Advertising Professors Rate Super Bowl Ads

Remember the ad where a little kid dressed up as Darth Vader uses "the force" to turn on his dad's car? That Volkwagen spot was among the most-talked-about commercials during the 2011 Super Bowl.

The annual National Football League championship is not only a contest between the two best teams, it's also a venue for advertisers to capture the attention of millions of viewers. The rise of social media has amplified the annual commercial fest as people take to cyberspace to express their opinions about the much-anticipated ads.

"For many not only those teaching and practicing advertising the ads on the Super Bowl have become a major reason for watching," says advertising professor Neal Burns. "Social network technology lets us all participate in a meaningful and fulfilling way."

Burns (whose Twitter handle isĀ @berryboy316) and three otherĀ advertising experts from the University of Texas at Austin will be joining the virtual water cooler during the game, live-tweeting their thoughts using the hashtag #SBAdJudge. Burns will be joined by assistant professors Kevin Thomas, (@kevin_d_thomas), Angeline Close (@angelineclose) and Robert Lewis (@robertjoellewis).

Because several ads have been released on YouTube before the game this year, we've got a preview of their expert opinions.

Audi "Prom"

Reviewed by Robert Lewis (@robertjoellewis)

Last year, Audi's Super Bowl commercial played on a fad. It featured a humorous depiction of vaporizing vampires to demonstrate the car's full-spectrum LED headlights. This year, Audi's spot is not a "fad ad" by any means. Also, it focuses less on the car's features than on an emotional connection with the audience. It plays on quintessential features of American culture. In particular, an underdog who goes stag to the high school prom, a focus on youth culture, a romantic interest, sticking it to "the man" by parking in the principal's spot and giving an unsolicited kiss to the prom queen, which leaves her paralyzed with lust. If there is one thing America loves, it's the anti-authoritarian hero who gets the girl. Audi's hope is that their message ("Audi will give you confidence") is effectively conveyed with this motif.

After students in a brand strategies course viewed the ad, several thought the uninvited kissing of the prom queen was a little offensive. Comments on YouTube threads seem to pan this out as well, several calling the ad sexist. But part of the ad's appeal lies in the way the protagonist defies tradition and rules, (going stag, driving fast, parking in the principal's spot). Audi is not playing it safe, leaving it up to the audience to define these values.

Another thing that both the majority of YouTube comments as well as undergrad focus groups agree on is that the ad is entertaining. While some comments say it's the best car commercial ever, several students watching in class shouted their excitement as the dad tossed his son the Audi keys. An effective strategy for aspiring Audi owners? I think so.

Coca-Cola "Chase"

Reviewed by Neal Burns (@berryboy316)

Coke has for some time beautifully executed viewer-engaging work from the corporate attorney trying to tell two "Coke employees" that even if they believed that those promoting Coke Zero had "personal animus" toward them that he could not participate in the case, to predicting the winner in this richly produced race to a Coke with beautiful women, bad guys on motorcycles and a recalcitrant camel. The desired result is engagement the viewers are to pick the winner and surely watch for the spot to pay off. But it's not the share of heart engagement a brand really seeks.

Once we get past the production values the engagement Coke desired is, I think, impaired by the lack of emotional attachment where in the spot is the celebration the Coke brand represents: The refreshing joy of a Coke at your desk or the ball park or their significant announcements about ecology and sustainability that would play well to this immense audience? Gorgeous babes on a bus amidst lonely cowboys and Arabs on camels is entertaining. Thanks.

Volkswagen "Get In. Get Happy."

Reviewed by Kevin Thomas (@kevin_d_thomas)

Each year at least one Super Bowl advertiser unwittingly offends, marginalizes or undermines some segment of the global community. Be it Groupon inadvertently minimizing the trials and tribulations of the Tibetan people or Pepsi carelessly perpetuating the "angry black woman" trope, advertisers simply can't seem to be able to help themselves. This year's frontrunner appears to be Volkswagen. In their "Get In. Get Happy." spot Rastafarian culture is painstakingly appropriated for comedic means. A deeply spiritual and historically black cultural movement is reduced to mimic Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy," and personified in the body of a prototypical white Midwestern male.

After viewing the spot with students from my Integrated Communication Campaigns course it was found that using Rastafarian culture as a comedic device was not only potentially offensive, but also ineffective communicatively. Students could not see the connection between a cultural movement with roots in Jamaica and the German carmaker. Additionally, the commercial neglected to specifically demonstrate how the VW Beetle goes about transforming curmudgeons to happy-go-lucky Rastas. Is it the powerful, yet fuel efficient engine? The compact on the outside, but spacious on the inside design? Or perhaps it's the feature rich standard amenities list. The consensus was that too much was left unknown and unaddressed. As one student commented: "Consumers are far more savvy than VW imagines them to be. Simply saying your car is going to make me happy is not nearly enough. You've got to show and tell me how."

Go Daddy "Big Idea."

Reviewed by Angeline Close (@angelineclose)

"It's totally original; it's one in a gazillion; it's idiot proof; it's a real money-maker and it's a good thing I put it online FIRST! HA HA HA HA HA HA HA (evil laugh)." Superb copy. This naughty smile and laugh from the pilot is simply captivating. (It is also the time in pilot testing where the audience of 88 advertising students in our Psychology of Advertising course busted in laughter.) Did you notice that their celebrity endorser is again, the ever-lovely Danica Patrick? She is a brilliant fit for the Super Bowl audience, as she meets the big five characteristics I measure: fit, trust, credibility, likeability and attractiveness. The fact that she is an athlete adds credibility to sport fan viewers over say, a supermodel. She does look like a model, and Go Daddy knows this as they relied on her sex appeal in past Super Bowl ads. It is a smart choice to transition from sex as a primary theme to only saving some sex appeal in the end.

While sex sells, the fit measure is still important. Go Daddy is an Internet domain registrar, web hosting company and business service provider. Consumers and clients do generally do not consider B2B (business to business) as particularly sexy. When this mismatch occurs, it risks consumer perception as cheesy or even unprofessional. Super Bowl advertising is the time to be entertaining, funny, sexy and an escape. A trust-based serious approach would not go over well here. Let us be cognizant of the fact that most consumers do not rely on Super Bowl advertising to make such involved business decisions. It is refreshing to see a B2B-oriented company not taking themselves so seriously. Relying on sex to almost a cheesy outcome in past ads is hardly an advertising felony.

This year, couples from various countries sit on a couch where the wife nags to her husband "when are you ever going to put your idea online?" In each case, the person with the big idea is the husband. In each case, the person nagging is the wife. The ad is funny, a vast improvement from past years, and as their copy states likely a real "money-maker." I suggest two improvements. One, have one or two of the couples have the wife as the "big idea" role. Who makes more than 85 percent of consumer decisions, including professional services in this country? Women do. Women-owned business is significant. Women account for 40 percent of private businesses in the U.S., according to the Center for Women's Business Research. Women have ideas that can be capitalized on. Two, I would have tied it in with a promotion giving consumers a behavioral incentive.

P.S. While so overtly obnoxious it is funny, I don't recommend calling your stewardess "Sky Waitress" if you want any shot at that first-class upgrade. I bet #skywaitress will be trending on social media an industry success measure.

Related story:
2013 Super Bowl Commercials: The Plot Thickens (Texas Enterprise)