Seven observations on the 2012 Super Bowl ads

Honda emailed all of its customers a link to their new spot

You’re probably thinking, oh great, another Superbowl blog post. I know that’s what I’m thinking whether I’m reading one or writing one. But there are some interesting developments worth noting. Given the cost of advertising on the game, the pressure to run a memorable spot and the vocal participation of viewers on Twitter, Facebook and online polls, advertisers have to pull out all the stops if they expect to win on both effectiveness and public reaction.

Here are some practices, if not possible trends, worth noting.

Super Bowl spots are getting longer

It ain’t cheap to run a commercial on the game in the first place — $3.5 million for a 30-second spot.  Nevertheless we’re seeing multiple brands running 60’s and Honda ponying up to produce a two-and-a-half minute spot for pre-game release, likely to be a sixty-second buy in the game itself. The cliché explanation, of course, is the need to break through the clutter. But the real reason is that no matter what you run, the pressure to do well – on polls, on Twitter, in the court of public opinion – is higher than it’s ever been. Twice as long may not mean twice as good, but it does leave more room for gags, humor and story-telling.  Some, like Toyota succeed.  Others, like Acura, don’t. Honda may or may not play as well in the on air :60 as it does in the online version.

Story telling gives frat humor a run for the money

I’m sure the latter isn’t extinct quite yet, but it does appear there may be a little more true story telling this year and maybe fewer formulaic reveals at the end. Honda’s Matthew Broderick spot is a miniature movie. It may not tell me anything I don’t know about the vehicle, but the length of the commercial alone will put it at the right end of the buzz meter and the charm of the performance will no doubt win plenty of votes on USA Today and Brandbowl. Granted that doesn’t necessarily turn into sales or even consideration – just because I like an ad doesn’t mean I’ll buy the car. Brand likeability may be a motivation to buy, but that remains different from liking a TV spot.

While Honda may have nothing to say other than it stands for playing hookie, Audi has some very specific features to share with us. Like the LED technology in its headlights.  The carmaker may have jumped on the overcrowded vampire bandwagon but at least there’s a relatable story in its 60-second execution. And as we all know, stories make things easier to remember and share with others.

User generated spots start to feel old

While I am a big fan of getting our customers involved, it comes with a huge problem: formulaic, highly derivative, re-cycled ad ideas. The Chevy spot in which a college grad thinks he’s getting a car is among the most expected. We’ve seen it done for everything from wallpaper to Pepsi in the famous Cindy Crawford ad. The Doritos dog trick spot is even worse.  Strategy: product looks, tastes, and is so good that customer can’t resist it. Seen it. Done it.  Plus I think Bud Light has used up all the jokes in that genre.

The use of social platforms grows

I am excited to see what Wieden does with the Coke polar bears. Given that they’re the guys who brought Old Spice to Twitter, I’ll guess that the execution of the bears’ reaction to the game, their respective teams (the bears are not rooting for the same team) and even the commercials will be fun, and ideally offer some genuine interactive features for the user. At least I hope so.  If it’s just more “pay attention to us,” but in different venues, that would not be very Wieden like. Will be yet another coup for Facebook.

We can also assume that everyone, or at least Bud Light, will have a hashtag, now that they know what they are.  A year ago, when Audi stuck one on the back end of an ad for a full half second, the press went nuts. “A hashtag!” What an innovative marketing technique.  Now, 12 months later, it’s practically mainstream and expected.  A reminder that it’s not about using the media, it’s about what you do with it. You still need a creative idea.

The “Mikey, he likes it,” metric matters more than ever

It started with USA Today’s Ad Meter. Then came Brandbowl. And now likes and +1s and embeds and views. It’s almost as if the only thing that matters is whether or not the ad and the execution win praise and thumbs ups. We may make believe that other numbers – reach, awareness, consideration, a bump in sales – really matter more. And, of course they should. But I wouldn’t want to be the agency whose work comes in the bottom third of the polls. Or doesn’t get a few million views on YouTube (even though many of those are paid for.)

The pre-release strategy goes mainstream

It was only a few years ago when Superbowl spots were kept under wraps and guarded at all costs until the day of the game. Now, we’re likely to be tired of the commercials before they ever actually run. After the whopping success of VW’s The Force in 2011, pre-releasing one’s Super Bowl spot appears to be the new normal. They’re on Hulu, on YouTube, on blogs and all over Twitter and Facebook. Not everyone welcomes the loss of surprise; there’s something culturally communal about having 100 million plus fans sees the same spot for the first time all together.  But the web has changed that. And certainly a marketer could argue that every view counts so extending them from before the game to after stretches the media budget. In fact the Honda spot went from no views to 4 million in the first 36 hours.

Borrowed interest still reigns

This year we have inspiration from Twilight, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Seinfeld. No doubt there will be more. Some will be clever. Some might border on brilliant. They’ll probably make us laugh or smile as they cover us in the warm glow of familiarity. But something in me wishes that advertising would work the other way around. That we would create the cultural icons worth borrowing or stealing from.

That would be worth even more than an extra 10 million views on YouTube.

Would love to hear your thoughts, and hope to see you in the stream on The pre-game site is up now. But we’ll be rocking come game time. Remember: #brandbowl.

Below, one of my favorite spots so far.

Related posts:

Why Shazam won’t work, by @mrahmey

Coke’s Polar Bowl



Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I was really critical of the ads last year. I think VW wasted their money on cutesy. That chrysler did nothing to change our opinion their cars are ugly and poor quality. And Pepsi gave me no reason to drink a soda can that assaults people. In fact I vehemently disagree with Rob Schwartz who once told me the SB is about buzz vs selling a product or making awareness. And being a CFO vs CMO type I am sure the money people at big brands agree with me. When the to 10 you tube ads from 2011 went from 40mil views (VW) to 4mil kind of proves there is no year long buzz.

Will be interesting how this year works out. I saw the VW spot and felt took too long to show a damn car. But good news is this year they show a car and it is driving!

And of course we will all cringe at Go Daddy. I would of thought @jmitchem would of put them out of business already lol

And I don't like the Camry commercial as much as you Edward. I don't want my car funny! I want it responsive when driving, safe, and high quality!

Looking forward to the brand bowl though lets see how things stack up.


@faris and I had a little volley when the VW dogs spot came out. Borrowed interest will never go away but there's a a degree of "stealing" where the Beastie Boys become Vanilla Ice. It also kills me when something I personally might hold sacred like Ferris Buehler is shilling for a car, let alone the fact that that character would never drive a CRV.

I find it fitting that you pine for reversing the tables on borrowed interest in an article that quotes a famous line from Life Cereal.


@edwardboches I totally agree, the crowdsourced Super Bowl ads still rely too much on frat humor. Its getting old. #brandbowl

edwardboches moderator

@Howie Goldfarb@jmitchem Great. That's what the platform is all about. Debate, discussion, disagreement. Thanks for being opinionated. The only thing we know for sure is that SB ads encourage conversation. Go #brandbowl.