It's competitive. It's risky. And it's tough. The stakes will be high this Sunday from the moment the anthem is sung at Super Bowl 41--and I'm not talking about the game being played between the Colts and the Bears. I'm referring to the game of advertising being played by the 20-plus companies vying for the title of "Super Bowl's Big Breakthrough Ad."
These companies are all willing to spend top dollar for the chance to wow an international audience. This year, CBS is reportedly charging at least $2.6 million for a 30-second spot, up from $2.5 million last year. And let's not forget what it costs to actually make the ad, which in some cases means putting out another $1 million in production costs. But with an expected audience of about 90 million viewers tuning in for the big game, advertisers know this could be their best chance to get noticed on a global scale, even if it means spending a shocking $87,000 per second.
Sounds like a risky venture, doesn't it? It is. Of all the ads televised each year, how many companies truly come out of the Super Bowl with a financial advantage? Sure, there's always a few memorable spots discussed at the water cooler the next day, but the majority of ads aren't good for much more than a brief laugh and are easily forgotten by Monday morning.
But what about the companies that have succeeded--the company's whose ads are still being talked about more than 20 years after they first aired. What did they have that the others didn't? Professor Bruce Vanden Bergh, former chair of Michigan State University's Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Retailing, says it's really all about creativity: Who will dare to be different and still be lucky enough to strike a chord with viewers?
So which ads have stood the test of time and memory? Let's start with the very ad that raised the bar on creativity. In fact, after 23 years, it's still being called one of the best Super Bowl ads ever. The ad themed around George Orwell's novel, 1984, skyrocketed Apple Computer's new Macintosh to mega-success back in 1984. Professor Vanden Bergh says that Apple's "1984" ad marked the end of traditional Super Bowl commercials and marketing, and introduced a new, creative, challenging element to ad-making that millions of Americans look forward to critiquing every year.
- Ad Title: "1984" (released in 1984)
- Company: Apple Computer
- Ad Rate: $500,000 for a one-minute slot
- What It Was All About: In this classic commercial, director Ridley Scott helped Apple introduce its Macintosh computer to viewers worldwide by creating a cinematic experience in which Apple's new, easier-to-use Macintosh was being compared to IBM's traditional, somewhat boring and more difficult-to-use machine. The ad begins by flashing back between a large video screen featuring a Big Brother-type character (symbolic of IBM) speaking to a group of drones mesmerized by his words, and a young runner jogging into the room (symbolic of Macintosh). Though authorities are chasing the runner, she quickly swings a sledgehammer at the screen and destroys it. Then these words creep onto the screen and are read by a voice: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984'."
- Why It Succeeded: Steve McKee, president of ad agency McKee Wallwork Cleveland, which runs the annual ADBOWL rating site, says that even though the idea behind the ad was rather simple, it was well produced and took a significant risk. The ad assumed its audience would understand the literary reference--which it did. And the audience liked the company's assumption that they'd know George Orwell's famous book. McKee says an audience appreciates being given credit for their intelligence, an element he says commercials today are lacking.
- Watch It Now: http://youtube.com/watch?v=R706isyDrqI
Another ad that still has a lock on the public's "recall factor" is one that was developed by Master Lock in 1974. Though it didn't have quite the same impact as Apple's "1984," its simple visual message was enough to make audience members take notice and help make Master Lock one of the most trusted lock companies for years to come. Today, Master Lock is the U.S. market share leader when it comes to padlock sales (it's the world's largest padlock manufacturer).
- Ad Title: "Marksman" (released in 1974)
- Company: Master Lock
- Ad Rate: $107,000 for a 30-second spot
- What It Was All About: Master Lock aimed to demonstrate the durability of its product by having a sharpshooter shoot at one of their locks. A close-up of the padlock showed that despite being fired at by a high-powered rifle, the lock could withstand the force.
- Why It Succeeded: Ads don't get much simpler than this. Just like Apple's spot, Master Lock's commercial had a basic premise mixed with powerful, memorable imagery. Just how memorable? The ad ran, with only slight variations, during the next 21 Super Bowls.and the lock never did break.
- Watch It Now: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4097253/
Though both the Apple and Master Lock spots are recognized as breakthrough ads of their time, the competition has only gotten fiercer as technology continues progressing. In order to stand out, the commercials of today have to kick it up a notch and think outside the box in order to get noticed. Some recent Super Bowl ads used technology to push their messages into the limelight. Both Dove and Emerald Nuts referred viewers to their websites to continue their marketing campaigns and encourage viewer involvement. Emerald Nuts chose to go about their ad with humor, while Dove chose to send out a poignant message that spoke to women of all shapes and sizes.
- Ad Title: "Self-Esteem/Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty" (released in 2006)
- Company Name: Dove
- Ad Rate: $2.5 million for a 30-second spot
- What It Was All About: This ad featured elementary school-aged girls and the issues they have with their looks and their bodies. For instance, one dark-haired girl "wishes she were blond" and another one "hates her freckles." The background music--Cyndi Lauper's True Colors--was sung by the Girl Scout's Chorus of Nassau County, New York. The voiceover at the end of the commercial urges viewers to get involved by visiting Dove's website for more about the Campaign for Real Beauty.
- Why It Succeeded: Nowadays, advertisers are realizing that an increasing number of Super Bowl viewers are women. This ad took the risk of alienating the primarily male audience by reaching out to the game's female audience, and it succeeded. Women were pleased that an ad finally focused on them and their issues; it gave them a chance to get involved, too. Though Dove as a brand was already a well-recognized name, this ad paved the way for the Campaign for Real Beauty, an ongoing global ad effort by Dove to fight society's conventional beauty stereotypes.
- Watch It Now: http://youtube.com/watch?v=u86OH9mTG2Y
Emerald Nuts aired its first Super Bowl ad in 2005, but really made their mark after the airing of their second Super Bowl ad in 2006. The key to their success: The company started with the simple idea of using acronyms to help people remember their name. But they didn't stop there--they built on that concept by encouraging people to visit their engaging website, which featured entertainment and contests, and quickly established their brand name.
- Ad Title: "Druid" (released in 2006)
- Company: Emerald Nuts
- Ad Rate: $2.5 million for a 30-second spot
- What It Was All About: The premise behind these zany ads was to use words that started with the 11 letters that spell out Emerald Nuts to create humorous sentences. The ad from 2006 showed men with machetes who spot a short, robed man talking on the phone under their staircase. What on earth could this mean? "Eagle-eyed Machete Enthusiasts Recognize A Little Druid Networking Under The Stairs."
- Why It Succeeded: Yes, it's definitely different, but that's what spelled success for this spot. After only being around for two years, Emerald Nuts had positioned itself as a leading contender in the snack nut brands. After their second ad aired, the company's sales were up 102 percent compared with the same period a year before and they were bringing in $44 million in sales. As McKee points out, after the ads aired, people weren't just talking about "that nut brand" but were instead chatting about Emerald Nuts. Thanks to their marketing strategy, their name was synonymous with their product, something difficult to establish so early on in a company's existence. "That's why it's brilliant--the company went from zero to sixty just like that," says McKee.
- Watch It Now: http://youtube.com/watch?v=QYKrmrA6M4k