The Absolute Best Super Bowl XLIV Ad

It Wasn't What I Expected It Would Be

By Published on .

Phil Johnson
Phil Johnson
It was like a breath of fresh air. It was like walking out of a noisy party into a peaceful spring night. It was remarkably striking in its simplicity. It put the furry animals in perspective. It made all the digital wizardry disappear into the background. It put my consumer exuberance on pause for a brief moment. I actually put down my beer, wiped the grease from the chicken wings off my hands, and picked up my phone. I'm talking about the public service message that flashed across the screen: "Text 'HAITI' to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross relief for Haiti." That was the best ad.

I'm not passing any judgment on the spectacle of the Super Bowl. I love it. I love Queen Latifah. I love the game, and this was a great game. I love sitting on the couch with my friends and eating food that the Surgeon General wants to ban. I love drinking on Sunday night. I loved about five commercials. (Since you insist: Bud Light's "Book Club"; Audi's "Green Police"; Google's "Search On"; McDonald's "Larry Bird"; and Budweiser's "Friends").

I also love seeing this country showing its finest nature, and that's how we have responded to the earthquake in Haiti, and it was fantastic to see a glimpse of that spirit during one of TV's most spectacular commercial events. When the Red Cross publishes the number of contributions made during the Super Bowl, I hope we're all impressed.

What makes Super Bowl advertising so exciting is to see who will pull out from the pack and break tradition, to see who will defy expectations and do something unexpected and new. For the most part, Super Bowl advertising is a frenzy of creative one-upmanship, and in the end it's a tough environment for any brand that wants to differentiate itself in terms of tone and substance. The Red Cross reminded me that sometimes a simple statement of commitment, backed up by meaningful action, is the most powerful marketing message of all.

I'm surprised that at least one major brand didn't take that tack and talk to 100 million people about something good that they are doing for their community, for the country, and the world. It could have been the boldest marketing move of the night.

Phil Johnson is CEO of PJA Advertising & Marketing with offices in Cambridge and San Francisco. He's as irritated as everybody else that the iPad won't support Flash. Follow Phil on Twitter: @philjohnson
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