While buying commercials during major televised events isn’t exactly modern advertising, the annual post-Super Bowl commercial run-down is still where advertisers look to gauge current consumer responsiveness. Despite the most fastidious analyses of emerging trends, it’s the act of holding a time-honored tradition against itself for comparison that reveals the most about the state of the advertising world.
For example, last year’s popular E-Trade “Baby Talk” ads were all but overlooked this year when it came to Super Bowl XLIII’s commercials of note. And Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser’s commercials, while popular, fell short of the standards set by the brand in previous years. Could this indicate consumer restlessness, a summons for change? How much should advertising executives look into this unpredictable turn-around? Maybe it’s too much to assume major social signals from a rout flip-flop of consumer opinion, but then again, if one were to consider the many large-scale events that have altered the national mentality since 2008’s big game, it isn’t absurd to think that viewers might be seeking something more than mundane from even their television ads.
And what about the fact that the least favorite of the commercials tended to be big-price-tag objects like cars (Hyundai and Toyota) and flat-screen TVs (Vizio)? Is this a reflection of the economy and mentality of the nation as a whole? The relative popularity of career-driven ads from Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com would indicate that consumers do have economics and salaries on the brain. Should advertisers take this as a warning to focus their campaigns on budgets and deals, rather than flaunting the merits of the high life? Or maybe slant campaigns toward entertainment-rather than enticement? Of course advertising agencies have to ask themselves if the latter strategy is just going to make the end consumer rewind the TiVo a few times, or if it translates to response and sales.
One entertaining commercial showed immediate success with a call to action that didn’t go unnoticed. NBC sold fourth-quarter ads at the lowest rate of all the Super Bowl commercial slots. In turn, the fourth quarter commercials showed some of the event’s highest viewership, due largely to the last-minute touchdowns on behalf of both the Cardinals and the Steelers that had viewers glued to their set. One of the fourth quarter ads that garnered the most attention in this time slot was GoDaddy.com’s spot with model Danica Patrick, inviting viewers to log online for more information on her “enhancements.” Next year, it wouldn’t be surprising if NBC raised the rates on the fourth quarter by a skosh in response to that time slot’s success this year; media buyers beware. And, thanks to the immediate traffic that GoDaddy.com’s website achieved, instant-gratification calls to action (like logging online to place a vote or watch a video) are guaranteed to start popping up in hoards.
Of course, one commercial that made every reviewer stop and take notice was the Doritos “Crystal Ball” commercial bought by Frito-Lay. This was the second year Doritos auctioned off its commercials to amateur advertisers, allowing consumers to not only design and produce spots for the Super Bowl, but also allowing consumers to vote for their favorite spot online (with winners accepting a one million dollar prize). This technique ensured popularity during the game itself, and garnered a lot of publicity before and after. Not to mention the fact that this ad was consistently ranked as a top Super Bowl commercial in an otherwise indecisive year. Putting your demographic in charge of appeasing your demographic seems obvious-it’s practically self-fulfilling surveying. In the advertising world, a self-fulfilling prophecy of consumerism is as good as a genie in a bottle. And after 2009’s Super Bowl, the advertising world is looking more into consumer-based commercialism, which viewers can bet they’ll see more of come Super Bowl XLIV.
Whether Super Bowl commercials’ popularity can be used to measure America’s response to the economic crisis, or whether it’s simply a matter of preferring hot-blooded horses to dancing lizards, media relations experts are sure to hold the sanctity of Super Bowl responsiveness up as they plan the rest of 2009’s campaigns. No matter how clever, creative and forward-thinking a firm’s marketing strategies, sometimes the only place to turn for trends that will spark the next big pitch is a 43-year-old football tradition.