Superbowl 2011: The Year of the Car

The Volkswagen Passat ad was one of the most popular from Super Bowl XLV (Hulu).

At least from my perspective, this year’s Super Bowl ads made automakers look good, for the most part. And at $3 million per 30-second spot, they really ought to.

All the rage this year was linking digital media and other social initiatives to the TV ads to boost the results and amortize the costs of the ads. It is, after all, far less expensive to invest in these channels than in the TV ad itself. Facebook integration into the ads was good and while Twitter saw less action from the advertisers themselves, there was no lack of commentary on the ads while the game was on.

Ad Age estimated that 59 percent of viewers sent an e-mail or text about the game, 18 percent checked out ads online from their phones, 18 percent visited advertisers websites, and 32 percent posted comments about the game on a social network.

So, how did the auto guys do? You can judge for yourself but if you read the USA Today this morning, you may have been as completely shocked as I was to learn that the Doritos ad with the dog launching itself through the door was tied for the best ad along with the Bud Light commercial with the dogs playing servants at a party. According to the USA Today Ad Meter, VW’s Passat “Darth Vader” ad was the 3rd best ad of the night. Now that I get.

Audi A8: Escape the Confines of Old Luxury
Grade: A-

This is the ad where two old school money types are trying to escape their luxury prison. The guards try to slow their escape with music from Kenny G., highly groomed and unthreatening dogs, only to find two get-away car choices: a Mercedes and an Audi. The Mercedes is a trap, but one of the guys feels most comfortable in it, while the one who chooses the Audi gets away. Entertaining. Makes a point. Audi has been promoting via the Twitter hashtag #progressIs for the past several days. There was no website integration but there was a bit of Tweeting on it last night and much love was directed toward Audi. Overall, the brand gets good marks for the spot and its digital effort.

Scott Keogh, CMO of Audi says, “You need television spots that are obviously humorous and creative, that cause a conversation, that have some kind of cause or meaning behind it. Truth be told, the cause can only be sustained by social media.”

Chevy Cruze Eco: 42 mpg
Grade: B

This spot revolves around a room of senior citizens watching the ad for the Chevy Cruze Eco. Except they are all hard of hearing, so continually misinterpret what is being said. I thought it was entertaining and remember “42 mpg,” as it was repeated over and over. Chevy was smart in extending the life of all its ads in that they had been posted on YouTube days before the game. Chevy also had a big area dedicated to the big game ads on its homepage.

Chevy Silverado HD
Grade: B-

“Tommy is stuck in a well!”… among other things. In this take-off from the classic film plotline of Lassie’s “Timmy Down the Well,” Chevy looked to show off the capabilities of its heavy duty trucks. I was in a room of people with an average age of 40 but only two people got the Lassie connection.

Hyundai Elantra: Hypnotized
Grade: C-

“Have we been trained to think compact cars are good enough?” This was not Hyundai’s best effort. Good integration with its Facebook page though, with a section dedicated to the big game. The site also pointed to the ads and a link to vote for your favorite via Facebook. In this case, Hyundai’s actions off the big screen were far better than what it aired on it.

Kia Optima
Grade: B-

This action-movie ad depicted crazy James Bond-like stunt scenes with everyone from the wealthy, to the aliens, to the Aztecs going to extraordinary lengths to capture a Kia Optima. It sure is a departure from the brand’s campy Paul Frank-inspired ads, as well as the Hamster ad that has gotten it so much positive buzz. This spot was well done and certainly entertaining, even if it was borderline ridiculous.

Chevy Volt: Extended Range
Grade: B+

In this ad, Chevy did a good job of connecting innovation to its product, and in a way that spoke to the innovative spirit of Americans. Touching on our heritage in areas from science to rock and roll, it was all very Chevy-like and well done.

Grade: B

Touting its “American-ness,” with a plant in South Carolina and a design studio in California, BMW played up the fact that while others were getting bailed out, it was digging in. That every X3 in the world comes from the U.S. is not really inspiring stuff, but it did help to connect BMW to the fabric of America.

BMW Advanced Diesel
Grade: B

It’s about time someone used a big stage to talk about the benefits of clean diesel. While it’s great that BMW did it and the ad was somewhat entertaining, it just wasn’t that great. It probably wasn’t clear what was being advertised to someone who didn’t already know about modern diesel. Still the message is an important one for the auto industry as it tries to meet higher fuel economy standards.

VW Passat
Grade: A

This was the best ad of the night, at least up to this point in the game. The ad features a little kid in his Darth Vader outfit trying and failing to control various things with the Force. Then, dad comes home in his Passat and our Darth Vader stands in front of it with his hands in their commanding position only to have the car start, much to the kid’s surprise! Dad and mom are inside watching, with the car remote, from the kitchen. A simple feature to tout, but memorable and worthy of the Super Bowl.

VW was back for the second year in a row after a nine-year hiatus. It says a million people watched its ad online last year, of which 850,000 saw it on YouTube. So this year it is doing a “takeover” of YouTube today. VW also found that many viewers were watching the game on TV while also checking out ESPN mobile on their phones. So, they “took over” ESPN mobile with their ads last night, as well. And games ads were also well integrated on their website.

Chevy Cruze
Grade: B+

This one was all about Facebook and how you can get real-time Facebook status updates via OnStar. A cute spot gor a unique feature. I’m not sure it was Super Bowl-good but it was decent. And Chevy gets a special mention for the best Facebook integration of the night.

Mini Countryman: Cram It…
Grade: C

This was a campy spot about the spaciousness of the newest Mini model. It was a bit naughty, with the double entendre of the name of the game show the ad was depicting: “Cram It In The Boot.” While the ad also played up the British-ness of the Mini, it was not particularly entertaining and seemed strangely out of place for Mini.

Hyundai: Deprogramming
Grade: D

This ad shows a swirling kaleidoscope of cars and brains in the shape of cars, with Jeff Bridges announcing that we don’t have to compromise in a compact car and that we should snap out of it. I wish Hyundai would. After such a great showing last year, the brand has absolutely stumbled this year.

Chrysler 200
Grade: A

The Detroit landscape, Eminem beats playing in the background, “What does Detroit know about luxury? Steel, hard work and conviction.” Shots of Eminem driving a Chrysler 200, showing up at the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit. This was a deep, meaningful ad that seems born out of the disastrous economy we have all suffered through in the past two years, but that Detroit has seen the worst of. It makes you want Chrysler to win.

This is a great branding commercial, but not so great in that it was for the 200, which is hardly worthy. But the spot did its job of making you proud of something a true blue collar town can produce. I may be too emotionally tied up in Detroit to be objective, but I liked this spot a lot. Real-time Twitter responses were very favorable, though the USA Today AdMeter placed it a disappointing 44th. If you check the buzz though, I think USA Today got it wrong.

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Grade: B-

Anachronistic City. Big phones, old time cameras, a health club with fat jigglers. “What if we settled for the first thing that came along?” Okay, I get it. But Hyundai is not winning the customer vote because it is progressive or innovative. It has been winning because of its strides in quality and because it has been willing to back this up with a best-in-class warranty. Entertaining, but a bit of a disconnect with the brand.

VW: The New Beetle
Grade: B

Black Betty is playing in the background while a black beetle with white racing stripes zips through the insect world. You knew it was for a car, and if you knew it was a beetle, you probably knew what was coming. The bug stuff was fun, but it would have been nice to pay it off with at least a tease of the actual car.

Mercedes: Welcome To The Family
Grade: B+

A look at the best Mercedes from decades past, where all the cars sneak out to welcome the newest models. This was a good Mercedes history lesson, but why is P. Diddy here? He feels distracting to the overall story, and there was not a lot about the new cars themselves.

Better was that Mercedes developed a pre-game race among four teams headed for the Super Bowl. The racers speed was dictated by the number of Tweets they received. For Mercedes, this social-media push seems to be working. Since the Tweet race was announced, its Facebook following has more than tripled to 85,000 fans. It started a Twitter account for the race, which now has 73,000 followers. Since the racers began posting YouTube videos when the race started Tuesday, they have been viewed 1.8 million times. So the ad was okay but the overall efforts made it even better. B+

Chevy Camaro
Grade: C+

A woman in a Camaro, evading danger at every turn… with a couple of guys as announcers just imagining the entire scenario. They end up discussing what her day job is, and she is a teacher. I like the connection to the unexpected but it was not Chevy’s best effort of the night. And I still do not like the tagline. I have yet to see how “Runs Deep” connects to any of these messages in a meaningful way.

Chevy Cruze: Glee
Grade: C-

Two words: young girls. Glee is a popular show and Chevy obviously saw fit to borrow some of its brand equity. The ad was “to be continued on Glee” but I was not nearly interested enough to do that.

One comment

  1. Really great writeup. Lots of excellent insight. Thanks for posting.
    Nothing new to add regarding the VW spot. Loved it.
    I agree that there were some odd targeting choices. Chevy trying to ride Glee’s coattails for one. Mini Countryman and “cram it in the boot” for another. I actually liked the ad and laughed a couple times but the humor seems aimed at what, high school boys? As for the overall tone, leaving aside the huge $ issue, IF you are going to take the SB plunge I feel like you have to go big. So props to Mini for taking a shot.
    Groupon and Home Away were the biggest misses. Misses to the point of “oh my god I am genuinely repulsed”.
    Overall a pretty good crop this year, I thought.

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