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A ‘Meaningful’ Super Bowl Postmortem

It is the sworn duty of every agency thought leader to play Monday morning quarterback with the annual orgy of advertising known as the Super Bowl. Yeah, I’m a little late to the conversation, mainly because the whole “building the business” thing has sucked my time away. (But, hey—we pulled out a couple of new business wins!) My tardiness actually works to my advantage, as it allows some time for the Super Bowl marketing efforts to actually start showing postgame results in the market.
So, I present the Inaugural Marketing with Meaning Super Bowl Winners and Losers!
Let me begin by laying out a bit of the criteria for selection. First, just making an ad doesn’t count. I will leave that type of ranking to an agency I recently discovered called a&g, which has been running what it calls a “most meaningful” ranking for six years. a&g has a nice idea and good ranking criteria, but its focus is only on the ad itself, rather than a complete marketing campaign. The second requirement is that the marketing campaigns must fit with our twin definitions of meaningful marketing: (1) the work is something people choose to engage with; and (2) the marketing itself adds value to people’s lives. Enough with the rules; let’s play ball:
1. Denny’s—When people heard this fading diner chain was making a play for the Super Bowl, most people figured it was quite a Hail Mary. (Sports metaphors are fun!) But we never expected that the company would use its precious time to unleash an offer of free Grand Slam breakfasts on Tuesday, February 3. A campaign that cost $5 million (including $3 million to the single commercial) led to 2 million takers in 1,500 restaurants. CEO Nelson Marchioli felt the time was right to reintroduce people to Denny’s—and instead of spending money on more interruptive, over-promising TV ads, he gave something back and reaped great rewards. The $5 million generated $50 million in PR already, and Marchioli claims that with sales of drinks and other items they probably broke even on the day. Aside from great strategy, the company was prepared for its giveaway with extra wait staff and cooks.
2. Hyundai—The brand had two ad slots, and while one was a forgettable farce around how other auto CEOs are cursing the brand, the award goes to Hyundai for the promotion of its Assurance guarantee. This clever and beneficial marketing approach provides a service for wary customers by agreeing to take back bought or leased cars in the event that the household has an unexpected financial issue: losing one’s job. I blogged about this a few weeks ago, and shared that Hyundai claims the results are strong. It’s not a funny ad and falls near the bottom of popularity polls, but by sharing truly original news of a meaningful marketing program, Hyundai has a good chance of winning market share and greater profits—while its buyers receive some extra security in these troubled times.
3. Doritos—It’s hard to believe that a brand could win both in most popular and place high in my meaningful ranking, but they really scored with this ad. The ad itself is just one leg of a now third annual consumer-generated marketing contest. For months, people have been engaged in creating and voting on videos, because the brand learned in 2005 that its young consumers love to create content and make brands their own. The output is a little juvenile, but people take it as lighthearted fun and marvel that it was created by a couple of guys with a handful of dollars.
1. Go Daddy—Everyone is having a field day hating on this brand, which continues to think that the Janet Jackson episode is still relevant humor. One might argue that the ad is meaningful to some small slice of guys, who ended up scooping up the most domain names. But the reality is that the game’s audience is much broader, and, as a&g remarks, “These days, men are as likely to be offended by ads that disrespect women.” As a father of two young daughters, I agree wholeheartedly. Enough. And Danica Patrick isn’t helping her image, either.
2. Gatorade—”What is G?” Most people really don’t care to research an advertising tagline. I wrote about this campaign a few weeks ago here. Some brands and agencies still believe that a new advertising campaign will create news and turn around share—especially if you toss in enough celebrities. But the only real news this is generating is speculation about what the heck the brand is thinking. The ad itself fell near the bottom of the popularity list. Meanwhile, Gatorade misses a huge opportunity to follow Nike’s lead and actually create events such as the Nike Women’s Marathon and Nike+ service, both of which are great examples of the brand helping people actually achieve something.
3. Any other brand that just ran an ad—It is remarkable to me that after countless case studies of brands who used an ad to start a conversation or service, so many still spend 99 percent of their time and budget on this single 30-second spot. Brands that might have won a smile or two amid so many distractions, yet failed to really capitalize, include: Budweiser, Castrol, Cheetos, CareerBuilder, Pepsi, Vizio, and H&R Block.
Special Note: Pedigree vs. Kellogg’s
A few posts ago I commented on Pedigree’s move to join the list of Super Bowl ad entries on behalf of its campaign to drive dog adoption. My point was that after amazingly meaningful marketing around this cause, Pedigree took a giant step back with a funny ad that fails to connect emotionally, and fails to do more than tell people at the end to “get a dog.” Some commenters said I was too tough on the brand and that the humor might have tugged people.
To those who think you cannot win with emotion on the Super Bowl around a cause, I direct you to Kellogg’s, which used the time to launch a campaign for rebuilding sports fields in communities around the country. The ad informs of the idea, while pulling the heartstrings of everyone who remembers those days of biking to the park and playing until our mothers called for us. But what’s really meaningful is that the ad directs viewers to get involved at There, visitors actually can nominate and vote for a specific local park to be funded. The competition will spread over several weeks, and when you vote, Kellogg’s provides a downloadable $1-off coupon.
Congratulations to Kellogg’s, Denny’s, Doritos, and Hyundai for using the spotlight of our industry to show stellar examples of Marketing with Meaning!

UPDATE: Here’s another very good post-mortem with consistent themes from Joseph Jaffe.

3 Responses to “A ‘Meaningful’ Super Bowl Postmortem”

  1. Marty says:

    Big winner in my opinion, High Life. Don’t know if I’d give it the top spot, but probably one of the better campaigns. The one second commercial got more press and was seemingly more on equity than most of the other spots. Best written–teleflora, worst communicated spot, teleflora. That was some great writing, wrong location.

  2. [...] could learn and embed lessons that are coming from its Frito-Lay division, where brands such as Doritos and SunChips are experiencing sales growth and tighter consumer bonds through meaningful [...]

  3. [...] Or take the example of Hyundai’s Super Bowl ad in January 2009, which simply and directly described its Assurance Program.  While it was dead-last in the USAToday poll, the ad clearly described a new [...]

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