Record numbers of viewers for Super Bowl XLV (111 million, as Nielsen reports, a decisive victory for the enduring power of TV as a branding and marketing medium) makes last night's big game the most-watched TV event in US history.
So advertisers certainly got their money's worth in terms of reach and exposure — at least those brand marketers whose spots stood on a very crowded field this year.
The best of the pack this year?
The action on the field in the Green Bay Packers’ 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, generally, was more interesting than the TV commercials (watch them all here) between plays.
But from a Super Bowl telecast that turned out to be short of impactful advertising, a number of spots clearly emerged as entertaining, surprising, effective — or all three — from among the 61 ads. USA Today, Ad Age, the New York Times (including its live-blog), the Wall Street Journal and others have all weighed in on their favorites.
With such an auto-centric lineup of advertisers, and as brandchannel's resident Detroit observer, here are my favorites of the night, ranked by brand (and alphabetically):
BEST BUY: The electronics retailer couldn’t have selected a better odd couple of celebrities than Ozzy “Ossified” Osbourne, who played the role of the digitally clueless oldster, and Justin “Teen Beat” Bieber. Both allowed themselves to be caricatured. Plus the spot was effective in making the point that Best Buy won’t allow its customers to be outpaced by up-to-date technology — although if anyone caught the brand's new "buy back" policy the spot aimed to communicate, we'll be surprised.
BRIDGESTONE: By now, any dedicated Super Bowl watcher is familiar with how Bridgestone tires allow you to avoid creating unnecessary road kill. But this ad optimizes the meme when a grateful beaver helps a driver avoid a washed-out bridge by felling a tree in front of him. The ensuing emotional exchange could have come straight out of a Disney movie.
CARMAX: For style points only. When a driver becomes crazed by fuel-pump attendants, the “Gas Station” spot becomes reminiscent of Back to the Future, where Marty gets overwhelmed by mid-Twentieth Century ideas of customer service. For CarMax in this spot, the milkman was a nice added touch. The only missing thing: What, exactly, does “customer service” at CarMax mean?
CHEVROLET: The GM-owned Chevy used true romance to break through the hormonal fog that is stirred up by the entirety of Super Bowl advertising. What’s more, the “Status” spot – in which a guy finds out immediately that his first date was a hit — underscored the crucial difference between OnStar, which invites social-media interaction, and Ford’s Sync, which does not.
Chevy ran a number of ads, but the other one that scored big was its “Tommy” spot, in which a highly capable Silverado HD played Lassie and saved a precocious little boy from all sorts of trouble. Line of the night: “I didn’t even know this town had a volcano!”
CHRYSLER: “Imported From Detroit” was a mold-breaker and almost the only spot with the sort of epic feel that gains entry into the Super Bowl advertising hall of fame. Forgive this Michigan-based correspondent for drinking in the Detroit flavor, but Eminem never looked better. And while the new 200 sedan didn’t get much actual attention, the raison d’etre for Chrysler shone through.
DORITOS: For much of the evening, insensitive and single-minded young men held center stage in many brands’ ads. So it was nice to see a woman and her dog gain comeuppance on an insensitive cad. The spot where a pug smashed down a door on the teasing boyfriend was funny and satisfying. And it kicked off Doritos’ evening of three spots in an effective way.
E-TRADE: By now, we all love the E-Trade talking babies, so the challenge for the “Tailor” spot was overcoming that familiarity. And E-Trade created a new relationship, between the whiz-kid infant investor and his tailor, Enzo, who could afford to retire in Tuscany because he followed the babe’s advice and used E-trade. The “You’re welcome” ending was a sweet moment.
GROUPON: You may have to be a bit of a cause-marketing cynic to have enjoyed this one. When Timothy Hutton began with a voiceover about Tibetan culture being “in jeopardy,” the spot had alienation written all over it. So when he doused the do-goodism in favor of a great deal via Groupon at a Himalayan restaurant in Chicago, it was one of the night’s biggest victories — not a popular view, I appreciate!
VOLKSWAGEN: The cute-and-innocent factor was missing from almost all of the other ads. That’s one reason VW’s “The Force” spot was hard not to like. It didn’t do much to highlight features of the new American-made Passat. But the ad did give some subliminal young-family positioning to a brand that has always concentrated on single twenty-somethings.
The German brand also succeeded with one of the last spots of the game, in which an animatronic black beetle skittered across the dangerous forest floor, and around hairpin turns, before viewers discovered that the new Volkswagen Beetle is going to look a lot like – well, a beetle.