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2011 Super Bowl wins and fails

2011 Super Bowl wins and fails Jim Nichols


The Super Bowl is the loudest shout of old media -- it is the opportunity to connect with more than half the nation in one afternoon with a message that's guaranteed to be watched, discussed, and scrutinized. Plus, if your ad is really good (or a total piece of junk) there's always the chance that you'll be featured on the front page of newspapers coast to coast.

But Super Bowl advertising is a lot more than that -- it's also a brilliant beacon within new media. People love to talk about experiences, and the Super Bowl is something that we all experience. It is an incredible opportunity for savvy (and well-heeled) brands to drive thousands of friends and follows in one short afternoon. It's an opportunity to mesmerize bloggers from coast to coast, and to motivate their typing and embedding fingers.

The Super Bowl is the perfect media storm. And if your ad actually makes the product compelling, it's the opportunity to sell loads of stuff lickety-split.

That being said, let's relive some of the wins and fails of last year's Super Bowl!

"Imported from Detroit"

Brand: Chrysler
Status: Win

Chrysler #1Chrysler #2Chrysler #3Chrysler #4

(Click to enlarge)

It took Fiat management to teach Americans how to do patriotism right -- not that there was ever a shortage of flag waving in our spots. Chrysler's new Italian management crafted a patriotic message that connects with the side in all of us that hopes for a better future. That is, a future in which not every single American must take a job wearing a headset, shouting "How can I give you excellent service?" while simultaneously training his replacement in Bangalore. 

This wasn't just gratuitous flag waving. The ad screamed strength, power, and democratic ideals. The choice of using Eminem as a spokesperson was genius -- he is a "brand" inexorably connected with Detroit and exudes a gritty, authentic appeal even broader than his MP3 penetration. Plus he's cute.

Why it's a win:

  • Tremendous increase in Chrysler 200 sales versus the Sebring it replaced (Allpar)

  • Tens of millions of ad views on YouTube and other sites

  • A dramatic increase in Chrysler Google searches (4 times more, to be exact)

"Dog sitting"

Brand: Bud Light
Status: Win

Bud Light #1Bud Light #2Bud Light #3Bud Light #4

(Click to enlarge)

This slice of family friendly physical comedy was the highest rated ad in the USA Today Ad Meter study, and not without good reason. The beauty of the Super Bowl is its mass appeal -- and dogs playing poker is always good for a chuckle whether you're 21 or 91. This ad does nothing to offend (no objectification of women), and it's evergreen, having steered clear of insider cultural references. The ad simply portrays dogs doing funny things connected to the product.

When you do dogs playing butlers, you aren't going win a Cannes Lion. But you will sell a lot of beer, which is actually the point, right?

Why it's a win:

• Highest rated by consumers (USA Today)
• Millions of online views on YouTube, Y! Video, and Google Video

"L'il Vader"

Brand: Volkswagen
Status: Win

Volkswagen #1Volkswagen #2Volkswagen #3Volkswagen #4

(Click to enlarge)

This spot doesn't feature any of the standard car ad gimmicks. The VW commercial does not boast a flashy red car, nor is there talk of zero to sixty. The woman isn't exactly a sex symbol, and the ad even lacks the hurried voiceover about "0.9 percent financing" followed by the inevitable whisper "for highly qualified buyers."

This ad demonstrates that VW understands emotional storytelling trumps "speeds and feeds." VW banked on the fact that the target would make a visceral connection with the toddler and his family. That connection carried the brand into tens of millions of social discussions and consumer decision sets. The ad is fun, exciting, and memorable -- three qualities that had, until then, not yet been connected with the "people's car."

VW needed to restore a place on our radar, and the company did this with the help of one very vivacious three-year-old.

Why it's a win:

  • Almost 10 million views and 49,000 likes before the Super Bowl, when it was "leaked" by VW (SEW)

  • Winner of the coveted University of South Carolina "Cocky Award" 

  • Best Passat sales in six years in 2011 (VW Vortex)


Brand: Snickers
Status: Win

Snickers #1Snickers #2Snickers #3Snickers #4

(Click to enlarge)

Creating consecutively successful ads within a campaign is a challenge -- especially when the initial campaign is credited with re-launching Betty White's career with an over-the-top football sequence. However, Snickers was able to match its initial success with this ad that combines the legendary whininess of Richard Lewis and the crabby obnoxiousness of Roseanne Barr in a one-two punch.

Why it's a win:

  • Millions of online views on YouTube, Y! Video, and Google Video

  • 1.9 million references and features on Google

  • Manual comment analysis reveals that consumer reaction is almost always positive

"Crash the Super Bowl"

Brand: Doritos
Status: Win

Doritos #1Doritos #2Doritos #3Doritos #4

(Click to enlarge)

Doritos is always ahead of the pack digitally, but especially in social. Doritos Super Bowl strategy is to turn to budding videographers (and small studios just getting their start) to capture the desire and crunch.

It's a win in several ways. First, the ads, such as the one above, are very good. Second, the "Crash the Super Bowl" website showcases dozens of entries, which more or less guarantees that millions of people will waste whole minutes watching when they should be generating their weekly TPR reports. Third, the contest itself creates tremendous buzz in social media among both lay people and the opinion leading "creative class." All this in addition to no production costs makes for a brilliant ad campaign!

Why it's a win:

  • 5,600 submissions and 28 million YouTube page views (ThoughtPick)

  • Strong traffic every year to the Crashthesuperbowl.com web site

  • Consistently high rankings in the USA Today SuperBowl Ad Meter

"The skin win"

Brands: PETA and Go Daddy
Status: Win


(Click to enlarge)

Cleavage is not an idea, yet both of these brands use cleavage to drive awareness year after year. PETA never actually makes the "big game" because it produces ads designed to be rejected by Network Clearance. (Here is an example of a banned ad.)

Go Daddy put itself on the map with buxom models driving awareness for what is almost by definition a commodity product. The problem with using sex as an awareness building device is that it's hard to keep busting through the clutter year after year. After all, how does one follow something like this up? One would think that there is some point at which this type of hyper-sexualized advertising ceases to be appealing to a general audience. Well, this type of thinking is clearly wrong, because Go Daddy and PETA continue to succeed with their sexed up ads.

Why it's a win (PETA):

  • Doubled web traffic (Quantcast)

  • More than one million online mentions and discussions (Google)

Why it's a win (Go Daddy):

  • Huge popularity of tandem social media campaign in which Joan Rivers tweeted, "Yes, yes, it is my body."

  • Millions of social mentions on Twitter and Facebook, in addition to hundreds of blog feature

"Underground Club"

Brand: Stella Artois
Status: Fail

Stella Artois #1Stella Artois #2Stella Artois #3Stella Artois #4

(Click to enlarge)

The quirky campaign for Stella Artois depicts idealized European lifestyles. The stories are both entertaining physical comedies and carefully constructed tableaus that underscore the irresistible appeal of the beer.

Then we come to this spot. It's not a bad ad, but the placement is questionable. It would be best paired with art house movies (or at least dramas starring Angelina Jolie). American marketers should know that women in Packer's sweatshirts eating Rotelle Velveeta dip like their men smelling of Old Spice and Pert Plus, not Galousies and Camembert Cheese. The Super Bowl is the time to show ads starring a shiny faced Brett Favre. It's not the time for messaging starring a funky looking Adrien Brody.

Why it's a fail:

  • Less than 20,000 YouTube views

  • Very low level of U.S. social buzz


Brand: Hyundai Elantra
Status: Fail

Hyundai #1Hyundai #2Hyundai #3Hyundai #4

(Click to enlarge)

Nothing can really detract from the tremendous success of this brand year after year -- Hyundai's marketing clearly rocks. But this Elantra ad tries really hard to be noteworthy with limited success.

One of the common denominators of successful big-game ads is storytelling. There's no story in this Elantra ad. Rather, Hyundai served up a visual feast that is interesting to watch but doesn't leave the viewer with the intended message. The positioning is powerful as an idea, but running this ad during the Super Bowl seems to be a poor way of communicating it.

Why it's a fail: 

  •  Less than 100,000 views on YouTube, Y! Video, and Google Video

  • Almost no social media "buzz"

"Government agency"

Brand: Home Away
Status: Fail

HomeAway #1HomeAway #2HomeAway #3HomeAway #4

(Click to enlarge)

The most memorable bit in the Home Away ad is when the test baby's head is crushed against a Plexiglas wall -- virtually all of the social discussion on this ad revolves around that instant of film.

Based upon cursory examination of the comments, it appears that men -- young men in particular -- found it hilarious. Older folks and women seemed generally horrified. This campaign was a lightning rod of emotion. Strong visceral reactions are, of course, great for socializing a message. But what is the brand benefit of this discussion? Do couples browse the web together and say, "Hey, Home Away! They are the ones that crushed a baby's skull against a wall! Let's rent from them!"

Regardless of whether or not this ad resulted in a spike in rentals for Home Away, the fail here is with Network Standards and Practices. How is child abuse (however humorously played out) considered more socially acceptable than PETA's naked women?

Why it's a fail:

  • High number of negative comments about the ad

  • No link between the discussion and the actual service

Jim Nichols is VP of Marketing for Apsalar. Jim has 20+ years experience in over 80 different categories, including developing successful positioning and go-to-market plans for more than 40 adtech and martech companies. He joins Apsalar after...

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Commenter: Chloe Della Costa

2012, February 02

Great article and excellent examples!