The five best and worst Super Bowl ads
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    The following is brought to you by a highly scientific North By Northwestern poll of a small sample (one) of Northwestern student(s).

    The Best

    V.

    In this short 15-second spot, Carmax taps into the awesome power of the Internet. The ad is splendid in its simplicity, a snappy homage to the dramatic chipmunk viral video. Geeky Northwestern students (as well as 18 million other viewers) are sure to enjoy being in on the reference joke. The message: Using Carmax is “Dramatically Smart”; can’t get much more straightforward than that.

    IV.

    An equation for advertisers everywhere: standard commercial=boring; standard commercial + Betty White=HILARIOUS. For culturally-aware Northwestern students, there’s just something inherently entertaining about the woman they saw playing the lovable old lady on The Golden Girls (or perhaps the box office smash Dennis the Menace Strikes Again) getting crushed in a game of backyard football. It was made all the better when Ms. White made a “That’s not what your girlfriend says…” joke. The only problem is that the ad seems to say that if you eat Snickers you’ll go from being an adored pop culture figure to being a scrawny, unkempt white guy; not the way to sell candy bars, Mars & Co. The message: Your failure at sports isn’t due to your athletic inabilities, but to your hunger; eat Snickers and you’ll feel like (or become) a new person.

    III.

    In a sharp departure from the tone of the vast majority of other Super Bowl ads, Google went straight to viewers’ hearts. Without being excessively sappy, the spot cleverly tells a story of a foreigner meeting, courting and [SPOILER ALERT] marrying his Parisian soul mate. In true Google fashion, a simple series of search queries leads viewers on this romantic adventure, tugging even on cynical Northwesterners’ hearts. A student looking ahead to a quarter or two of study abroad can easily put themselves in the shoes of the unidentified Googler; when the audience has that kind of empathy, they’re hooked. The message: Google can be used for everything, including finding the love of your life.

    II.

    Bud Light and Doritos dominated the Super Bowl ad party, totaling nearly a dozen spots between them. While all the Doritos ads were quite funny, the Snack Attack Samurai won the right to represent the brand on this list. As every gross-out comedy writer knows, over-the-top, farcical humor is the road to college students’ hearts, and this spot nailed the type. The goofy, seventies-era workout get-ups of the two Doritos-snatchers set the tone for the ad, which culminates with the appearance of a Dorito-accoutered samurai. The message: Doritos are so good they inspire rabidly fierce devotion, even to the point of homicidal mania.

    I.

    Most of Budweiser’s ads were interesting and funny (with the exception of the tired Lost parody), but the Bud Light Autotune commercial stood out as simply sublime. Capitalizing on the success of the viral videos like Autotune the News, the spot’s creators crafted a hilarious ad and avoided the temptation to drag out the joke longer than it deserved. Finally, T-Pain’s appearance at the end was the fuel that took the ad to the next level. His cameo was to be expected, but to see the world-famous and fabulously wealthy rapper poke fun at himself was immensely satisfying. The message: Like T-Pain and Autotune, Bud Light makes every party SO much better.

    The Worst

    V.

    With all of the buzz and controversy surrounding Tim Tebow’s Focus On the Family-sponsored Super Bowl ad, Northwestern students undoubtedly had expectations (whether very high or very low) for the spot. Unfortunately, we all were disappointed; the ad was blander than the food at an old people’s home. The spot wasn’t funny, interesting, or even clear what it was about. It simply left viewers scratching their heads, wondering what all the hubbub was about. The message: Tim Tebow’s mom still worries about him, which is cute because he’s a ridiculously ripped and athletic college football superstar and Heisman winner.

    IV.

    As has been noted many times, Northwestern students’ loyalties lie with Conan O’Brien when it comes to late-night talk shows. Putting his arch-nemesis (not including the even more revile-able Jeff Zucker) Jay Leno on a promo for Letterman’s show was not the way to draw in the ever-more-important college-aged demographic, and Oprah doesn’t exactly help in that department either. In addition to featuring the worst possible endorser, the ad is simply confusing. At the end, the audience is left without a clear punchline, or even a clear point. The message: David Letterman is down-to-earth enough to watch the Super Bowl but big-time enough to get guests like Oprah? I have no idea, this ad makes no sense.

    III.

    Northwestern students are smart and informed enough to know the importance of the Census; it helps apportion federal aid to states, determines representation in Congress, and is (allegedly) a gold mine of data for social scientists. But Northwesterners are also smart enough to realize that their tax dollars were used to make this awfully unfunny spot for the Census. Perhaps the Census Bureau could have gone with an informational PSA instead of attempting (and utterly failing) at humor. Professors at Northwestern’s own Kellogg School of Management gave the Census ad the lowest ranking in its annual review of Super Bowl ads. The message: The Census is for everyone, including Christopher Guest fans.

    II.

    Just like every other internet meme, these Carmax commercials got old in a hurry. The first one was worth a chuckle or two. By the time the dramatic cockatoo came onscreen, groaning Americans across the country started making vows to never again visit the used-auto selling site. The only thing worse than an unfunny ad is an annoying one. These Carmax ads definitely fit into the latter category. The message: Carmax is for people who think repeating a joke ten thousand times makes it funnier.

    I.

    Generally speaking, the central goal of advertisements is to associate in a viewer’s mind a positive feeling with a product. This is normally not a difficult task; show a smiling family, then flash a shot of the product’s label. But the folks behind this Dodge Charger spot managed to fail — spectacularly so — in this regard. Beginning with mug shots of despondent men describing all they begrudgingly do for their significant others, the ad associates neutered men with Dodge’s muscle car. Apparently, the ad’s creators thought this would get men to want to buy a Charger. The message: The Dodge Charger — for emasculated men struggling to compensate.

    For advertisers looking to move from the “worst” to the “best”, some patterns are important to notice. The best spots were all interesting, engaging, and had a clear message. Whether funny or heartwarming, ads that stick in viewers minds and keep them talking at the watercooler (or Facebook wall, as the case may be) are the most effective. The worst spots were confusing, boring, or simply unfunny. If a commercial makes an attempt at humor (much like a game-spitting club-goer), it needs to nail it, otherwise viewers are going to ignore it or, even worse, roll their eyes with displeasure.

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