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We’re nearing the end of the #BZBowl recap week of wonderful guest posts offering varied perspectives on lessons learned from 2011 Super Bowl ads. (I say the last, but I may still finish the post started in my sketchbook called, “Why Online Ads Are Killing Good Advertising.”) Beyond today’s post, you can listen to several of the #BZBowl bloggers on today’s “Smart Companies Radio” show on 1510 AM in Kansas City, live streaming at 10 am EST / 9 am EST on February 11. One of the bloggers on the radio show, Chris Reaburn, finishes out the week here on the Brainzooming blog. Chris is a services marketing expert and author of the Services Encounters Onstage blog. Chris took on the daunting task of experiencing as many brands as possible of those who bought Super Bowl ads this year to see how well the ads did at matching the experiences he sampled:


Chris Reaburn on Super Bowl AdsDuring last year’s #BZBowl Twitter chat on Super Bowl ads, participants structured comments around the SUCCES formula from Made To Stick by Chip & Dan Heath.  By those standards, for a message to be memorable, it should possess some combination of Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and Storytelling elements. It’s a good formula for advertisers to follow and worked well as a tool to evaluate Super Bowl ads.

This year’s Chrysler 200 ad scored well measured against SUCCES criteria and has become a critical favorite. The Detroit story, well enough known and felt in lesser measures throughout the country, feels familiar and real. As a product of Detroit hardship, Eminem lent credibility.  Music, imagery and contrasts in the narrative lent high emotion to what was a good story, well told.

More than just good storytelling, good marketing also makes a promise that has value and ultimately sees it fulfilled through the customer’s experience.

The promise–fulfillment connection led me to experience as many Super Bowl-advertised products & services as possible in advance, including purchases or customer experiences with Teleflora, GoDaddy, cars.com, CarMax, HomeAway, Doritos, Pepsi Max, Coke, Bud Light, Volkswagen, and Best Buy.

Of the Super Bowl advertisers, which ones succeeded in making promises, fulfilling them and linking the experience back to the ads?

It was for this last reason that the Chrysler ad didn’t work for me.  It captivatingly reinforced the Detroit brand and the Eminem brand with a credible message.  But did little for the Chrysler brand, and less to make a promise about what prospective buyers of the 200 – a brand new product – might receive in return for investing themselves in it.

In terms of matching the SUCCES criteria with the ability to convey the promise and fulfill it experientially, the NFL was the best advertiser of the night. The use of both NFL films and classic TV footage wove the fabric of the game together with the fabric of American popular culture, giving it instant credibility and emotion. That we saw the ads during their capstone experience reinforced their story in a very concrete way.

You could say that it is unfair to compare the NFL with other advertisers.  After all, the viewing audience for the ads was almost completely within their target market, and they were viewing them during the event when these customers are showing the most emotional investment.  These were ready buyers of what the NFL has to sell.

But the lesson for others advertising in the Super Bowl (like chatter) is that finding the largest concentrations of your audience and engaging them with a relevant message at the time they are most emotionally involved in your experience isn’t playing with a stacked deck – it’s giving your marketing efforts the highest probability to succeed. - Chris Reaburn

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Back in 2009 when I needed to start writing about The Brainzooming Group and what we were going to do, someone introduced me (via email) to Emma Alvarez Gibson, with the recommendation that she was cool enough to help create the messaging for Brainzooming. It was true. Emma challenged me on what I wanted to say and helped us get to a structured way to communicate what The Brainzooming Group offers. Based on her branding experience and her ability to focus and pare down all the things I wanted to say about Brainzooming, Emma is exactly the right person to weigh in on this year’s seemingly disappointing crop of Super Bowl ads, and ask the question,”How does this happen?”:

Emma Alvarez Gibson on the #BZBowl, rating Super Bowl AdsIt’s easy to make the case that the best ad is the one that sells the most product; the purpose of advertising, after all, is to persuade consumers to part with their dollars. Of course, artistry lies in that sweet spot between sending lemmings over the cliff and elevating the consumer along with the brand. That artistry – well, artistry, full stop – was absent from the majority of last Sunday’s Super Bowl ads.

Oh, it’s just TV, I can hear you say, and that’s true: it’s just TV. But it’s also a reflection of who we are as a culture. It’s a bit of anthropology, if you like. And I don’t know about you, but I very much resent being shown a bunch of spots that seemed to have been created by bored, cocksure interns with no knowledge of what’s gone on in this vast American life over the last 20 years, under the guise of great advertising.

From the offensive (hello, Groupon!) to the wildly unoriginal (Pepsi Free? Pepsi Light? Clear Pepsi? What was that “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” spot for, anyway?), from the stunningly mediocre (“Get a Chevy that will read you what your date said on Facebook, because you’re a lousy excuse for a real man!”) to the blatantly ripped-off (1984? In a spot featuring a non-Apple product?), Sunday’s offerings ran the gamut in all but the one arena that matters: artistry.

Yes, of course, there were a few bright spots: the love letter to Detroit, gorgeously crafted. The joltingly adorable little Darth Vader. The quiet, simple, sweet Coke ad featuring two border patrol guards on opposite sides of the line. There were other more-light-than-dim spots, too. But where was the boom-boom-pow, to use the parlance of our halftime entertainment? What became of the minds that gave us so many gems just 12 months ago?

Look, it’s easy to beat up on someone’s work from my comfy spot on the couch. You win some, you lose some, as the Steelers can attest. Everyone has an off day, an off season. But there’s a difference between missing the mark and joining the ranks of the lowest common denominator.

We can do better, guys. Let’s raise the bar. We can do so much better. – Emma Alvarez Gibson

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Last week I wrote about the tools for creating innovative ads detailed in the book “Cracking the Ad Code and our #BZBowl strategy to use its model to evaluate Super Bowl ads. The book’s authors maintain that most ads that are judged to be creative by both ad professionals and consumers use one or more techniques from a rather limited toolbox of eight techniques.

My look at the 68 national Super Bowl ads that ran from kickoff to the end of the break following the final whistle showed that 77% of the ads used one or more of the “Cracking the Ad Code”  tools. (This excludes the movie ads in the Super Bowl, where the tools really don’t apply.)

I also looked at how the Super Bowl ads were rated on both the Foxsports.com/ads website and by the USA Today Ad Meters to see if highly rated Super Bowl ads were more or less likely to use the “Cracking the Ad Code” tools. The visitors to the Foxsports.com site gave the average non-movie ad a score of 63 (out of 100). Those that did not use any of the tools got a score of 55, while those that used one tool had an average score of 69. Interestingly those that attempted to use two tools got an average score of only 57. There must be something to be said for simplicity and focus.

USA Today used handheld meters to track the second-by-second scores given to Super Bowl ads by 282 adult volunteers at two locations. On their 1 to 10 scale, the average non-movie ad came in at 6.51. Those ads using no tools scored 6.28, those using one tool scored 6.79 and those using two scored 6.05. Eight out of the top ten Super Bowl ads used at least one tool; the ones that didn’t were the crowdsourced ads for Pepsi Max.

The most frequently used tool from the “Cracking the Ad Code” kit was the one they call Extreme Consequences. It was used in 18 of the non-movie Super Bowl ads. This technique involves the exaggerated or absurd result of using a product. Think of the Doritos spot (another crowdsourced ad) where the chips bring a goldfish, a plant, and somebody’s grandfather back to life.

Eleven spots each used the Extreme Effort and the Inversion “Cracking the Ad Code” tools. The Extreme Effort technique shows the exaggerated lengths to which a consumer will go to get (or protect) a product or that the company will go to bring it to him. The Bud Light Product Placement ad is probably the best example from this year’s Super Bowl.

The Inversion tool shows an extreme version of what your world would be like without the product. The Careerbuilders.com Super Bowl ad showing the chimps hemming the guy in his car is a good example.

If you are assigned to come up with your organization’s next great ad, using the tools won’t ensure that your concepts will be innovative and effective, but they will give you a good benchmark from which to work. - Barrett Sydnor

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With this 2011 Super Bowl ads post, my good buddy Alex Greenwood becomes the first expert to do both video and written guest posts on the Brainzooming blog. Alex is the go-to public relations professional for organizations looking to enhance their reputations or, in the case of certain Super Bowl advertisers, trying to rehabilitate them after marching blindly into public relations disasters without anticipating the negative consequences. The Groupon commercials have been a big topic this week, with at least two other #BZBowl participants, Nate Riggs and Jeannie Chan weighing in on their blogs. Here’s Alex’s take on the challenges of co-opting human and political crises for brand building objectives:

Alex Greenwood comments on Super Bowl AdsIrreverence is the coin of the realm among Super Bowl ads, but it can levy a hefty public relations tax on companies when ads misfire. As I followed the #BZBowl Twitter Chat I kept a weather eye out for ads that might enhance, build or damage a brand.

Dozens of ads flashed across the screen during the Super Bowl, but two companies stood out for the PR issues of their ads. One is GoDaddy, a perennial PR train wreck, the other Groupon, taking their first steps into the television advertising world.

The domain registration giant GoDaddy has labored long on a faux-sexy, frat boy image centered on “too hot for TV” teases of race car driver Danica Patrick and her physical…assets. This year they poked a little fun at that image by introducing 77-year-old plastic surgery queen and comedian Joan Rivers as the new GoDaddy.co Girl:

I give them points for at least trying to be amusing at their own expense. The company has apparently never cared what people may find objectionable in their ads and remains one of the largest domain registry companies around.  Their stock in trade is obnoxious ads, so why change what works?

Internet advertising juggernaut Groupon, however, is perplexing. As their blog noted “After a two-year holdout, we finally decided to run real television ads. In the past, we’ve depended mostly on word-of-mouth and limited our advertising to online search for a couple of reasons. […] This year, we realized that in spite of how much we’d grown, a ton of people still hadn’t heard of Groupon, so we decided to give in to our Napoleon complex and invade the rest of the world with a proper Super Bowl commercial.”

Proper? Unfortunately, the smart, agile company that rebuffed a $6 billion buyout offer took to the national stage with ads that win points for cleverness, but reeked of improper, self-defeating insensitivity.

The ads–two featuring career-diminished Oscar winners–poke fun at celebs telling us which causes to care about most, then morph into a pitch for using Groupon. Here’s Cuba Gooding, Jr. on saving the whales–and cash:

There’s also a spot equating deforestation and Brazilian waxes featuring another B-lister. Elizabeth Hurley.

Irreverent, really–but not offensive. Can the same be said of Timothy Hutton’s Tibet spot?

The spot comes perilously close to Kenneth Cole’s Cairo debacle, where Cole tweeted that the anti-government rioting there was actually sparked by his new spring collection. I have to admit, I thought the Groupon ad was well produced, and said so on Twitter. But the moment the surprise wore off, it hit me square in the face that it was trading on tragedy.

Reaction was quick and not pretty on Twitter–a couple of samples:

The Groupon blog does have some info about donating to charity in the same post featuring a sneak peek at the ads, but that just don’t feed the bulldog. Comments on the blog are revealing of the overall reaction. Groupon has since posted a follow-up in an attempt to explain its strategy and let people know that the “last thing we wanted was to offend our customers – it’s bad business and it’s not where our hearts are.”

Groupon’s mistake was forgetting that irreverence–which is hip, cool and can translate into sales–is often only a centimeter or so from offensive. I get it when startups and companies with little name recognition take this risk–I don’t get it when a billion-dollar company with a generally good reputation like Groupon does.

GoDaddy doesn’t care if it offends (on grounds of sexism or just plain stupidity), and that seems to work fine for them. However, Groupon’s relatively new image is still malleable, and at this early date it’s hard to tell if this situation will have a prominent effect on their profits or image. I suspect by the next Super Bowl it will only be a distant memory. (Though I think it’s 50/50 that they won’t advertise next year.)

When planning your advertising and marketing, bear in mind that getting attention is the name of the game, but getting it for the wrong reasons can backfire big time in the public relations arena. When considering an “edgy” or “irreverent” ad campaign, you should ask yourself this question: Is it in good taste? That assumes good taste is something you care about. If good taste isn’t an issue, then the simple, down and dirty question is: could this cause people to turn away from my brand? - Alex Greenwood

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This Super Bowl ad guest post is from author and advertising guru, Jim Joseph. In his book, The Experience Effect, Jim hits solidly on the need for brands to provide consistent, distinct experiences which resonate with customers. I had the opportunity to meet Jim at the 2010 AMA Marketing Research Conference, thanks to mutual good friend Sherrie Binke, who seemed to introduce all of us to each other at the conference! Jim presented an outstanding keynote address at the AMAMRC event, and it was so exciting to have him participate in #BZBowl and share his perspective on the Super Bowl ads in this guest post:

110 million viewers. 68 Super Bowl ads. 50 minutes of advertising time. $3 million a whack. This was by far the most hyped-up Super Bowl in history – at least for the advertising. The game didn’t necessarily disappoint, but quite honestly for this marketer you could have told me that I was watching lacrosse. It was all about the advertising.

How do we possibly sort through all those spots to pick out the best ones? Thanks to social media, I had my early favorites but I have to say that I still enjoyed watching them all in real time. The magic of advertising has not gone away.

Despite all the over the top creativity (CarMax “Metaphors”), cleverly written lines (cars.com “Reviews”), CGI (Kia’s “Poseidon), and celebrities (Kim Kardashian for Sketchers), the winners for me were the ones that either hit on a real consumer insight and/or built a brand experience. At the end of the day (game), that’s what marketing and advertising is all about.

Take a look at many people’s favorite, VW “The Force.” Over 14.5 million hits on YouTube (talk about extending the advertising spend!). Aside from making us all smile or LOL, I believe the reason this one hit home was the core insight. Who doesn’t want to give a kid a thrill? There’s Dad, behind the scenes, making his kid feel like he is supernatural. The nostalgia of Star Wars didn’t hurt either.

CareerBuilder. I know that some people are tired of the monkeys.  For me it’s a branding device that hits on the insight of feeling like you work with a bunch of inconsiderate people that “don’t get it.” So getting stuck in a place where you are frustrated that you can’t get out hits the nail on the head.

And who can’t relate to the horror of hitting “reply all” by mistake.  Bridgestone, coming out of nowhere in my opinion, caught one of the best insights of the night with their Super Bowl campaign. And while many did not see the tie to the brand, for me it is as simple as those tires giving you the ability to race around and get to everything you need to.

I still like the Snickers insight of not quite feeling like yourself when you’re hungry. And while it wasn’t a new campaign by any means, I liked seeing Roseanne Barr pop out of nowhere.

Did these advertisements build the brand? Yes, certainly. But not to the degree that my two absolute favorites did: the NFL and Chrysler.

I was really impressed by the NFL advertising, although it perhaps didn’t deliver on the hype and glamor of many of the others. The NFL had a few spots thrown in the mix, and every one of them quite simply delivered on the NFL brand experience. I loved the one where the tv screen turned into a tablet turned into a hand held device turned into a tv. You can watch the NFL where ever you go. And then the retro montage of tv-inspired Super Bowl party moments was brilliant. Really going far in turning the NFL into more than just a football organization but into a brand and a brand experience. Best Fans Ever.

And finally there was Chrysler Imported from Detroit.

Best in show, at least for me. First of all it took me by surprise because I hadn’t seen it ahead of time. And while I am impressed by all the activity on social media leading up to the game, I do have to say that the experience of watching a great piece of film in the moment was priceless. The storytelling was the best of the lot for sure. The music, use of celebrity, and cinematography made for an attention-getting moment in advertising history. But the pride in America and what we all do for a living and what we can all do to improve our lot is what hit it out of the park for me (sorry that’s a baseball analogy I think). It was insightful, creative, emotional, engaging, entertaining, brand building, and memorable. It changed the way I think about the brand, about Detroit, and about our future together. What more can you ask for in a piece of advertising?

Best in show.

Thanks to everyone who participated with me in the live posts and tweets, particularly the #bzbowl bunch. Experiencing the “game” via Facebook and Twitter, while exhausting, was so much fun.   Big thanks to Mike!

Lesson learned?  Find a great consumer insight to lead your creative development, and then tell a compelling story. That’s what will deliver great advertising, for the Super Bowl or not.

Let’s continue to ponder these great advertising moments and improve our craft. It gives me great pride. - Jim Joseph, President of Lippe Taylor Brand Communications and author of “The Experience Effect”

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Super Bowl Sunday night, a fantastic group of new and old friends gathered on Twitter to create the #BZBowl. The #BZBowl Twitter chat, sponsored by The Brainzooming Group, provided the opportunity to share perspectives on how various brands elected to invest a minimum of $3 million each to tell their stories through 2011 Super Bowl ads. As we found in last year’s #BZBowl, sitting at a computer or on a smartphone for 4 hours of tweeting is ridiculously fatiguing. Despite that, over the past week the #BZBowl hashtag registered nearly 2,500 tweets from almost 400 individuals. The Twitter transcript for this time period comes in at 86 pages!

The consensus about half way through the evening was that both the 2011 Super Bowl and the Super Bowl ads were both pretty lackluster.

The second half, however, redeemed the game (which wound up going down to the last minutes before the Green Bay Packers pulled out the win over the Pittsburgh Steelers), and to a lesser extent, the commercials. At one point, a number of #BZBowl participants were hoping and praying for a quick end to the proceedings. I asked the group if it just might be a collective pissy attitude making us all feel that way. We convinced ourselves, however, that we were fine; it was all a function of how bad everything we were watching was!

Suffice it to say that once I got past all the bad ads, it was pretty easy to identify my take on the best Super Bowl ad in 2011: the Detroit-centric ad for the Chrysler 200. The Chrysler Super Bowl ad best matched story, images, music, drama, and passion to engage viewers. In a year when so many ads seemed to have walked away from fundamental principles of engaging creative, this Super Bowl ad from Chrysler got so much right:

  • It started in a familiar setting, yet its use of industrial images differentiated it from the other commercials surrounding it. The depiction of average people also placed the ad in sharp contrast to many other ads.
  • Unlike many of the Super Bowl ads, it uses narration throughout to tell the story.
  • Despite the initial sense of mystery about what the ad might be about, by the fifth shot (just 8 seconds in), it clearly established Detroit as its location.
  • Throughout the rest of the commercial, there’s interplay between contrasts: luxury and industry, adversity and hope, bad news and an underdog’s determination, blue collar workers and a celebrity (Eminem).
  • The music bed throughout the commercial ties to the message, the images, and the sense of drama and mystery that move the commercial along.

In polling the #BZBowl participants, the Chrysler ad was getting a lot of nods for one of the best ads of the evening.

Throughout the rest of the week, we’ll be having a variety of guest posts recapping the Super Bowl ads from a whole variety of perspectives. I’ll be weighing in with more thoughts as well. We’ll finish out the week with several of the bloggers appearing Friday on the “Smart Companies Radio” show hosted by Kelly Scanlon on Hot Talk KCTE 1510 AM in Kansas City, and streamed live on the web. I’ll be sitting in as guest host as we cover lessons growing businesses can take away (both the do’s and the don’ts) from Super Bowl ads to incorporate into their own marketing efforts. Mike Brown

For a creative boost, download the free Brainzooming ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to enhance your creative perspective! For an organizational boost, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative plans to efficiently implement. Email us at brainzooming@gmail.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Super Bowl XLV is today, and you’re invited to join us for #BZBowl 2011 as a great group of cool marketers, branding experts, creative instigators, authors, and pop culture mavens create a running commentary on how brands will be using the biggest advertising, marketing, (and social media?) event of the year.

BZ Bowl Official Start Time

  • 6:00 pm EST / 5:00 pm CST (This is the official broadcast start, although we’ll be tweeting before the game broadcast)

Participating on Twitter with Hashtags

  • To participate in the BZ Bowl, simply add #BZBowl to your tweets.
  • To get your tweet seen in other Super Bowl Twitter streams, you can also use: #BrandBowl, #SuperBowlAds, #SBXLV, or #ADBowl
  • There’s a widget at the bottom of this post to track #BZBowl tweets.
  • Beyond using Twitter, Tweetdeck, or Hootsuite, Tweetchat is a convenient site to log in with the #BZBowl hashtag to track and share your tweets on Super Bowl ads. The great thing about Tweetchat is it automatically adds the #BZBowl hashtag to each tweet so you don’t have to remember.
  • All the #BZBowl tweets will be archived at wthashtag.com.

#BZBowl Participants

Preview Super Bowl Ads Ahead of Time

Going to a Super Bowl Party? Take the #BZBowl Super Bowl Ad Clichés

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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