super bowl™ ads, with student perspectives.

One great thing about teaching an advertising/media copywriting class is every spring brings the gift of discussing Super Bowl™ ads with a sought-after demographic focus group … the 23 students in #brc328. Before class, I asked them all to tweet what they thought were effective ads, and why, then we watched and talked about many commercials.

Five trends/topics worth noting:

1. NFL = Nostalgia For Life? Advertisers frequently want to use nostalgia to reach a specific demographic, but the NFL managed to score a bullseye on a whole host of generations. The students recognized how the ad included everything from current shows like The Office and Modern Family to ’90s favorites like Seinfeld and Friends to “oldies” like Happy Days and The Brady Bunch. Of course, the NFL has the unique advantage of television contracts with all the major players and thus can more easily negotiate the rights to use the shows, which would otherwise represent the biggest challenge.

2. Bridgestone: Difference Between Concept and Execution. Two popular spots with the students for Bridgestone, “Carma” (with the beaver) and “Reply All,” were both very entertaining. But they noticed a difference. With “Reply All,” viewers more paid attention to the frenetic actor destroying various electronic devices and barely noticed the product. But they preferred “Carma” — which gets my vote for best ad this year because it tied directly to the product, in terms of handling and braking ability (and, as one student pointed out, “six months later” showed it lasts). Playing off a timeless Aesop’s fable, employing a cute beaver with human tendencies and providing a feel-good ending, it’s hard to envision creating a better ad.

3. VW Uses The Force. The class favorite, overall, involved the kid in the Darth Vader mask trying to use the Force repeatedly with the payoff of the VW starting remotely. While students didn’t see that as any great product benefit — they’ve grown up in the era of the remote car-starter — the simple storytelling, cute concept and timeless tie-in with Star Wars all clicked. Nota bene: The Star Wars appeal spans generations.

4. Doritos: Finger-Lickin’ Good? While they found it funny and memorable, students had mixed feelings on the ad where the office worker licks the Doritos-crumbed finger of a co-worker. Some thought it successfully communcated the idea that Doritos are irresistibly good. Others found the idea of someone sucking someone else’s finger appropriately creepy. Or both.

5. Chrysler + Detroit + Eminem = Discussion. Much like the Twitterverse, the class split on the Chrysler “Detroit” ad featuring Eminem. They generally thought it had beautiful production values. Consensus found it showcased the Motor City fabulously — I like its underdog tone and one student said it resembled an engaging tourism spot. While many folks of, ahem, a certain age lamented in the blogosphere Em “selling out,” many students already consider him yesterday’s news (one even used the term “old”). As for the connection to the product, one student said “Lose Yourself” made him think of 8 Mile, which brought to mind trailer parks … a world away from a luxury car. For what it’s worth, on production and general branding merit for its three products, I really liked it.

I’m always impressed with students’ variety of opinions, which are well-articulated, thoughtful and multi-layered. What was unanimous? All thought the Groupon/Tibet ad was a really bad idea, but you don’t need to take an advertising course to recognize poor taste when you see it.



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5 responses to “super bowl™ ads, with student perspectives.

  1. You’ve got some pretty astute, media-literate students in your class, Tim. Like you, I liked the Bridgestone Aesop’s Fables ad best.

    Did your students discuss the Groupon ad at all? I’m curious as to what your class thought of that one. Also, I wonder if anyone brought up the objectification of women in that Chevy Camaro ad, or the racism of the Pepsi ad with the black couple and the white woman.

  2. Tim Nekritz

    There wasn’t much discussion worth having about Groupon, other than uniform thought of its tastelessness. Since that’s been hashed out all over the Internet, I figured it only merited a passing mention and I’d focus on other ads.

    Discussions of objectification did come up, particularly in the Kardashian/Sketchers ad, but they didn’t report being overly bothered by any of the above. I think, as an overmediated society, we can almost become numb to much of what we see in advertising.

  3. I also really loved the “Carma” ad — it was short, featured the product, was funny, somewhat sweet … really well done.

    As for the racism of the Pepsi ad, I was more struck with the *sexism* of that ad and the enforcement of strict gender stereotypes — Man as put-upon underdog with a wandering eye, Woman as jealous and controlling (ultimately violent) harpy. The objectification issue is certainly a huge one, but I’m wondering: anything come up about how the commercials often really set strong lines around accepted gender behavior? And, if one moved outside that behavior, it’s played for laughs or a gross-out?

  4. I found the VW ad to be the first to really capture the Super Bowl buzz in the days leading up to the game. They released their ad via social media and it spread like wild fire having 12 million hits before game time!

    Also, honourable (yes I am Canadian) mention to the Ford Motor company who didn’t even have an ad here but gave a lot more money to Scott Monty’s projects. More than anything, they didn’t friend someone before the first date or think that having my facebook feed read to me by a computer would be a great idea.

  5. Tim Nekritz

    COLLEEN: Good story + fuzzy critter + product benefit + feel-good ending = big win. As for stereotypes, my theory is that those trying to advertise to such a broad segment sink to overly simplistic archetypes. Alas, they fall into cliche instead of rise to the opportunity. Instead of making us use our heads, they settle for hitting someone in the groin.

    JP: I did wonder aloud about whether leaking that VW ad in advance undercut its TV impact. But 12 to 13 million views in advance, recycled through the social universe, is still pretty darn good. Oh, and they thought the idea of friending someone before a first date and FB updates as a USP were pretty stupid. These students are pretty smart!

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