things. So, it has some cool features, what are they? The brand’s position now probably calls for some explanations in a humorous manner. Easier said than done, for sure, though.

Gildan authored one of the best spots in the game, showing a young man who wakes up with a woman after an apparent wild night. His instinct is to escape with no conversation. But he wants his Gildan T-shirt, which the woman is wearing. So much so, he’s willing to try and take it off her to get it.

The beauty of the Super Bowl is there are ample duds and studs from Madison Avenue every year. The Budweiser Clydesdale spot Sunday had plenty of supporters, while the Samsung ad at the end of the game with Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen was superb. (It was helped by the company releasing an ad with Rudd and Rogen late last week, but not the one in the game.)

In a tweet when the Ravens were leading big, Rupert Murdoch offered a lament that a close game looked out of reach. “Hope next year’s game on Fox a lot closer,” he wrote.

That's of course impossible to know. But one thing's certain: some of the ads will be lights out. Hopefully, that won’t be the case with the stadium again.

1 comment about "Super Bowl Provides All Sorts Of Ad Drama".
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  1. Chris Vinson from Vinson Advertising, February 4, 2013 at 5:14 p.m.

    Good analysis folks. I loved the farmer ad and rewound it to watch again. Hopefully, the Calvin Klein ad will appeal to women who will buy underwear for their men because i doubt it appeals to men. At least I thought it was off. Personally I thought the Coke ad was stupid and did not relate to it at all. Who cares about who wins the Coke.

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