Advertising Experts Discuss 2011 Super Bowl Commercials

VW Darth Vader commercial

Advertising agencies may spend a lot to get their commercials into the Super Bowl, but this year's crop got more than they paid for with a record 111 million viewers. We asked a pair of industry experts for their reactions to the 2011 Super Bowl commercials and the state of advertising in general.

If you missed the big game, be sure to check out or collection of the the best 2011 Super Bowl Commercials and the 2011 Super Bowl Movie Trailers as well as the following interview.

We may not discuss commercials much on Screen Rant, but the general idea is no different than a movie or television show. In the time allotted, a commercial must connect to its audience on multiple levels. It needs to drive them to pursue a product while also embedding a visual concept in the collective consciousness of its intended audience. During the Super Bowl, that concept typically includes more "nut shots" and talking animals, but the end goal is no different - get people talking.

Regardless of the record audience, Super Bowl commercials are at the forefront of entertainment news for a short while. Some commercials live on as viral hits because they appeal to everybody (such as the new VW Darth Vader ad, which had nearly 14 million views on YouTube before the Super Bowl even aired). Other commercials are quickly forgotten, like the unoriginal Pepsi Max advertisement in which a preppy jerk gets a can to the jewelry box.

Pepsi Max preppy bully commercial

While some agencies go after viral campaigns during the Super Bowl, others use it to reinvent themselves and the Super Bowl is the perfect platform to unveil that new look. Josh Rogers, Executive Creative Director at Imagination, and Chris McKee, President/Chief Creative Officer at The Geppetto Group, share their thoughts on the state of commercials today and how Super Bowl XLV proved the future of advertising is under creative scrutiny.

Screen Rant: How have commercials evolved over the years to suit the interests of audiences in America?

Josh Rogers: I don't think commercials have really evolved over the years to suit the interests of audiences in America, aside from the onslaught of user-generated spots.  People want to be involved, so the easy answer is to just let them do the whole thing.  But I actually think they'd rather be involved in ideas.  Not responsible for them.  There's a whole digital world and a host of other "traditional" channels that can provide deeper involvement between human and brand once a big idea has begun, and I think we're all missing the boat so far.

Chris McKee: In a time when charities have been ravaged by disasters like Maddoff, BP and Earthquakes and people around the world need our compassion if not our contributions - Groupon’s “Save The Money,” seems to rejoice in the fact that we can’t save Tibet or the whales but we can save on Tibetan take out and whale watching excursions. Not only does this campaign reduce us, it fails to enjoy the unique benefit of Groupon - that together we can do something. That there is power in numbers. So instead of making the savings just the beginning of our collective might, it makes it the end... Teleflora had the opportunity to remind all male viewers why they might want to send flowers this Valentines day and instead reduced us and the sentiment. And with women representing 42% of Super bowl viewers, Teleflora portrays itself as the vehicle of hapless dolts instead of hopeless romantics

SR: The future of commercials seems to revolve around narrative structure. Advertisements that spend less time promoting a product and more time attempting to be memorable are the ones that audiences seem to remember. What are your thoughts?

JR: Every media time and place serves a different purpose.  The Super Bowl is the time and place for big new brand ideas--not for selling direct.  It's like the opportunity to set the record straight, take a chance, set a new course. Unfortunately I think this year's crop was a little wanting.

CM: Volkswagen connected with a charming spot that featured a mini Darth Vader using the “Force” to command a car with remote ignition. It’s a perfect verse for the anthem - that each of us has the power within us to create small moments that enchant and delight our children. Chrysler antes up in a spot narrated by Eminem and gives Detroit a shout out in a spot that announces that resilience and inspiration are not products of an assembly line but rather crafted by each of us in our lifetime. Here, Eminem promises a new generation of cars “Imported from Detroit.” And the anthem builds. The NFL takes it further downfield with a brilliant spot that collects America’s favorite shows from the past, outfits the casts in NFL gear and applauds them and us for being the Best. Fans. Ever. And absurdity has a place in the anthem too. Mini Cooper’s ad for the Countryman invites contestants to test the spacious new trunk and “Stuff It In The Boot.” Wonderful. Mini’s spot is true to it’s own anthem that driving should be fun - that the car, the passengers and the journey can liberate us. That’s a fitting thought for the night’s anthem too.

SR: Visual Effects and CGI are sometimes considered dirty words in the film industry, but advertising relies so heavily on subtle touchups and basic compositing to effectively deliver a message in only 30-60 seconds. How do you feel visual effects differ between commercials and movies?

JR: I don't necessarily think there's a difference in terms of how the film industry and the ad industry view visual effects.  If visual effects (or the lack thereof) are used as a tool to strengthen an idea, they're great.  If they are meant to carry more of a load in the absence of a concept, they're a waste and a distraction.

CM: Nowhere in the anthem of Super Bowl 45 does it say that animals are humans and humans are animals. Every year we prescribe more humanity to critters and drain more from men. It’s not a tribute to the mouth watering taste of McDonald’s that bears will eat it. Bears will eat garbage. And dogs will drink from toilets - so the fact that they’ll jump for a bud isn’t the best endorsement. Both of these brands could be cultural campfires - giving us something to gather around even for a brief moment - to connect with each other and reclaim ourselves. But we are force-fed special effects instead of experiencing the special effect these products could have on us.

SR: The Super Bowl audience encompasses so many demographics. How do you produce a commercial that appeals to multiple groups while still selling a product that might be meant for a specific audience?

JR: Smart brands never try to appeal to more than their audience group.  Assuming you're audience is one of the segments that watches, it's your chance to galvanize this specific group, which is larger here than anywhere else, with a bold new idea that can re-magnetize the human/brand connection for a new year.

CM: The Super Bowl is advertising’s biggest stage. It’s our moment to show how well we are able to fulfill our charter, which is to create powerful moments that connect brands with citizens. It’s our job to shake up the snow globe and represent what’s swirling around in our minds and hearts... We misread and misrepresented what’s going on in America today more than in any Super Bowl in history.

SR: Super Bowl spots are generally considered million-dollar investments, but people seem to misunderstand exactly how much money goes into these spots and where that money is going. Would you mind clarifying what it takes to truly make a Super Bowl spot?

JR: It first takes a 3 million dollar media investment, meaning you have to have 3 million dollars to run an ad. The production costs are additional and these can vary.  You can do a low budget kind of thing and only spend a couple thousand bucks.  Or you can hire Michael Bay to direct a spot that can cost as much as you can imagine... If all you've got is around 3 million dollars for a whole year, I've always believed the Super Bowl is not for you. Work a little harder at an idea and it's holistic life as a campaign, and you'll reap way more.  If 3 million is a drop in the bucket, you should be there.  But you should be there big.  In production budget and/or creative courage and then be there to follow up on your new momentum with your audience in different ways that extend the new idea.

Advertising is in the middle of a gradual transition. While it turned out to be unrelated to any Audi commercial campaign, the recent ShapeShifter short film is a perfect example of the future of advertising.

Go to the movie theater a little early next time and you will see long-form advertisements for major corporations with little to no sign of their actual product in the presentation. Advertising is more about making memorable moments than exposing a product. It seems many agencies have realized that audiences want to be wowed instead of told what to buy. There are plenty of consumers who look for the details and nothing more, but advertising is about branding and the impact of a viral video has surpassed the power of low costs.

Super Bowl Doritos Pug commercial

Of course, this concept is arguable. Anybody can find justification in numbers, but more advertisers are leaning towards viral marketing via commercials. It is no surprise that many Super Bowl commercials found their way online before the Super Bowl. This isn't due to some Internet spy in the agency database - instead, it is a mutual understanding that word of mouth begins way before something ever airs on television or releases in theaters.

It is easy to lump commercials into one complaint that they interrupt your regularly scheduled programming. Fortunately, some advertising agencies are looking to a new form of advertising that aims to entertain before shoving a product description in your face. There is still plenty of room for improvement and the transition may never fully take over the world of advertising, but this year's Super Bowl gave us a small taste of the future's potential.

What television needs are more commercials that tap into what makes movies so great. While every piece of entertainment is made with specific demographics in mind, the ones that are remembered the most are those that blur the line between generations. The VW Vader commercial did just that.

Share your thoughts on the Super Bowl commercials and the future of advertising in the comments section below.

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