The Super Bowl was bad. Were the commercials even worse?

Feb 03, 2014

At least the food, drink and company were good in this little patch of New Jersey, because yesterday’s Super Bowl game, held a bit east of here, was one of the worst I can remember and I go back to the first one. Unfortunately for the millions who watch the game for the commercials, this year’s crop may have actually been worse than the game. In my mind, there were only a few that rose above mediocre. To my surprise (sorry puppy) the best of the night was RadioShack’s "The Phone Call."

[Image: RadioShack Ad]

In the spot, a store associate takes a phone call: "The eighties called. They want their store back." (Cue the music) Loverboy’s 1981 hit "Working for the Weekend" plays as iconic figures from the era — Hulk Hogan, Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) from Cheers, Alf, Ponch (Erik Estrada) from CHIPs, Mary Lou Retton, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, Jason from Friday the 13th and others dismantle the store. When finished, they drive off with all the goods in a Delorean. The image shifts to the new RadioShack concept with the voice over, "It’s time for a new RadioShack. Come see what’s possible when we do things together."

What I liked best about the spot was that it was honest. It puts into words that management gets why Americans stopped shopping at the chain and tells them it’s safe to come back. Whether the ad will succeed in getting people back to stores remains to be seen. But this is the best thing we can remember coming out of RadioShack, well, at least going back to the eighties.

Not everyone shares my opinion. I was clearly outvoted on the home front where our small party was equally split between General Mills’ "Gracie" commercial for Cheerios and Budweiser’s "Puppy Love."

USA Today’s Ad Meter’s Top 10 looked liked this:

Budweiser Puppy Love – 8.29
Doritos Cowboy Kid – 7.58
Budweiser Hero’s Welcome – 7.21
Doritos Time Machine – 7.13
RadioShack Phone Call – 7
Hyundai Sixth Sense – 6.87
General Mills Cheerios Gracie – 6.75
Microsoft Technology – 6.65
Coca-Cola Going All the Way – 6.42
Pepsi Soundcheck – 6.3

Adweek gave its top grades to:

Budweiser Puppy Love – A+
Wonderful Pistachios/Stephen Colbert Wonderful Pistachios – A
General Mills Cheerios Gracie – A
Wings Volkswagen – A
Chrysler America’s Import – A-
Coca-Cola It’s Beautiful – A-
Maserati Strike – A-
Hyundai Dad’s Sixth Sense – A-
Chevrolet Life – A-

Advertising Age gave the most stars to:

RadioShack Phone Call – 4 stars
T-Mobile No Contract, No Worries – 4 stars
Budweiser Puppy Love – 3.5 stars
Bud Light Epic Night – 3.5 stars
Turbo Tax Love Hurts – 3.5 stars
General Mills Cheerios Gracie – 3.5 stars
Go Daddy Epic Quit – 3.5 stars

Which Super Bowl commercials stood out for you this year and why?

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30 Comments on "The Super Bowl was bad. Were the commercials even worse?"

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Max Goldberg

I liked the Budweiser Puppy Love and Welcome Home commercials. They both pulled at the heartstrings.

The RadioShack spot was also good, making me want to watch the ad again to see all of the ’80s characters they crammed into it.

As to the quality of the game…that depends on which team you were pulling for.

Mel Kleiman

None of the ads stood out. It was an interesting Superbowl because I was watching it at a bar in Canada.

I learned a lesson that it does not matter what you think matters. It is what the customer thinks matters and in this case, the customers were not only not watching the commercials, they weren’t even watching the game.

Zel Bianco

Bud’s Puppy Love because you would need to be dead to not love that one. It had a nice story and was very well done. Perhaps because I was in such shock at Denver’s performance, and may need to see them again, I did not get the Maserati commercial nor the Chrysler ad with Dylan. I agree with George that this year’s crop of spots may have been even worse than the game. I want a do-over on both!

Paula Rosenblum

The Chevy ad was my favorite. It was superb branding and not cute…just emotive.

And even though they said not one word about the truck until the end, I somehow knew early on it was their ad.

I liked the message. It was touching. And I’m grateful for it.

David Livingston
3 years 7 months ago

I didn’t really take notes, but there seemed to be several commercials that had nothing to do with the product. Such as the most popular, Budweiser Puppy Love. What does a relationship between a horse and a puppy have to do with consuming beer? Other commercials it was difficult to determine who the advertiser was. I’ll admit, some I had never heard of and have no idea what the product even was.

Cathy Hotka

The RadioShack ad had my Facebook friends vibrating at a high rate of speed. It completely nailed the company’s malaise and the American consumer’s response to it. The big question, though, is whether the company can adequately re-brand and re-tool to again make its thousands of stores relevant. Let’s all visit our local Shack and check back in here in a week.

Dick Seesel

Rating Super Bowl ads is a no-win proposition. They catch flak for being snarky, for being raunchy and (conversely) for being too flag-waving or “warm & fuzzy.” The trend this year leaned toward the softer side of the image-building business.

I will confess to a soft spot for the ads that build on their brand heritage (Coke, Chevy, Bud) through feel-good marketing. Top-of-mind brands like these have a lot to gain through storytelling about veterans’ homecomings, cancer survivors, puppies and so forth. (Am I biased because my own dog looks like the Budweiser yellow lab? Of course not.) I do think the viral previewing of these ads has diminished their impact on game night, not to mention the audience loss during the second half of the game.

One more comment about the talked-about RadioShack ad: If you walk into a RadioShack today, will you see the new store design? If the ad doesn’t deliver store traffic (and a new brand promise), it wasn’t a success.

Tom Redd

Being such a bad game, I had to focus on the commercials. RadioShack was a major winner. It tore right into the shoppers mind to “pull” out their old image of the The Shack and the aisles with soldering irons, transistors and spools of different colored wires – and of course 3 types of wire strippers.

The old image drove away in that Pinto wagon (or was it a Pacer?) and the new RadioShack is here.

Millennials did not totally get the ad, but with channels like TVLand that they love, it might have made some sense to them.

The other was Pistachios/Stephen Colbert. Great way to spoof the marketing space and to drill home the story on pistachios – especially with the top fashion color this year not being green.

Good ads, lousy game.

HY Louis
3 years 7 months ago

I had about as much appreciation for the Super Bowl commercials as Alfred Hitchcock. Most lost my attention immediately and the thought of someone spending $4 million for a 30 second spot was depressing since after about 15 seconds, our attention was focused on something else.

J. Peter Deeb

I liked, in this order, RadioShack, Pistachios, Cheerios, Doritos kid on a dog and all of the Budweiser spots. In the case of Bud, they do a good job every year of creatively holding your attention while being very subtle in their branding.

The rest of them were not memorable or not even good!

As for the game, it was a real letdown after all of the buildup of #1 offense vs.#1 defense. The only good thing that happened was me winning the quarterly pool twice at our Super Bowl party!

Robert DiPietro

My kitchen research has the Pistachios as number one in the standout category. That other memorable one was Tim Tebow and the no contract for T-Mobile.

I think the RadioShack commercial made a difficult promise as I’m not sure every location has given back the ’80s yet. Time will tell but it definitely hit home.

Tony Orlando

RadioShack was the funniest, as they were able to make fun of themselves, and showcase their new look.

The Seinfeld promo was good, as I love Seinfeld. The Bud commercial with the soldier coming home was great too. Horrible game to watch, but I was home and took a good nap.

Dave Wendland

Winning commercials? I supposed there were some standouts, but not unlike the other RetailWire comments I didn’t see many. Not only was the game underwhelming, so too were the ads.

My daughter appreciated the Budweiser heart-tugging story of the dog and the Clydesdale. But, she’s 12 and not really the right demographic.

My son, age 16, liked the Maserati ad. When I asked him if he thought it would persuade someone to buy that car, he paused.

For me, I think the Steve Colbert pistachio ads were well done. The CocaCola “It’s Beautiful” sent a nice message and may win goodwill. RadioShack … as previously stated, they need to shake things up (not sure this will be the most effective way to do that).

Here’s hoping next year’s BIG game and related commercials will be more inspiring.

Kate Blake
Kate Blake
3 years 7 months ago

The Toyota/Muppet commercial and the last Go Daddy Spray tan commercial made me laugh. Most were too long and off point. I hated the Bud Light one. AND the Ford Fusion one!

Doug Garnett

None. This was a very dull year of ads. Some were particularly horrible, like the storyline from Budweiser (I believe it was) that was continued.

It appeared to me that the ad makers decided they were making “content” rather than advertising.

Smart advertisers stay focused on what they have to say that is meaningful to consumers.

Jeff Hall

Three commercials stood out for me this year: RadioShack for its self-deprecating humor, the Chevrolet “Life” spot for connecting in a subtle, authentic and emotional manner, and finally, the Cheerios spot for brand courage in making a social statement.

Ed Rosenbaum

Frankly, none of this year’s ads stand a chance to be very memorable. As bad as the game was, I thought the ads were equally, if not more, disappointing. If I am forced to pick two, they would be the Budweiser and Coke ads.

Joel Rubinson

Hands down, it was RadioShack. They mentioned the brand name right up front, the commercial was extremely entertaining and engaging, it delivered an important brand message in a way that no one would miss it, and the call to action was obvious (Aren’t you curious? Visit a new RadioShack!).

Warren Thayer

Nothing really stood out for me, except Bob Dylan’s bizarre behavior.

James Tenser

Let’s not overlook Ford’s “double” ad for the Fusion Hybrid. It got the high-gas-mileage message across with a gee-whiz finish.

I enjoyed the RadioShack “The 80s Called” ad too, but I think it probably was a yawn to anyone younger than a boomer.

Dorito’s cardboard box time machine evoked a smile.

Finally, I was agog at Bob Dylan’s appearance in the Chrysler ad. He walks, narrates, and finally delivers the tag line straight to the camera. What was he paid to be in this mini-movie? Did he write the script? I searched but couldn’t find answers. Hope it was a lotta lire, Bob.

Martin Mehalchin

Bob Dylan appearing in a Super Bowl ad was even more disappointing than the Broncos performance in the game.

W. Frank Dell II

Except for the last few years, the game has been lopsided for the most part. This year it was even worse. This year, the commercials were the worst I have ever seen. I simply do not know who their target audience was. Many of the commercials were of the feel good type. Further, I don’t understand how you sell product or build a company reputation from these commercials. For me Budweiser Puppy Love was a waste, it sure did not sell beer. Tebow’s, Volkswagen and Doritos were cute but not memorable. How may of the 1% were watching the game and need a Maserati? My guess is not many; thus, a waste of millions.

Ted Hurlbut
Ted Hurlbut
3 years 7 months ago

More than the good spots, I was struck by how awful – embarrassing even – some of the others were. Talk about trying too hard….

Craig Sundstrom

While I wish RadioShack well, the fact that all of us here enjoyed it – because we could relate to it – makes me wonder how many in their target audience – presumably 15-35 years olds – would be able to say the same. (The clerks/associates/”team members” shown probably weren’t even born until the early ’90s.) Cleverness is swell, but it’s not an end in itself.

Carol Spieckerman

Advertising Age has it right ranking-wise and RadioShack wins. I never met a dog I didn’t love, but Bud’s “Puppy Love” was contrived and manipulative without doing anything for the brand.

Daryle Hier
Daryle Hier
3 years 7 months ago

Newsflash: Commercials are always bad, so I can’t answer the question as to which stood out – unless you want to know they all pretty much were terrible or ineffective.

The group I was with ridiculed most of them and then shrugged off the others as not knowing what it was about – a common theme. I kept saying to myself: Huh?!

I realize those who are in the advertising world will defend the ads but one of these days, the monkey-see monkey-do world of advertising at the corporate level will finally learn that this is all a waste of valuable marketing dollars.

Most people don’t ever see these television commercials unless they’re watching the Super Bowl so the affect is one of bewilderment, if nothing else.

Advertising is dead and this Super Bowl was a prime example.

Gene Michaud
Gene Michaud
3 years 7 months ago

It is just so amazing to me that the marketing industry has been able to get as many people to watch their ads as those who actually watch the game. However, I am still from the old school and when the commercials come on, I go to the bathroom, get a beer and have some fun time with the family and friends who joined me for the game. The problem this year, watching the game was a terrible waste of time. Thank goodness for family and friends.

Giacinta Shidler
Giacinta Shidler
3 years 7 months ago

Words that describe this year’s crop of ads: Somber. Self-important. Sentimental. Predictable. Humorous ads were thin on the ground and failed to push the envelope, RadioShack being an exception.

Mark Price

In terms of actual business objectives (getting across a message that will lead customers to change their behavior), I would side with the Radio Shack and the T-mobile campaigns. Clear messages, compellingly presented in a way that consumers will remember.

However, I am a sucker for puppies….

Alexander Rink
3 years 7 months ago

Purely from the perspective of budget-conscious Super Bowl commercials (a non sequitur if there ever was one!), I like the unofficial Super Bowl ad campaigns. For example, Newcastle released one called The Epic Super Bowl Commercial that Newcastle Would have made if they had the budget, as well as the additional video starring Anna Kendrick. As a class, these types of commercials are generally clever, original, well-targeted and have a high potential to go viral. Essentially, they are a great way to piggyback on the game’s and commercials’ popularity at a greatly reduced expense.


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