Did this year's Super Bowl ads have the kind of wild magnetic attraction of, say, Justin Timberlake to a bikini-clad Pepsi drinker? Or were they more repulsive, like a talking baby playing the stock market online?
On Sunday, Anheuser-Busch, Victoria's Secret, Proctor & Gamble, and others shelled out a record $2.7 million for every 30 seconds of air time to find out. Adding to the hefty price tag, a protracted writers' strike this year intensified the pressure on advertisers to compete for attention within a smaller pool of big scale, ad-worthy television events.
So was it worth it? For the third year running, we put that question to our panel of top advertising, marketing and branding experts. In a rare twist, they generally felt the game on the field managed to outshine the commercial breaks, despite valiant efforts by Coke, Budweiser, Go Daddy and other perennial game-time advertisers.
This year's panel includes Alesya Opelt, senior marketing director of Pleasant Ridge, Mich.-based ePrize; John Moore, the founder of Austin, Tex.-based Brand Autopsy; Francisco Dao, founder of San Francisco-based StrategyandPerformance.com; and Michele Miller, an Inc.com marketing columnist and author of the book, "The Soccer Mom Myth -- Today's Female Consumer: Who She Really Is and Why She Really Buys."
Here are their picks for the best and worst commercials of Super Bowl XLII.
The best use of $2.7 million?
Alesya Opelt: CareerBuilder pulled at your heartstrings -- literally. In a split second you went from grossed out to pumped up as the little heart quits her job and walks off into the sunset. Invoking a familiar feeling of despair from a dead-end job while still motivating the viewer to take action made it the best use of $2.7 million.
John Moore: No advertiser and none of their messages justified $2.7 million in ad spend. Brands with a lot to gain like Under Armour, Sobe, and Garmin wasted their ad spend by allowing the grandiose creative execution to overshadow the new products they were promoting. Given the mass reach of micro-media and the influential power of word-of-mouth, it's becoming harder to make a business case for advertising during the Super Bowl.
Francisco Dao: The Apple MacBook Air actually got me intrigued, but I think the most effective from a direct results standpoint was the Go Daddy Danica Exposed commercial because it had a strong enticement to get people to their website. All of the other commercials like Budweiser were good and funny, but didn't result in any kind of direct response.
Michele Miller: Go Daddy wins hands-down as far as investment of $2.7 million goes. While I wasn't crazy about their ads in the past, they played it smart this year by building on the reputation of those past ads. They really know how to take advantage of a challenging situation, which this year included having the ad with Danica Patrick initially turned down by the network. Go Daddy was still able to use the suggestive part of the Danica ad in a way that must have driven millions to the GoDaddy.com website to see more -- excellent cross-channel marketing.
What was the biggest flop?
Alesya Opelt: The Sales Genie ads were terrible -- especially the spot featuring a family of pandas. Are they looking to target eight-year-olds who need leads for their lemonade stand? I won't respond to the SPAM from them in my inbox and they certainly haven't changed my mind with their Super Bowl ads.
John Moore: Lots of flops to pick from. The spots from SalesGenie.com were amateurish and awkward. Seems to me SalesGenie.com should follow its own marketing campaign and open up a SalesGenie.com account for 100 free sales leads -- sure would have been cheaper.
Not sure what the strategy was behind the Ugly Betty-like Planters commercial. Maybe they were jealous of the exposure Emerald Nuts has received with their recent Super Bowl spots. No matter the reason, an expansive in-store sampling program would have led to immediate sales from customers as opposed to immediate befuddlement from viewers.
E*Trade had a lot to gain from their two spots. Here's a company rocked to doorstep of insolvency by the subprime mortgage collapse and yet, they decide to use their ad spend on a burping baby webcam stock trader. Major missed opportunity for E*Trade.
Francisco Dao: Derek Jeter Gatorade G2, not funny, not creative, didn't make me curious about Gatorade G2 in any way.
Michele Miller: The ad for Toyota Corolla with the nursing badgers was a big flop -- the perfect example of a creative team run amok without any regard for the Toyota brand. This was not the place for Toyota to try and be outrageous. Goes against the grain of the brand. It wasn't funny and if I hadn't been paying close attention to the ad from a marketing professional's standpoint, I never would have remembered the product.
What was your personal favorite?
Alesya Opelt: Both times the baby appeared on the screen for the E*Trade ad our entire Super Bowl party was silenced. And I'm sure "me and the boys" will be discussing both our "extra coin" and this ad around the water cooler today. E*Trade got all their messages across -- ease of use, quick transactions, high rate of return -- while still remaining entertaining and fun.
John Moore: Bud Light's "Wine and Cheese Party" spot appealed to their core male demo in an entertaining and relatable way. Simple, effective, and memorable.
Francisco Dao: The Coke, Underdog, Stewie, Charlie Brown Parade balloons. It was cute, kind of funny and made me think fondly of Coke.
Michele Miller: Call me geeky (or would that be gecko?), but the "Thriller" ad with the dancing lizards for Sobe Life Water was very entertaining. Terrific animation and brilliant use of "Thriller," which is a tune that makes everyone stop and look at the screen to see what's happening. The ad kept you watching right to the end, to see what the product was.