Super Bowl

How to Sound Smart During the Big Game

Worst Super Bowl Ad Ever? Glad You Asked

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Shine like this guy on Super Bowl Sunday.
Shine like this guy on Super Bowl Sunday. Credit: TomBrady.com

Because you work in advertising or media, a little more is expected of you when it comes to Super Bowl advertising knowledge. It's not enough to mindlessly chuckle along with the masses at the CareerBuilder monkeys or Volkswagen's body-image-obsessed canine. You need to be able to drop some serious knowledge on this, advertising's biggest day, whilst juggling a microbrew and a plate of nachos. Herewith, a guide to some common and not-so-common conversational scenarios that , if played well, will allow you to gleam like Tom Brady's choppers:

"Hey you, you work in advertising. What's gonna be good this year?"

Coke is deciding on the fly which polar bear spot it's going to run, depending on which team is winning. "The Dog Strikes Back," Volkswagen's follow to last year's smash, "The Force," is sure to please crowds, though it's already out. Audi has vampires, which people seem to like.

"They paid like eleventy billion dollars for this ad time right?"

Inevitably someone, probably wearing a moldy Tedy Bruschi jersey, will toss out a dollar figure for how much these spots cost. They will probably be wrong. The average price of a Super Bowl buy this year is $3.5 million, although even that price actually refers to Super Bowl packages including other inventory.

"That's a lot of scratch. Why bother?"

Ratings , baby. Big advertisers like big media platforms where they can reach big audiences efficiently. They also like a buzzy Super Bowl context that gets them additional PR and social-media reverberation. And there aren't too many platforms like the Super Bowl anymore amid a lot of audience fragmentation. Last year's game set a ratings record, reaching 111 million viewers.

"I heard that people like the ads better than the game itself. True?"

It's true in the same way that George W. Bush won the electoral college in 2000. Nielsen has said that a shade more than 50% of the people it polls call the ads a bigger draw than the hot pigskin action.

"I've already seen this ad -- on the internet, no less! Why drop all that cash, too?"

Time was, advertisers kept these things under lock and key, swearing anyone who'd seen them before hand to secrecy. Not anymore. After all, Honda's Ferris Bueller redux owned Twitter for a few days, and about half of the advertisers have posted teasers or the spots in full. Why? To maximize exposure using any and all means available, i.e. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Why pony up those millions and not just, um, put it on YouTube? As Ken Wheaton, Ad Age 's managing editor observed (on Facebook), "The difference is you'd get maybe a third of the views if it didn't have the label 'Super Bowl' spot. Also, you'd be giving up 100 million viewers on Sunday."

The Super Bowl has something of an aura. It raises expectations. This Super Bowl ad, you are trained to believe, is going to have high production values and probably be funny and/or "cool." Whether that 's the case or not is a matter of opinion and taste.

"What is the most famous Super Bowl ad ever?"

Tough question. There have been plenty of editorial rankings and polls, but take this one to the streets, the hardscrabble democracy that is YouTube. Both Apple's legendary "1984" and Reebok's "Terry Tate, Office Linebacker" have grabbed more than 10 million views. Chrysler's two-minute epic starring Eminem got 14 million. Then there's Volkswagen's "The Force." With its meme-friendly trifecta of kids, animals and "Star Wars," it blew away the competition with more than 53 million views. You'd have to qualify this, of course. "The Force" aired last year with all the full might of a mature social-media industrial complex that the older ads didn't have. But, whatever. That 53 million is a lot -- like even more than the number of Bothans who died for that information.

"Ugh, mouthpuke. Another GoDaddy ad. Do these things work?"

Every year the SOPA flip-flopping domain registrar doles out a dollop of T&A. This year will be no different as GoDaddy bows two ads, including a Sapphic body-painting session featuring Danica Patrick. Does this approach work? Eh, probably. The ads, hyped until this year by the kabuki theatre of the original scripts getting rejected, is certainly the most visible marketing effort of a company that , according to industry reports, dominates its sector and has grown 20% each year over the past several years. So there's that . And the sheer persistence of this regular Super Bowl advertiser suggests the company's seeing something here.

"While we're on the topics of effectiveness ... do Super Bowl ads as a general proposition work?"

It depends, of course, on a lot of factors. Unseasoned dot coms have a remarkably poor Super Bowl record. Then again, there was also a recent study linking likable Super Bowl ads with higher stock prices in the days after.

"What, another blue-chip advertiser? Enough with all these well-formed fruits sprung from the loaming of American capitalism! Don't any crappy companies ever buy Super Bowl ads?"

Ok, so no one will really ask this, but we need to talk about Just For Feet. In 1999, the footwear retailer aimed to make a big splash with its first-ever Super Bowl ad. It failed. With a racial sensibility imported from the Belgian Congo circa 1908, the ad featured a barefoot Kenyan runner bounding across the savanna while being tracked by white men in a Humvee, who, in some sort of colonialist fever dream, drug the runner and force some new kicks on to his feet. After an industrywide spanking, Just For Feet blamed its agency, Saatchi & Saatch, with a lawsuit it eventually aborted. But that 's not all. While the crappy ad was being put together, company executives were engaged in widespread accounting fraud and just a few months after the Big Game the retailer went into bankruptcy. Its remains were bought by a company that a few years later went into though its own bankruptcy proceedings. The last store closed in 2004.

Here's the ad:

"What's the worst Super Bowl ad ever?"

Either that really racist one you just watched or Apple's "Lemmings," a visually striking ad that committed the crime of arrogance. The spot, which aired one year after the classic "1984," depicted the customers it was seeking to win as fools marching blindfolded off a cliff. It would be Apple's last Super Bowl ad until 1999.

"Awesomesauce! Ferris Bueller ... Wait. After seeing it, I feel disappointed, even empty? What's wrong with me?"

You're well within your rights to feel let down. No Cameron, no Rooney, no original creepy parking-garage attendant; just an aging, lazy, lying one-percenter zipping around the coast on some pointless gas-guzzling joyride. He's not even fully in character. Ferris, now a jaded middle-manager tired of Sloane's crap, might drive a Honda, but not Matthew Broderick.

"Hey, that 's David Beckham preening in underwear with his name on it. What's a SOCCER player doing in ads during a FOOTBALL game?"

If MLS's growth during Mr. Beckham's stint with the L.A. Galaxy is any indication, the sculpted SOCCER player plays well to U.S. audiences. Since he cross the pond, both the team and the league have new TV deals, while Mr. Beckham, who has led the Galaxy to an MLS Cup, reupped for two more years. And, also: abs.

"What is that great song in the Audi ad?"

"The Killing Moon" by Echo and the Bunnymen:

For more Super Bowl news, check out Ad Age 's Super Bowl Special Report.

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