Super Bowl Ads Celebrate Gen Y, America

If you're going to spend $3.5 million to air a 30-second TV commercial during the 2012 Super Bowl, up from $3 million in 2011, you are going to want to max out its impact far beyond the confines of the grid iron. During February's Super Bowl XLVI, an increasing number of companies planned their ad strategy to use the NBC Sports broadcast as a springboard for their product's campaign and for some it produced spectacular results. For others it generated unwanted controversy.

The battle between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots was reported by The Nielsen Company to have gathered the largest audience in U.S. television history, peaking at 117.7 million viewers from 9:30 to 9:58 eastern time. That made it the highest-rated Super Bowl in 26 years with a 47.0 rating and 71 share.

Even Madonna's halftime show grabbed 114 million fans, while the rest of the viewers presumably grabbed snacks from the fridge. Fortunately, relatively few noticed Sri Lankan singer M. I. A (real name Mātaṅki 'Māyā' Aruḷpirakācam) improvise a single-digit finger salute to the fans during the song "Give Me All Your Luvin'". It was a "flip slip" that the network originally called a "spontaneous gesture." Hey, who needs a reliable video delay system on such a low budget production?


The big advance in this year's advertising technology was the use of multiple platforms with various versions of the broadcast going out simultaneously to mobile phone/pad viewers using Verizon Wireless' NFL Mobile app, and Web watchers on, although the lower-bandwidth channels often had fewer ads via the Microsoft Silverlight player.

As usual, hits mixed with misses on and off the field. Budweiser's idea of naming a rescue dog "Weego" so suckers would call out "Here We-Go" seemed too cutesy by half, and the idea of naked M&M's highly incongruous. But as a major devotee of car body design I have to admit enjoying seeing Brazilian super model Adriana Lima emerge out of a splash of Kia's sandman powder just as much as the women in the room reveled in H&M's presentation of the calligraphy in David Beckham's tattoos.

"Matthew's Day Off," starring Ferris Buehler's Matthew Broderick and directed by Todd Phillips, featured dozens of semi-subliminal visual "easter eggs" embedded in its images. However it's what happened outside this year's game that was so fascinating. Remember 'way back in 2003 when Reebok's 60-second spot featuring linebacker Terry Tate made headlines by drawing 25,077 viewers to the company's web site by the end of Super Bowl XXXVII? Flash forward almost a decade to find the advertising hoopla beginning a week before the game with a two minute version of Jerry Seinfeld's "Transaction" ad for the Acura NSX featuring Jay Leno in a jet pack hit the Web on Jan. 30 even though the car doesn't even go into production until 2015.


But perhaps the most successful pre-Super Bowl buzz was set off by an eight-second Web teaser for Honda's other campaign for their new CR-V entry-level SUV. Based on a satire of Matthew Broderick's 1986 hit "Ferris Buehler's Day Off", "Coming Soon" was loaded onto YouTube on Jan. 26 and attracted 4 million hits. Before the big game, Honda ran an expanded 2:23 extended version of the ad but could only afford a 60-second slot during the Super Bowl itself. They have been airing a 30-second version since then and, like all the other Super Spots, you can find it all over the Web.

Called "Matthew's Day Off," and directed by Todd Phillips and edited by Jim Haygood at Union Editorial in Los Angeles, the ad mimics the original film by having Broderick fake a sick day call-in, musing "How can I handle work on a day like today?" It's a fast-paced fun-at-the-beach/park/museum/Chinatown romp, but maybe only its intended Gen-Y audience was hip enough to discover the dozens of semi-subliminal visual "easter eggs" embedded in its images.

Chrysler's "Halftime in America" had an impact that overshadowed the 70 other ads during Super Bowl XLVI. According to RPA, the Santa Monica agency behind this spot, these hidden messages include Ferris' street address, his original red phone, and a toy Ferrari on the desk of Broderick's agent. If you can deconstruct the easter egg behind the agent's company name seen during the ad, "Rozman, Peterson & Frye," you're officially an honorary member of Gen Y.


For those Super Bowl viewers belonging to a broader demographic, however, the unforgettable commercial of the day began with a craggy-faced Clint Eastwood growling into the camera "It's half time…" Silence descended over my Super Bowl party because we had been waiting for this moment. After all, Chrysler had bestowed something equally revelatory during last year's pigskin classic.

Directed by Mark Fitzloff and edited by Tommy Harden at Portland, Ore.'s Joint Editorial, where last year's "Born of Fire" anthem to America was also posted for the Wieden & Kennedy agency, "Halftime in America" takes us through the gritty streets of Detroit while Eastwood reminds us, "This country can't be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again, and when we do the world's going to hear the roar of our engines."

Again, this spot's reach far exceeded the goal lines of Indianapolis's Lucas Oil Stadium and had an impact that overshadowed the 70 other ads during Super Bowl XLVI. Some conservatives considered it a payback to the Obama administration for the auto industry bailout even though Eastwood is on the record condemning Washington's intervention. On the other hand, some on the progressive side claimed that a few shots of protesters seen about 50 seconds into the piece were actually taken at a rally in Madison, Wis. and later digitally doctored to contain posters urging a different cause than originally intended.

But in reality, "Halftime in America" is visual storytelling at its finest, packing a punch that is highly relevant for our times. With $3.5 million being spent by most advertisers on 60 seconds of humor, flash and titillation, hats off to Chrysler for elevating the whole Super Bowl experience with two minutes of guts and vision.