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Alf's Articles

Best and Worst of Super Bowl Ads

by Alf Nucifora

By now the pundits have had their say. The various newspaper beauty contests have selected their best and worst commercials. But now that the hoopla has died down, it's time to conduct the post-game review and find out what we really learned from this annual football extravaganza and advertising orgy.

The dot.com category needs to grow up: Of the twenty-plus dot.com spots, most were woefully bad. Not only were they self-indulgent, worse still, they revealed confused communication strategies at best and in some cases none at all. All seemed to pursue the Holy Grail of "attitude" but they failed to comprehend that attitude is not necessarily synonymous with good advertising. The ETrade spot that proclaimed "We just wasted $2 million bucks," wasn't far off the mark. That spot spoke for the dot.com category. A classic case of art imitating life.

Incidentally, according to Media Metrix, total traffic to the advertised sites grew by an incremental 1.1 million visitors on Super Bowl Sunday as a result of the advertising. Assuming an across-the-board discounted rate of $2 million per spot, plus a conservative $250,000 to produce each spot, dot.coms spent approximately $50 million to boost traffic. That works out to $45 per visitor; hardly an effective or efficient media delivery methodology. Of course more visits will be generated to those same sites in the forthcoming weeks, but probably not by much.

Animals and babies always work: In a repeat of previous years, spots featuring animals and babies attracted the most attention. From Anheuser-Busch's "Rex the dog," to the Mountain Dew "Cheetah," to EDS' "Herd of Wild Cats" and even the pets.com "Sock Puppet," animals drew the most oohs and aahs and provided fodder for the most entertaining commercials. Ditto with the gorgeous babies in the Oxygen Media commercial.

The soda and beer boys have got it down pat: Kudos to Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi, Mountain Dew and even Heineken and Corona. Their spots were consistently entertaining, delivered a story line that made sense, and were appropriate to the glitz, glamour and setting of a once-a-year Super Bowl event. Year after year, they deliver the commercials that viewers expect and appreciate (except 7-Up of course). And that, after all, is what consistent brand building is all about. Incidentally, where was Coca-Cola?

The auto manufacturers still don't get it: With the exception of BMW announcing its new X5 wagon, the rest of the category was epitomized by the same dull, hackneyed, feature-laden and over-produced advertising. We saw it from Ford, GMC and NAPA. Oldsmobile tried to be slick and non-conformist with its Gap parodied "In My Car" spot for Alero. It didn't work.

Those movie boys know how to sell: Great trailers for movies like "Mission to Mars," "Titan A.E.," "U-571" and "Gladiator." They piqued your curiosity and drew the desired response, "Wow, I've got to see that when it comes out." It's elementary, really. Movie marketers live and die by putting bodies in seats. Success or failure clearly depends upon the daily grosses, unlike the dot.coms who, for the time being, dwell in a make believe world where revenue and profitability are alien concepts. But, that too will change. About the same time that dot.com advertising starts to get smart.

What did I like?

I thought a handful of spots stood out for their message, clarity, entertainment value and ability to connect with the audience. Even though it wasn't a first airing, I chuckled again at the Tostito's spot with its basketball superstars gliding on ice; laughed and applauded at Motorola's snake crawling up the man's leg; was mesmerized by the Mountain Dew Cheetah with its great closing admonishment "Bad Cheetah!;" smiled with the rest of the crowd at the antics of Rex the dog; related to the girl babies all clad in pink for Oxygen Media; like all men, guffawed at the WWF's "Miss Congeniality" spot; appreciated the spectacular production technique involved in EDS's "Herding Wild Cats;" and laughed uproariously at ETrade's "Money out the Wazoo." It brought the much used wazoo concept to life and, for the first time on network television, confirmed the anatomical placement of the wazoo on the human body. Loved it.

From a complete campaign point of view, Schwab and ETrade were the best of the dot.coms... each with a pool of commercials that worked to a consistent theme and, by and large, maintained viewer interest. Of the rest, VISA, Budweiser and, to a lesser extent, BMW, delivered a campaign that was worth the investment.

Summing it all up, it wasn't a great year for Super Bowl advertising. So much wasted money. In fact, it's probably the first time that the game was better than the commercials.

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