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February 7, 2011
Super Bowl XLV: The Ads That Won the Night
Many years ago, I enrolled in a creative advertising class at Michigan State University (with a professor who was an egomaniacal, eccentric ex-CD from the Mad Men days of yore...but that’s a story for another time). The day after the Super Bowl, we were in class giving the Prof our two cents about what we thought were the best ads of the game that year. All of us were citing the “funny” ads, to which The Nutty Professor replied, “Sure, those were entertaining, but what exactly do any of those spots have to do with the products they were supposed to be advertising?” Like David Ogilvy, my prof believed that creativity doesn’t make an ad great unless it makes the consumer want to buy a product/good/service.
You know Super Bowl ads cost several million dollars a pop. Seeing how everything we do in this industry nowadays revolves around ensuring ROI, I find it baffling how many of these premium spots often completely fail to bolster branding, invoke a correlating emotion, associate an appropriate lifestyle, or even feature the product in action. Therefore, my goal with this column today is to laud the Super Bowl spots that achieved any or all of those aforementioned qualities. Some of the ads I’ve selected below will no doubt be featured on other lists, but I’m really hoping that some of these might be a surprise to you. 
Motorola XOOM: Empower the People
Does this spot take a hit for originality? Yes, since any student or industry professional worth their salt will remember Apple’s iconic “1984” ad. However, I’m willing to bet that the Joe Six-packs of America did not exclaim to their TVs: “They totally ripped that off Apple!” I list this ad here because it was stylish, told a coherent story, and featured the XOOM in action. No matter what was going on, the XOOM was the star of this spot. My sole complaint is that I couldn’t tell until near the end of the spot that it wasn’t another iPad commercial.
Chrysler: Imported from Detroit
I love this ad simply because of the strength of its tagline and how it is proof that great copy can still make or break an ad. Without “Imported from Detroit,” this ad simply doesn’t work. The Big Three has played the “Born in the USA” card over and over; this is one of the few times it actually works. Aside from the copy, the ad was well shot and edited in a way that created an Americana aesthetic more “West Wing” than Toby Keith video. Bonus points for using a legitimate celebrity spokesperson in a non-ironic way.
NFL: Super Bowl Celebration
No other commercial this year was as product-heavy as this one. There wasn’t a single shot in this ad that did not feature an NFL product, which surprisingly made it work all the better. Without the continuous product placement, this ad is just a mash-up of classic sitcom nostalgia that would be more at home on an esoteric YouTube channel.
Teleflora: Help Me Faith
Just to show you that I don’t think that a funny commercial can’t be effective as well, I give you Teleflora. I like this ad because it speaks directly to its target audience: men who struggle with Valentine’s Day gifts (perhaps I’m biased because I am a representative of that demographic). Okay, so the humor was lowbrow, but that is the kind of stuff that guys like me relate to. Also, it showed just how simple it is to order flowers online.
Mini Countryman: Cram It in the Boot
Though I’m not privy to the focus group test results, I’m willing to bet that my take on the Mini is similar to many other consumers’ takes: the Mini is just too tiny for real-world use. This commercial’s messaging goes head-to-head with the notion that the Mini’s size makes it an impractical car. Not a great commercial, but on point strategically.
Quick note to the creative team behind this ad: Change the game show from an English one to a zany Japanese-style one and this ad goes number one with a bullet.
Where’s VW? Or Coca-Cola? Well, like I said, I was aiming for a different kind of list. I will agree—to a point—with those of you who will inevitably argue that the buzz generated by abstract Super Bowl spots is merit unto itself. It is my belief that the ads I’ve listed above will live beyond today’s water cooler talk in the minds of consumers when they are about to make purchases—and that is what makes an ad successful. 

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Justin Celko is a digital communications professional based in Chicago, IL. Follow him on Twitter.

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