Super Bowl ads, like the game, disappoint

Anheuser-Busch scores points for some clever spots, but most ad critics think this year's big commercials were underwhelming.

By Paul R. La Monica, CNNMoney.com editor at large

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Boring. Poorly executed. Unmemorable.

These words could not only be used to describe the action that took place on the football field during Super Bowl XLI Sunday night but also the uber-hyped commercials that aired during the big game.

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Which was better, the Super Bowl game or the ads?
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  • Ads
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Several advertising experts said Sunday night that, with a few exceptions, most of the commercials were disappointing. So it looks like many corporations may have wasted the $2.6 million that CBS (Charts) was said to be charging for 30 seconds of ad time.

"This was not a banner year for Super Bowl ads. Nothing really stood out," said Steve McKee, president of McKee Wallwork Cleveland Advertising, an agency that runs Adbowl, a site that tracks opinions about Super Bowl commercials.

Most critics said that Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch (Charts), which aired ten spots, the most of any advertiser, fared the best. According to Adbowl, Anheuser-Busch had six of the ten best commercials, with its Rock Paper Scissors ad for Bud Light coming in first.

According to Spotbowl, another site where people can vote for their favorite Super Bowl commercials, five of the top ten Super Bowl ads were from Anheuser-Busch as of late Sunday night. The Rock Paper Scissors ad also topped this list.

The company's spots, which included an auctioneer conducting a wedding ceremony, a couple arguing about whether to pick up a hitchhiker with a Bud Light and an ax and comedian Carlos Mencia instructing a class of students learning English to say "No speak English" when asked for a Bud Light, also won raves from several ad professionals.

"Budweiser has done it again. They have this figured out," said Tim Calkins, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

Besides the Bud ads, experts said that video rental chain Blockbuster (Charts), which showed a rabbit and guinea pig trying to use a real mouse to get online, also had a successful commercial. The Blockbuster spot was the second-most popular commercial according to Adbowl and Spotbowl.

Doritos, which is owned by PepsiCo (Charts)'s Frito-Lay snack division, had two hits with user-generated commercials. Doritos asked average consumers to submit spots for the Super Bowl and after five finalists were selected, people voted online for their favorite.

The winning ad, featuring an accident prone couple, was shown shortly after the game began while another finalist, about an overly amorous checkout girl, aired later on during the game. The first Doritos ad finished in seventh in the Adbowl voting and was ninth on Spotbowl.com. They were both among the top ten most viewed commercials according to a release from digital video recorder company TiVo.

"Doritos was a big winner. Both ads scored well, especially since they were by amateurs," said Walter Guarino, a professor of advertising at Seton Hall University.

General Motors' (Charts) Chevy also aired a user-generated commercial, based on an idea from a college student from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. The spot showed a bunch of men tearing off their shirts and rushing to wash a Chevy that was driving through Manhattan with several women inside.

One expert said that since the user-generated ads were so well-received, this could lead to more companies looking to the average consumer, as opposed to Madison Avenue, for marketing ideas. Plus these ads could actually be cheaper to produce.

"If you did a blind test with consumers asking them to tell which were the agency-created ads and which were the consumer-created ads, I'm not sure many would know the difference," said Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer with Nielsen Buzz Metrics, which measures online buzz and consumer opinion at blogs and other Web sites.

But several other companies who have been known for creative commercials in the past did not deliver this year.

Spyro Kourtis, president of the Hacker Group, an ad agency based in Bellveue, Wash., said that CareerBuilder's ads were disappointing. The online recruitment site had featured chimps as examples of bad co-workers in ads during the past few years but abandoned that campaign this year in favor of a jungle-themed group of spots.

Pepsi, which aired three ads for its Sierra Mist brand of drink, also did not fare well, according to critics.

Neither did FedEx (Charts), which had one of the most popular commercials last year showing a caveman getting in trouble for not using FedEx to ship a package. This year, the company had one commercial that took place on the moon and another one in an office where people had names that fit their personalities or behaviors.

Commercials from several first-time Super Bowl advertisers were also panned by experts, including spots for online sales lead generator Salesgenie.com, GPS navigation system Garmin and King Pharmaceuticals (Charts), which ran an ad for an American Heart Association Web site.

And critics said that most of the celebrity ads were flopped. Several experts panned a Revlon ad featuring musician Sheryl Crow. Michael Pavone, president of Pavone, a brand consulting firm in Harrisburg, Pa. that runs the Spotbowl site, called it "dreadful" and added that it seemed to go on for an hour and a half.

Seton Hall's Guarino said Nationwide Insurance and Emerald Nuts also didn't do a great job with their celebrity pitchmen. He said that it seemed like many older viewers hated the Nationwide ad, which featured Kevin Federline, aka K-Fed, who is best-known for his marriage to and pending divorce from pop star Britney Spears.

Meanwhile, Emerald used actor and singer Robert Goulet in its spot, which Guarino said was a celebrity who did not really resonate with younger viewers.

Nielsen's Blackshaw said that advertisers did do a better job of promoting their Web sites in their commercials and that's a positive as more and more younger viewers go online for entertainment. But he added that none of the commercials appeared to generating a huge amount of discussion online.

"Marketers showed more sophistication integrating the Internet into their campaigns but I wouldn't say we saw off the chart buzz compared to previous years," she said.

So at the end of the day, it seems that Super Bowl advertising, much like the game itself, had trouble living up to the advance billing.

"There's so much hype now that it's hard to top what you did last year," said the Hacker Group's Kourtis.

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.