Super Bowl advertising is known to lean toward humor and cute animals. So what went wrong this year?
When it comes to advertising, the Super Bowl is the biggest day of the year, when millions of viewers actually look forward to watching the commercials. But this year's crop offered a big dose of seriousness, with ads that polarized viewers by bringing up topics such as children who die young or unsavory ailments such as foot fungus.
Yet the truth is that those spots, because they were so unexpected, may have overshadowed some of the standouts this year. For every icky ad such as Jublia's spot for its foot fungus cure was a winning commercial, such as Snickers' commercial that offered a funny take on the Brady Bunch. It's not all fun and games for advertisers, who have a lot on the line, including spending $4.5 million to secure 30 seconds of airtime. That prompts some to take risks to stand out, and that can sometimes backfire.
"Everyone says the commercials last night were so bad, but they tend to forget how many were good," Jim Scott Polsinelli, creative director of DDC Public Affairs, told CBS MoneyWatch. "If you come away with ten really good spots that's saying a lot, and there were at least 10 spots that were strong."
But there were also some extremely polarizing ads, such as Nationwide's commercial "Make Safe Happen," which featured a young boy discussing all the life milestones he would never experience because, he says, "I died from an accident." After some viewers tweeted their shock over the ad's brutal message, Nationwide defended it, saying the purpose was "to start a conversation, not sell insurance."
The problem with the ad, Polsinelli noted, was that some viewers likely felt the Super Bowl wasn't the right venue for the message. "It's almost a buzzkill," he said. "The Super Bowl is a family event," so viewers likely weren't expecting or prepared to hear a message about early childhood fatalities. Still, the ad itself was substantive and scored points for effectively conveying its message, he noted.
CBS News contributor Frank Luntz also weighed in on the ad and the message it was trying to send: "It's not a good message to send during the Super Bowl when people are in a celebratory mood. You have to understand your audience; you have to understand how people are receiving the message."
Another spot that failed to win over viewers was Jublia's "Tackle It" spot, which featured an animated foot playing football. The problem? It featured an unappetizing toe covered with unsightly brown spots, and had a voice over warning about "blisters and pain."
"That was absolutely the worst ad," Polsinelli said. "There was nothing fun about it. It was just sort of gross and inappropriate."
Other ads that flunked the Super Bowl include Squarespace, which earned an "F" in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University's annual rankings of Super Bowl ads. The business school ranks ads on a number of features including distinction and attention. The spot featured Jeff Bridges chanting "om" over a sleeping couple, with the only link to the product coming with captions that note a site called "DreamingwithJeff.com" was built by Squarespace.
"The spot did not link in a clear fashion to the overall brand benefit or its current marketing campaign," Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Kellogg, said in a statement.
Adds that also scored poorly in Kellogg's ranking were those from Geico, Nissan, Sketchers, Lexus and Heroes Change, with all of those spots earning D's from the business school. The Lexus commercials, including one called "Make Some Noise," also earned a "meh" reaction from DDC's Polsinelli. "The ads felt a little boring," he noted.
Ads that are forgettable might be the ultimate losers in the Super Bowl. After all, even though viewers had negative reactions to Nationwide's ad about childhood death, it's one that they'll likely remember. As Polsinelli noted, "The worst thing you can do is a create an ad that nobody talks about."
So which ads earned winning marks from viewers and critics? The best and worst six ads as rated by the Kellogg school, are below:
1. Always (P&G): "Like a Girl" -- Grade: A
3. Clash of Clans: "Revenge" -- Grade: A
4. Coca-Cola: "#MakeItHappy" -- Grade: A
5. Fiat: "Pill" - Grade: A
6. McDonald's "Starting Tomorrow" -- Grade: A
1. Squarespace: "OM" -- Grade: F
2. Geico: "Push it" -- Grade: D
3. Nissan: "With Dad" -- Grade: D
4. Sketchers: "Pete Rose - The Hall" -- Grade: D
6. Heroes Charge: "Mountain Throws" -- Grade: D