Super Bowl: Commercial analysis with Ad Age's Brian Steinberg

Feb 07, 2011

Join Ad Age's Brian Steinberg on Monday, Feb. 7, at 1:30 p.m., to chat about what people were also tuning in for during last night's Super Bowl: the commercials. Which was your favorite? Who did the best? Chat about this and more and ask your question now.

Hi, I'm Brian Steinberg, I'm the TV Editor at Advertising Age and write about all things television and supervise our coverage of the Super Bowl every year.

Do you think Groupon's Tibet commercial was intentionally offensive? Does it make sense for a relatively new, relatively unknown company to get talked about, regardless of whether it's good or bad? I'll bet a lot more people know the name Groupon now that so many people are complaining about the commerical.

My sense is that they had the best of intentions, but sometimes advertisers aren't always as sensitive as they should be. There have been a number of ads in which both veteran and newbie advertisers have offended at least some segment of the viewership, and one wonders why they hadn't considered the possibility earlier. 

One year, a relatively unknown company called Sales Genie ran two separate animated spots that contained particularly obnoxious stereotypes of Asian-Indian people. And Snickers one year ran an ad showing two male mechanics kissing that offended a lot of gay rights organizations. The Super Bowl brings in the broadest possible audience of any TV event, and some marketers forget that what seems funny to them may not seem funny to other people. 

Do you think the VW Darth Vader ad suffered a bit by being "leaked" (umm, on the VW site) before the Super Bowl? Was the impact the same as if it'd been the first viewing at the big game? Or does the pregame buzz become more important than the postgame buzz? I have a feeling people would be talking about that ad even more today if they hadn't already seen it.

That's a good question, but it's becoming more common to leak some portion of your ad before the Super Bowl starts. VW was running around the last several days talking about how many hits the ad got on several Web sites. And while the ad may have gotten a little played out before kick-off, the company still got a lot of buzz going that probably enticed people who hadn't seen the ad to make a point of watching it. It's not like this ad had a surprise celebrity or some joke that was ruined by giving it away earlier. So VW might have had the creative concept that allowed them to talk about things a little earlier than other marketers who used Kenny G or Joan Rivers.

The best baby was the first one, the last one was good, I'm not so sure with this one, wasn't feeling it. thoughts?

E Trade isn't backing off this character. They're getting a lot of buzz off of it. In fact, during the AFC and NFC championship games, they managed to get the E Trade baby on set with sportscasters from CBS and Fox. While the humor of each ad may differ, chances are you're going to see more of this kid in the not to distant future.

Why isn't anyone discussing the "Cram it in the Boot" commercial for mini cooper? At my party, the jaws dropped, and the laughter didn't stop for 5 minutes. We couldn't believe that got past the censors. Is it just us, or do I need to get friends with more chaste minds?

I think you're right, it's a pretty riske ad, and I was a little suprised that that phrase was allowed on national television. I bet there are families across the nation who have kids asking,"what does cram it in the boot mean?" Maybe the ad aired later in the game, so some kids were falling alseep, but this was a surprising piece of work. And not in a delightful way.

My favorite ad was the Darth Vadar ad, it still makes me chuckle after watching it a few times. Another one I liked but no one is talking about is the soft drink commercial with two border patrol guards, I thought it was kind of poignant. Finally, was there a Clydesdale ad this year? If so, I must have missed it. I always like those and was surprised not to see one, but maybe I just missed it.

There was a Clydesdale ad this year, but it really just featured the horses in a cameo. That's kind of surprising, because for years, Budweiser has gotten a lot of good feeling from showing the horses, who are usually depicted as being stately and elegant. This year, a team of Clydesdales was seen for mere seconds in an ad that had a cowboy singing Elton John's "Tiny Dancer." Next year, maybe Anheuser will use the horses in a more expected fashion.

The Darth Vader ad from VW and the border patrol ad from Coca Cola are kind of "old school" Super Bowl commercials that play on sentiment or spectacle to make their point. That's mostly how Super Bowl ads were done in the 70s or 80s, but in recent years more Super Bowl marketers are using more of a hard sell approach. So why the VW and Coke ads may get less chatter, is because they're surrounded by other ads that aim more directly for the funny bone.

My 2 favorites don't seem to match what others thought. I laughed out loud at the Doritos commercial where the guy sprinkles the cheese dust on the dead fish and plant and they become alive, and then, after spilling someone's ashes, they come to life. The other one I liked was the Pepsi Max where a couple was at a restaurant and you could hear their thoughts.

Those ads aim for a certain, probably younger, audience. They were also "crowdsourced" in a way, the result of a contest held by Pepsi-Co., who owns both Doritos and Pepsi, to award a prize for the best commercial generated by consumers. Most of the consumers seemed to like jokes about dumb guys doing silly things. The ads are getting a good reaction in some circles: one of the Doritos ads tied for first in USAToday's annual Ad Meter.

This is a question that has probably been bugging a lot of people. How can, which pretty much no one has ever heard of other than during the Super Bowl, manage to afford to spend millions every year for their sleazy ads, and who do they think their target demographic is?

That's an interesting question. I have interviewed the head of Go Daddy, Bob Parsons, a number of different times. And he says the investmet they put each year into the Super Bowl does an amazing amount of publicity for the company. He's told me in the past that what the company does, which is selling online domain names, isn't the easiest thing to explain in a commercial, so if you're going to try and make a go of it, then why not do it in the Super Bowl? They clearly have some return on their investment because they keep coming back year after year, even though some people probably wish they wouldn't.

All I'm saying, as a hot-blooded American woman who really loves shoes, is that I wouldn't dump a trainer to whom I'm attracted in favor of a pair of shoes. Any shoes. Especially not those shoes.

I wonder what Skechers was trying to accomplish with that commercial. Clearly they were hoping the appearance of Kim Kardashian would be enough to put it through and make a point, but maybe not everyone was excited by her presence and had other questions to ask.

Do people watching that Chrysler Eminem commercial know that a Toyota Camry is imported all the way from Kentucky? Or that a Honda Accord is imported all the way from Ohio?

Chrysler is definitely taking a little bit of a risk with the "imported from Detroit" tagline. The automaker was trying to play up an image that its cars are seen as being as great as any foreign import. It's true that a person living in any part of the United States will import nothing from Detroit, but a good ad typically doesn't let hard, cold facts stand in the way of making an interesting point.

I'm not complaining because I don't miss the 'cringe factor', but what's happened to all of the Viagra commercials? A while back it seems there were more of them then beer ads. But in the last couple of Super Bowls I haven't seen a single one.

Yeah, you're thinking of the 2004 Super Bowl, that's when both Viagra and Cialis ran Super Bowl commercials. Some people called it the "erectile-dysfunction bowl." You may also recall that year featured the now-infamous Janet Jackson halftime show, and a lot of people involved in the Super Bowl and its telecast decided to tone it down in 2005 and a few years afterwards. ED drugs are probably a good fit with the male population watching the game, but Super Bowl brings in a very broad audience, and marketers need to be very mindful that their message plays to everyone in the room, not just a smaller set.

I find it completely inexplicable that many people actually tune in "just to see the commercials". Isn't this a myth created by the marketing industry? And their TV news partners (and newspapers) are happy to play along by hyping the commercials (who pay their bills).

People tune in for a good game, most of all, and for all of the hype and spectacle that comes with the Super Bowl. It's one of the few things still on TV that people watch live and in large groups. The ads have grown outsized because of the very large audience watching and the game and the commercials seem to go hand in hand.

What about Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" commercial? To me, it seemed really great, but I'm hearing mixed reviews from coworkers this morning. I thought it was pretty inspiring and I'm not even an Eminem fan.

This is definitely a bold ad. The company bought out two minutes of air time, esssentially an entire commercial break, something that just typically isn't done in the Super Bowl. Clearly, Chrysler is trying to portay itself as being on the rebound, even though it's well known that the company has had its ups and downs in recent years, owing to the economy and its recent hook-up with Daimler overseas. You have to give them this: car ads usually look a lot alike, and their's definitely stood out. 

Loved it. Great references to the 1984 Apple ad without being too heavy-handed.

Here's my question: Do you think viewers who weren't around n 1984 to see the Apple commercial understood the reference? A lot of people were buzzing last night on Twitter about this ad, and I think it was a pretty interesting effort. It's not easy, after all, to take a swipe at Apple, one of the savviest advertisers around. That said, you could argue that the ad focused too much on Apple than it did on the new product that people haven't heard very much about.

Considering that this is the one sports venue that is supposed to reach pretty much everybody, do you have any sense that crotch-shots will one day no longer be the default for idea-starved creatives?

For some reason the image of a guy taking it in the groin seems to make some people laugh. But not everybody. I'd argued that this joke has been done so many times in the last 10 years, that all its shock value is gone.

I thought the ads were blah. The karma woodchuck was sweet and I chuckled at a few others, but they were generally mediocre at best. But my larger point is that the ads themselves sort of faded into the background because the whole program is now just one long commercial. The trophy ceremony was just a Chevy ad. Everything in between was sponsored by somebody or tied into something or used to plug some new product or show. This may not be a new revelation I'm making, but I feel like the sport-commercial ratio has titled irreparably in commcercial's favor.

You sound like you have ad burnout. And to be honest with you, there isn't a cure coming. And as the economy has grown more strained and its audiences have begun to split from TV to watch new tech devices, TV audiences have gotten so much smaller. To keep the ad dollars flowing in, the networks are allowing things, ad-wise, they never would have sanctioned just five or 10 years ago. So you're seeing product placement and all kinds of sponsorships that clog up the screen. You might think that if the economy gets better the stuff might go away, but I doubt it.

Do you think Groupon will recover from that Tibet spot? The web landing page made it clear that the company is supporting these charities, but if viewers didn't go there, it was just an offensively insensitive ad.

I think Groupon will have to work a little harder to make sure people understand what it was trying to say. Even if their heart was in the right place, the ad was interpreted in a different fashion. It's hard to put the cat back in the bag once it has escaped.

Hi, Although this wasn't a commecial per se. At the opening of the game they had a short film narrated by Michael Douglas. It showed the Marines in WWII and then shots of 9/11. Then in showed the Super Bowl. I think its disgusting that the NFL would compare the Super Bowl to WWII, etc.

There's definitely a patriotic streak going on during the Super Bowl. I think of all the major sports leagues, the NFL tries to align itself with American themes. The Super Bowl is seen by some people as a national holiday. Some of this stuff is definitely over the top, and I guess if it's not your sort of thing, you should wait til kick-off to start tuning in.

Not a question, but a comment - I'm a Mom and I'm watching the Superbowl with my elementary school aged kids and this commerical comes on. My son is asking me "why is he saying he wants to sleep with her over and over - what does that mean?" Completely inappropriate considering kids are watching this!! You can sell products with humor but it should be family friendly.

The Super Bowl is often split between marketers that go after the entire audience  and the others who target a particular segment. Pepsi Max is a drink aimed at young guys, and the humor of the ad is as well. The danger here is that other audiences are also watching and may not find the message as funny or smart.

I read an article ( or that looked at the ratings from the non-Super Bowl programming and determined that an advertiser could increase the number of people in its target audience (18-49 year olds) by buying time opposite the Super Bowl. In other words, rates are unjustifiably inflated for the Super Bowl. The gist of the article was that advertising agencies sell this to their clients so that the ad agencies have a platform for their work, doing a disservice to the clients. Do you think that's true?

In years past, maybe. But when you're agreeing to spend $3 million on 30 seconds of ad time, I would hope you're being responsible to your company and your boss and not to what your ad agency is telling you.

Thanks for all of your questions! Wold love to come back and answer any more questions you have about advertising or TV. And you can follow our Super Bowl coverage on Ad Age.

In This Chat
Brian Steinberg
Brian Steinberg is Television Editor at Advertising Age, where he covers the broadcast and cable TV networks, and oversees Ad Age's coverage of the Super Bowl each year. He has reported on everything from NBC's Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien debacle to controversy surrounding programs such as "Gossip Girl," "Swingtown" and "Kid Nation." He has developed a speciality in breaking exclusive stories on what it costs to advertise in such highly watched programs as the Super Bowl, the Oscars and the series finale of "Lost" and "24." He has covered the media business since 1998. Prior to arriving at AdAge in 2007, he served for four years as the lead advertising columnist at The Wall Street Journal and, before that, the lead U.S. media business reporter at Dow Jones Newswires. Over the years, his work has appeared in publications including The Boston Globe, USA Weekend, Entrepreneur and others. He lives with his wife and daughter in New York.
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