Creature comfort for Super Bowl ads
Humorous spots featuring horses, sheep, and chimps were among the most popular Super Bowl commercials, experts say.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - The commercials that aired during Super Bowl XL Sunday night, like the game itself, probably won't go down in history as being all that memorable.
"It was pretty much standard fare," said Paul Murray, creative director at Pavone, a brand consulting firm based in Harrisburg, Pa., that runs SpotBowl.com, a Web site where viewers can vote for their favorite commercials. "It was a lot of animals and broad humor. There were not too many surprises."
Among the bigger winners, according to several ad experts as well as online polls of Super Bowl viewers, were many of the usual suspects, including Anheuser-Busch (Research), which bought 10 spots during the game.
According to the SpotBowl site Monday morning, Anheuser-Busch had four of the top six most popular commercials, including one showing a junior Clydesdale horse trying to pull a cart, one with a bear getting in the way of a man's Bud Light and one that depicted a sheep streaking across the field while the horses were playing football.
But the most popular spot on SpotBowl.com was one by FedEx (Research) which featured a caveman getting fired for not shipping a package with FedEx despite complaining to his boss that FedEx hadn't even been invented yet.
The FedEx spot and several of the Anheuser-Busch spots were also among the most popular commercials according to votes on AOL. (AOL, like CNNMoney.com, is owned by Time Warner.)
Overall though, it was not a stellar crop of commercials, experts said.
"It was another mixed bag. Every year, the hype gets bigger but I'm not sure the ads could live up to it," said Paul Hirsch, an executive vice president and group creative head at Leo Burnett USA, an ad agency.
Leo Burnett USA was the agency behind the ad for the Cadillac Escalade as well as the Disney commercial which showed players from the Seahawks and Steelers practicing saying "I'm going to Disney World."
Career Builder's chimps
But Hirsch agreed that Anheuser-Busch and FedEx did well. He also thought that commercials from Ameriquest and CareerBuilder.com, which brought back the popular chimpanzees from last year and even included some jackasses in its second spot, were also effective.
Hirsch joked though that the use of animals is quickly becoming a Super Bowl cliché.
"Super Bowl ad rule number one is put a critter in a spot and it should do well," he said.
Tim Calkins, an associate professor of marketing with the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, also thought that there was nothing particularly noteworthy in this year's crop of ads that would differentiate them from the commercials of the past few years.
"I don't think there was anything dramatically out of the ordinary. Humor still works well," he said.
Calkins, who graded advertisers with a group of Kellogg MBA students from the school's marketing club, agreed that Anheuser-Busch and CareerBuilder.com were winners Sunday night.
The group also gave strong reviews to ads for Diet Pepsi and MasterCard as well as Dove, which Calkins thinks stood out because of its serious message regarding self-esteem for young girls.
Kieran Taylor, director of product marketing for Akamai, a Web content delivery firm that tracked online traffic for more than half of the advertisers during the game, also said that Dove looked like a big winner. He said that traffic to Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty Web site surged after the ad aired in the second quarter and again towards the end of the game.
"Madison Avenue has been talking a lot about the convergence of TV and the Internet being market nirvana," Taylor said. "This is the first time we've been able to measure that and confirm that convergence is occurring. This is a message for advertisers that have been hesitant to embrace the online channel." Taylor added that there was a significant spike in traffic at the end of the game for several other advertisers as well.
Should have stayed away?
But which companies may have been better off not spending big bucks for a Super Bowl ad? (The average price for a 30-second spot was $2.5 million, a new record.)
Calkins said he and his students thought that Emerald Nuts, Nationwide, Motorola and GoDaddy.com, which was back with a slightly less ribald ad than last year featuring a buxom woman in the office of a network censor, all flopped.
Hirsch and Murray panned the GoDaddy ad as well. And Hirsch called the Emerald ad, which featured a druid and men with machetes, "bizarrely strange."
The minute-long musical ad for Burger King also left some people scratching their heads in bemusement. Murray said that despite a lot of hype for the commercial, it was doing just moderately well in the SpotBowl, ranking as the eleventh most popular ad.
Hirsch said the fast food chain should be commended for having commercials that are vastly different than McDonald's, its top competitor.
But he said he didn't think the commercial, which showed women dressed as pickles, onions, ketchup and other parts of a burger, would actually make people more interested in going to Burger King.
"I'm not sure it would make me go out and buy a Whopper," Hirsch said.
So here's hoping that next year, both the commercials and the game are a little more entertaining.
Is the Steelers' victory good for the stock market? Click here.
For SI.com's coverage of Super Bowl XL, click here.