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February 07, 2005

Super Bowl ads review

Jimnail By Charlene Li

I invited my fellow Forrester analyst, Jim Nail, to provide his reaction to the Super Bowl ads. As our lead advertising analyst, I thought you'd enjoy his reactions to the ad-fest. My only comment -- I thought nostalgically of Monster.com, who finally ended their six-year Super Bowl run, even though their ads never captured the magic of their 1999 "When I Grow Up" ad (especially when compared to GoDaddy). On to Jim!

Let me preface this review with a confession: I’m an Ogilvy guy. I started my advertising career at Ogilvy & Mather and cut my teeth on David Ogilvy’s advertising philosophy. So my evaluations are colored by his belief that truly great advertising – not merely effective or even “creative” ads – present a relevant, believable, differentiating brand benefit in a memorable fashion. The Super Bowl raises the stakes even higher, as advertisers try to create ads that area as much of an event as the game. Think Apple’s classic “1984” ad.

But this year, there was nothing close. Even long-time Super Bowl contender Fedex misdelivered this year with an ad premised on how they were going to make “the best Super Bowl Ad Ever”. Honda’s much-anticipated spot for the launch of its Ridgeline truck had the obligatory climbing-the-rugged-mountain footage and “closed box frame unit body construction” copy that makes so much automotive advertising so forgettable. Staples and Fidelity didn’t even try: recycling spots they have already been running. Maybe it is time to dial down the hype and consider this just another program, rather than the ad event of the year.

At least one ad made a serious attempt to use this high-profile event as a launching pad for a major strategic initiative. My pick for the Super Bowl XXXIX ad champion is:

Napster: Do the Math
A person costumed as the Napster cat mascot (ostensibly at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville for the Super Bowl) holds up a sign that says: “Do the Math.” The calculation: it would cost $10,000 at iTunes to fill up your iPod, while a Napster to Go subscription gives you unlimited music for $15 per month. Simple. Clear. Compelling. And the Super Bowl is a suitable venue to relaunch this once iconic brand in its bid to take on the now iconic iTunes brand. This ad won’t make the Advertising Hall of Fame but it will generate a lot of Napster 30-day trials tomorrow.

In homage to the Ogilvy philosophy, here are some additional awards:

The “Actually, My Wife is a Moron” Award
McDonald’s: Lincoln Fry
Ogilvy emphasized respecting the intelligence of your target audience, exhorting his agency that “The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife”. Not only is this ad’s ridiculous premise of a French fry bearing the likeness of Abraham Lincoln generally stupid, it goes on to be specifically insulting. In the Lincoln Fry 2 spot, an outdated stereotype of a wealthy Japanese collector speaking in broken English bids on the fry, thus insulting an entire nation. By itself, this ad probably can’t reverse the momentum that the global “I’m Lovin’ It” campaign brought to the Golden Arches. But it sure tries hard.

The “Skidding About on the Slippery Surface of Irrelevant Brilliance” Award
Anheuser-Busch: The Clydesdale Zoo
Ogilvy disdained “creativity” with this phrase. Clearly, this creative team fell too much in love with their heart-string tugging Super Bowl spot from last year, in which a donkey tries to become a Budweiser Clydesdale. This year, giraffes, elephants, and other exotic animals show up to audition. Since the Clydesdales barely made an appearance, this self-referential spot looks more like a trailer for a remake of “Jumanji”.

The “We Couldn’t Bore People – Our Product is So Fascinating.” Award
Ciba Vision: O2Optix contact lens
DO said, “You can’t bore people into buying your product.” This is especially true at the Super Bowl where 1) viewers are excited about the game and 2) they expect exciting ads. In this situation, a good rule of thumb is not to let engineers write an ad. But Ciba Vision ignored this rule: their spot wastes 30 seconds drilling viewers with trivia that this lens allows through 5 times the amount of oxygen as other lenses. Memo to Ciba Vision: Next time, let some marketing people make an ad promoting the benefits of the higher oxygen levels. As a former contact lens wearer, you might get me back with a message that I can wear them longer or won’t get that Sahara dust storm feeling halfway through the day.

And while these last awards have nothing to do with DO, these companies deserve special recognition for their luck, hubris, or careful calculations in manipulating the Super Bowl to their own ends.

The Lucky Break Award
Career Builder.com
Boston-based Gillette is taken over by Procter & Gamble the week before the Super Bowl…P&G announces it expects to cut 6000 jobs at its newly-acquired division…CareerBuilder.com runs three spots with all of Boston glued to the game broadcast. This is a formula for high attention to these spots. Besides, it should be reassuring to the Gillette employees now polishing their resumes that the chimpanzees that were fired by E-Trade at the Super Bowl a couple of years ago were able to find new jobs.

The “Load the Cannon with Gerbils” Award
This ad confirms it: the dotcom bubble is back. An unknown internet company selling a service that 99.9% of the audience doesn’t need spends megabucks to run an ad that has nothing whatsoever to do with the aforementioned service. At least Cyberian Outpost (whose 1998 spot firing gerbils out of a cannon can be credited with much of the dotcom advertising mania) sold computer gear people were buying at the time.

The Best Imitation of a Culturally Sensitive Company
Two weeks before the game, the company proclaimed to the press that it wouldn’t air a TV spot spoofing Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at last year’s Super Bowl half-time show. And for those who would like to see how offensive the spot would have been, it was already up on Budweiser.com, and by now has probably gotten a larger audience than if it had aired. Anheuser-Busch finessed this gamble perfectly – and ended up saving their $2.4 million and their brand image while still gaining enormous publicity.


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Joshua Shimkin

I'm surprised you didn't mention the Diet Pepsi ads. If these have already aired, I never saw them. I thought the first one, P. Diddy taking a Diet Pepsi truck to the MTV awards, was amusing and memorable. The celebrity cameos in both of the Diet Pepsi ads (the second being of an atractive guy walking down the street and attracting women, as well as Carson Kressley, to follow him) was not over the top and - again - lasting. Any thoughts?

Shawn Lea

I agree about the Napster to Go ad (and I'm an avid iTunes fan). I didn't think it was the best, but I gave it The Best Use of a Client's Advertising Dollars Award - it was short, sweet, made its point and left. I also noted that it seemed to be The Year of the Monkey at the Super Bowl (even though it's the Year of the Rooster in the Chinese New Year). Monkeys, monkeys everywhere!

Sean Fan

Ugh... come on.... Napster's ad was awful....just awful. If I understood it, they were saying it's better to rent than to own? Not in my book. Napster to Go. Sounds like a prediction to me.

Al Sargent

Good review. But I agree that the Napster ad wasn't so effective, given that Steve Jobs knocked Napster to Go with his quoted comment that, "when you rent music, you own nothing". The Word of Steve is gospel to many of the iPod masses, and is being repeated in many venues.


I heard from my brother that the second showing of GoDaddy.com's ad was cut. Is that true? I didn't get to see any ads this year because I was at the game, yep! got my tix through www.superbowlloans.com. I got a great loan, with the money I'm saving on my bills I think I'll have enough for the 2006 game at Ford Field. see you guys there. Cheers


Go to www.millerauditions.com to see how Miller is going to hijack the Super Bowl away from Budweiser for commercial superiority. These webfilms are great.

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