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After several years of sub par, Super Bowl advertising, I held out hope that maybe this year would bring redemption for our industry.

So either I’m truly getting older, more cynical and harder to impress (maybe), or the ads just continue to be underwhelming (probably). It’s a good thing that at least the actual game was interesting to watch.

Again this year, there were animals, celebrities, special effects and plenty of sophomoric humor.

While CareerBuilder brought back the old, reliable monkeys to make their point about “bad jobs”, it worked because it was a simple, relatable, well-executed idea and the monkeys make you smile.

Okay, full disclosure. I’m an animal lover so typically, put a critter in a commercial and have some level of cleverness to the spot and you’ll hook me. It’s no surprise, then, that I liked the Bridgestone beaver spot.

Yet, the Doritos and Bud Light spots featuring dogs did nothing for me. Maybe they felt too predictable or too sophomoric. Or maybe they were aimed at a demo that I don’t fit. The USA Today poll showed those two spots were voted top favorite Super Bowl commercials. My guess is this has a lot to do with which demo was most likely to be online voting for their favorite commercial vs. whether or not the commercials were really that good.

A lot of celebrities were paid big bucks this year but the agencies and clients (let’s not forget they ultimately approve these big budget bonanzas) didn’t seem to know how to really leverage them. No surprises from Ozzy or Bieber; they did exactly what you’d expect them to do. And what a waste of comedians Richard Lewis and Roseanne Barr in the Snickers spot. But perhaps the most bizarre use of a celebrity? Adrien Brody as a singer in a smoky jazz club with eyes apparently only for “Stella”. He went from winning an Oscar to hawking beer. I’m sure there’s an artistic reason for it.

The one exception for me in the celebrity category was the use of Eminem to help tell the proud comeback story of the “Motor City”, proudly building American cars (in this case, Chrysler). This spot was well written and executed and pulled just the right heartstrings for me (and in fairness, maybe it’s because I’m a former Clevelander and I saw the parallels between the two once great cities struggling to come back).

Then, of course, there were the spots chock full of special effects and supposed high production value. Note to agencies: the amount of cash you spend on a spot is not necessarily commensurate with its success. Simple, clever, well-executed stories always trump an average idea disguised by a lot of expensive, whiz-bang stuff.

The VW spots were both different and interesting for auto commercials; they were as much about the user of the brand as the brand itself.

Overall, I was very underwhelmed by this year’s 2011 Super Bowl commercials; what did you think?

  1. Kevin M.No Gravatar on Monday 7, 2011

    Agreed for the most part, but there always seem to be a few (or couple) of ads that float above the fray. For me, they were 1.) Volkswagen Passat’s “Mini Darth Vader,” and 2.) Teleflora’s “Help me, Faith.” What’s surprising to me, or maybe not, is that the appeal of these two winners did not depend on million dollar CGI effects, but rather on getting the message right. Seems simple, but few in the crowd ever manage to hit the target—year after year in this annual ad-fest.

    I also liked Doritos’ “Finger Licker, Pants Sniffer.” Not for being a good ad, but for putting me off Doritos forever with a creep-factor that registered off the scales. Well done, and thank you, morons. You’ve given me one less salty snack to include in my consideration set.

    Honorable mention goes to Orville Redenbacher’s “Cameron Diaz Feeds Alex Rodriguez Popcorn.” Oh right, that was no ad. But it was awesome!

  2. Rich D.No Gravatar on Monday 7, 2011

    I also found the lineup of commercials to be less-than-satisfying. As far as the highlights, I would rank the spots as follows:

    Winner: Coke – Maybe they didn’t break now ground, but as always were on-brand and on-message and pleasantly entertaining.

    Runner-up(s): VW, Chrysler – Darth Vader and the little running bug were good spots for VW. I liked the way Chrysler used emotion to sell their spot, but was that a brand ad for Chrysler or a product introduction for the 200? I think it was more of the former and less of the latter, but either way, it was a little bit jumbled in message.

    Honorable mention: Carmax – best of the “not-so-great”

    Losers: Doritos, AB, Groupon – Wow, these were ALL awful. The biggest question here is WHAT HAPPENED TO AB and DDB? They used to flat-out DOMINATE the Super Bowl and now I don’t think they were even in the top ten. The new Bud spot was particularly off-brand and would have worked better as a Bud Light spot. That said, their BL series has become too formulaic and lacks what DDB used to be famous for: “surprise with a smile.”

    That is how I saw it, anyway.

  3. Rich D.No Gravatar on Monday 7, 2011

    @Kevin: Really, the “Help me, Faith” spot? Yawn. Beer spots have been stereotyping men as boors for years. Absolutely nothing new in this creative concept. Perhaps I am being a bit too high-brow about this, but the Super Bowl is typically a main-line agency’s chance to really shine with their creative. This old shtick is the best they could come up with? Color me completely unimpressed.

  4. Kevin M.No Gravatar on Monday 7, 2011

    Duly noted, Mr. D. Yes the gentleman depicted in Teleflora’s spot may have been presented as stereotypically boorish, to your point about the tired old shtick. What made it unexpected for me I guess was the fact it was pitching an online florist, rather than a brewery. But I get you. Guys being guys has been done-done-done a million times. Maybe they should’ve had him wearing a speedo while tapping out his love note punch line. Now, THAT would’ve been different.

  5. David WhitlockNo Gravatar on Monday 7, 2011

    Audi’s “Release the Hounds” spot did a great job telling a story (blue bloods escaping from their prison) and linking the competition (Mercedes) to the past (“…my father owned one…”). The ad effectively positioned Audi as the future of luxury. And the Kenny G cameo was a funny way to inject a celebrity without forcing the ad to be about the celebrity (I’m looking at your Eminem).