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Monday, February 3, 2014

The Super Bowl Was A Bust, But What About The Ads?

USA Today's consumer-judged Ad Meter picked the Budweiser commercial "Puppy Love" as the Super Bowl ad winner. (Anheuser-Busch)

USA Today’s consumer-judged Ad Meter picked the Budweiser commercial “Puppy Love” as the Super Bowl ad winner. (Anheuser-Busch)

The Super Bowl game was so lopsided last night, the only real competition was the battle of the ads.

The advertising competition is largely a matter of opinion. USA Today’s annual “Ad Meter” — a panel of 6,272 viewers who assign ratings to the commercials running during the big game — picked Budweiser’s puppy ad as the winner.

Media analyst John Carroll joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss which ads worked and why.

Ads Discussed In This Segment

Budweiser, “Puppy Love”

Bud Light, “Ian Up For Whatever”

RadioShack, “The Phone Call”

Cheerios, “Gracie”

Coca Cola, “America The Beautiful”

Chrysler (featuring Bob Dylan)

Microsoft, “Empowering”

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

Soda Stream (featuring Scarlett Johansson)

Oikos, “”The Spill”





And by now you know that there was not much competition on the field last night at the Super Bowl. But thankfully, there was some competition on the advertising front. Media analyst John Carroll is here to share his scorecard on all the commercials. And John, let's start with some numbers. How many advertisers were there? How much did they spend?

JOHN CARROLL, BYLINE: There were about 30 advertisers. They spent $4 million for 30 seconds worth of ad time, which is one of the reasons you saw a lot of sort of two-week campaigns on social media and news media. It's hard to get $4 million worth of bang out of 30 seconds on the Super Bowl. So they tried to maximize it with contests, with teaser ads, with sweepstakes, whatever they could do to...

HOBSON: And a lot of them were upset, right, that they put their ads late in the game because a lot of people had turned it off by then.

CARROLL: Right. At times, they're a premium - there is a premium for late in the game, last two minutes, that kind of thing. Last two minutes, everybody was gone by then. They were off doing something entirely different from watching the Super Bowl.

HOBSON: Maybe they were having a Bud Light with the re-closeable cap, which was one of the things that was advertised last night.

CARROLL: Possibly. Possibly.

HOBSON: John, let's start with some of the favorites here. And a lot of people loved "Puppy Love." This is the Budweiser ad that captures the friendship between a spunky puppy and a Clydesdale. Here's a clip.


HOBSON: OK. Well, you can't really tell what's going on in this clip. But basically, there's a really cute dog...

CARROLL: Take our word for it.

HOBSON: ...and a horse and they're - they just love each other. This is the one that won the USA Today annual Super Bowl ad meter. Why did people like this one?

CARROLL: Well, I'm going to start out the same way that the Denver Broncos did, by making a mistake and saying this ad is a Xerox of a Xerox of a carbon copy of the ad they run every year.


CARROLL: You know, that said, I mean it obviously works. Animals, love - they have a tradition of this kind of thing. It just felt this year like it was really sort of perfunctory in a way. On the other hand, you know, all you animal lovers, send me your emails. You know, everybody...

HOBSON: It was cute. You have to admit that it was cute.

CARROLL: It was cute. But it was ignorable.

HOBSON: All right. What about another Bud ad? This was for Bud Lite. They had an ad called "Up For Whatever." There's a random guy chosen in a bar, taken on an adventure and it ends with a chance meeting with, of all people, Arnold Schwarzenegger.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Prepare to be crushed in tiny tennis. OK. Let's see the arms. You all look all pumped up. Very good. Just give me five push-ups.


HOBSON: John Carroll, Arnold Schwarzenegger, really?

CARROLL: Yeah. This is what we used to call at my ad agency a concept with a capital K. They just threw the kitchen sink at this. And this is an ad that's about itself, basically. It's not even about the product. It's not about the consumer. It's just about itself. It's just a big-budget extravaganza.

HOBSON: But isn't funny to use somebody like Arnold Schwarzenegger who's now got so much controversy to his name after what happened with him after he left the governorship in California?

CARROLL: Yeah. I think, though, he's reverted to this sort of icon from the '80s. And the '80s were a consistent theme throughout the Super Bowl ads. We saw them - the '80s popping up all over the place.

HOBSON: Well, I want to get to that because my favorite ad, actually, was the RadioShack ad. The company is sort of poking fun at their outdated store designs. Let's take a listen.




UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The '80s called. They want their store back.

HOBSON: Then out comes Mary Lou Retton, Alf, some guys from "Cheers." What do you think about that?

CARROLL: For me, I needed a little Dramamine for this one. It moved a little too fast for me. But it's a generational thing. I think the '80s really resonated with a lot of people. This ad was wildly popular. It was in the top five, I think, of the USA Today ad meter. And in a couple of other surveys I saw, it topped out those surveys - with men and with women as well.

HOBSON: Interesting you say it's a generational thing. We're going to get to another ad that featured Bob Dylan, which, of course, probably appealed to the people that might not have liked the RadioShack ad.

CARROLL: Old people like me.

HOBSON: Well - but, you know, people were also saying that Bruno Mars, who headlined the halftime show, was great, perfect for this in a way because he appealed to people of all generations, people who liked music from the '60s, '70s, '80s. Anyway, that's for another conversation. But let's get to another ad. This is a Maserati ad featuring the child actress Quvenzhane Wallis, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Let's listen to that ad.


QUVENZHANE WALLIS: We wait until they get sleepy, wait until they get so big they can barely move. And then we walk out of the shadows, quietly walk out of the dark and strike.

HOBSON: Now, the car advertised here cost almost $70,000. It does seem like kind of sharp turn to make from welders to a fancy Italian sedan.

CARROLL: Yeah, to a Wal-Mart Maserati. And I think that it was an interesting ad because of the suspense. You had no idea who this ad was for, for a minute and, you know, 28 seconds. So I think that that part of it was good. Whether - I think it made a splash. Whether it's going to - they're actually going to be able to sell this car or not is a good question.

HOBSON: All right. One of the ones that's being talked about is the Cheerios commercial. This fared very well among viewers. It features a fictional interracial family that actually first appeared in a commercial last year. Let's take a listen to the ad.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Hey, Gracie. You know how our family has daddy and mommy?


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Yeah. That's right. Pretty soon you're going to have a baby brother.


HOBSON: Now, John, we should say, while they're talking, they're putting little Cheerios on to the table in front of them.

CARROLL: Right. Cheerio markers.

HOBSON: But, you know, some people thought that this ad was groundbreaking in a way. What do you think?

CARROLL: This has a history to it. This is the first ad that Cheerios has run in the Super Bowl. But they ran an ad last year with this same family that got a lot of comment and a lot of unfortunately racist comments on the Internet and stirred up quite a bit of controversy. And actually, the more it was attacked, the more people came to its defense. I mean it's a really cute spot. And the kid is adorable. And I think that - I would be surprised if that same kind of ground stir emerged again for this one.

HOBSON: All right. I said we were going to talk about Bob Dylan and Chrysler. Let's do it.


BOB DYLAN: And when it's made here, it's made with the one thing you can't import from anywhere else: American pride.

HOBSON: John, this is not the first Super Bowl ad Bob Dylan has been in. He was in one for Pepsi and Victoria's Secret in years past. People love him.

CARROLL: Right. And people love him, but people also hated this ad. There was this one tweet that said: Bob Dylan just negated 50 years of sticking into the man in about 90 seconds. I think that's a bit of an overreaction. You know, Bob Dylan sold out a long time ago. But I think he was an interesting choice in terms of what he brings in terms of his history and his status as an icon.

HOBSON: OK. I want to get to one more while we have it, and that is this ad for SodaStream. Now, SodaStream was not able to play an ad last year because of Pepsi, right? Tell us just the history there.

CARROLL: Well - yeah. This is a company that has a machine that makes soda for you. And last year they had an ad where they were crushing Pepsi and Coke bottles. The broadcasters said forget it. We're not going to do that to Pepsi.

HOBSON: All right. Let's hear a little of the ad.


SCARLETT JOHANSSON: Like most actors, my real job is saving the world. Start with plain water, add bubbles, mix in the perfect flavor, look, a soda that's better for you and all of us.

HOBSON: Scarlett Johansson, of course. But how were they able to do it?

CARROLL: Well, they - the controversy around this was that she's a spokeswoman - she was a spokeswoman for Oxfam America. Oxfam America has a problem with this Israeli company having a factory on the West Bank. So they said to Scarlett Johansson, pick one. Scarlett Johansson picked SodaStream. And the ad ran. It didn't get a very good reception, but it got a lot of press in the run-up.

HOBSON: You had to watch all of the ads last night. Did you have fun? Or was it a chore?

CARROLL: Some of it was fun. A lot of it was a chore. I mean, these were not the most inspired ads I've seen on the Super Bowl.

HOBSON: HERE AND NOW media analyst John Carroll on all the ads last night. Robin, what was your favorite?


Well, I - don't you think that Bob Dylan is starting to look like that Anonymous facemask, Guy Fawkes, that guy?


YOUNG: I think half of young America is wondering, what's Guy Fawkes doing in that ad? I love the ads. And I love Lieutenant Chuck Nadd, the Budweiser, where he was welcomed home from war. I love that ad.

HOBSON: And as I said, I love the RadioShack ad. But that's because I love all those '80s characters. From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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