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Super Bowl Ads: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

By Hannah Hill on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 @ 11:30 AM |


In just T minus five days, more than a hundred million football crazed fans will sit down for three hours to watch the most anticipated football game of the year: Super Bowl XLVII featuring the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers. Earlier this month we wrote about whether Super Bowl television advertising is really worth the price. If you missed it,super bowl advertising take a quick timeout and give it a read here. In this blog post we are going to take a look at some of the best (and worst) Super Bowl ads of all time. Feel free to weigh in using the comments section below.

The Good

The best performing Super Bowl ads are those that are funny, creative and above all memorable. Of course, it’s important not to lose your brand in an effort to gain a few laughs. We all have our favorites, but these ads top the charts from an advertising prespective.

In 1984, Apple released a Super Bowl ad by the same name, playing off George Orwell’s prophetic book. Just as the book captured the attention of many generations of readers, Apple’s science fiction ad captivated Super Bowl fans for the duration of the one minute commercial which introduced Macintosh. It’s no surprise this ad won multiple awards, especially when you take into account its creativity, authenticity and ability to entrance 77 million viewers.

Volkswagen’s 2011 Passat commercial featured a young Darth Vader and is among the cream of the crop. This ad was released prior to game day in an effort to generate buzz and that it did, especially among the Star Wars community. According to Brian Thomas, general manager of brand marketing for American Volkswagen, Volkswagen “is one of the most iconic brands in the world, and ‘Star Wars’ is the biggest movie franchise in the world. [The ad is] a simple, sweet relatable story that has a lot of heart.” This ad was a force to be reckoned with in 2011 and will continue to be remembered as one of the greats for many years to come.

The Bad

When you’re spending millions of dollars for a 30 second commercial, there’s no excuse for missing the mark. An ‘oops’ isn’t going to cut it. The following Super Bowl ads did not perform up to expectations and after you watch the clips, you’ll easily see what went wrong.

Do you remember the ad Salesgenie.com ran in the 2008 Super Bowl? Chances are you’d never heard of Salesgenie.com prior to their offensive ad. They got a lot of publicity after running their ad, but it wasn’t the good kind. Many viewers thought the ad was racially offensive and full of stereotypes, as it used pandas with Chinese accents to communicate their message. Needless to say, I’m willing to bet Salesgenie.com (and other advertisers) learned a valuable lesson from this blooper: be sensitive to ethnic diversity.

During the 1997 Super Bowl, Dirt Devil ran an ad that featured Fred Astaire dancing with a vacuum. Now you may be thinking, what’s so bad about that? Well, let me tell you. Fred had already been dead for 10 years at the time Dirt Devil decided to run this commercial. You can’t get any much worse than a dead guy dancing with a vacuum cleaner. At least they spared Ginger Rogers.

The Ugly

Now let’s take a look at what is known as one of the biggest Super Bowl ad flops in history. Hopefully you learn a thing or two from this one, so history doesn’t repeat itself.

Prior to the 1985 Super Bowl, Apple used newspaper ads to build buzz about their upcoming ad spot saying, "If you go to the bathroom during the fourth quarter, you'll be sorry." I’m willing to bet many people who viewed the ad would have rather taken a bathroom break in hindsight. The ad titled “Lemmings” was dark and ominous, including an eerie rendition of Disney’s “Heigh-Ho” as non-Mac users marched off a cliff. I can’t imagine what Apple was thinking when they created an ad with a suicidal story line. But Apple realized its mistake, albeit a little too late. They didn’t create another Super Bowl commercial for 15 years after this flop.

As you sit down to watch the “Harbowl,” keep your eyes peeled for this year’s good, bad and ugly commercials. Rumor has it that Wonderful Pistachios and Psy have teamed up to bring 'Gangnam Style' to a whole new level. Best of luck to your football team of choice and may the best men win. Sports enthusiasts, tune in next Tuesday to read our exclusive interview with Justin Kaufenberg, co-founder and CEO of TST Media, a market leader in online sports organization management systems. In the interview you will read about Justin’s entrepreneurial journey and how being involved in athletics has influenced his business decisions. Until then, take a look at our recent research report to learn how you can take advantage of local advertising.

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Hannah Hill is a marketing specialist at Mediaspace Solutions. Her marketing experience includes writing, social media and event management. You can connect with Hannah on LinkedIn, Facebook or Google+.

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