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Posted at 12:51 PM ET, 02/06/2012

Super Bowl ads 2012: The experts weigh in

What makes a Super Bowl commercial a success: talking babies? dog tricks? sex? Betty White? You may have your own ideas, but three branding experts and writers have offered their critiques of Sunday night’s ads. Here’s what they have to say about the best, worst and weirdest of the mix.

Do you agree with their analysis?

Our experts:

Angela Natividad, co-founder of AdVerve and community manager and social strategist for CB’a Paris.

Shirley Brady, editor of Brandchannel.com.

Tim Siedell, author, blogger, and founder of Fuse Industries; tweets from the popular account @badbanana.

Chrysler, “Halftime in America”

Natividad: “It seemed to encapsulate the story of America, acknowledging my hard times and yours, and promising a bright, hard-earned future, cemented by sweat and reinforced by Clint Eastwood’s cowboy rasp. But it’s hard to take such work seriously coming from a company that, in taking bailout cash, signaled it believes its existence is a right, not a gift – which makes the promise ring hollow. This sentiment fueled its already overwhelming resemblance to ads for political candidacy.”

Brady: “This was pitch-perfect in its timing, coming at half-time and running with that theme, and spot on in tone — and a more than worthy follow-up to last year’s iconic ‘Imported From Detroit’ spot featuring Eminem. It was all the more powerful for not being leaked ahead of the game, even though there were rumors that Chrysler had hired Eastwood for the Super Bowl.”

Siedell: “Congratulations on your halftime coup, Chrysler. You found a pop culture icon even older than Madonna.”

Volkswagen: “The Dog Strikes Back”

Brady: “The teaser for this spot was so clever that the spot itself is mildly disappointing — until it pulls back to reveal the Star Wars cantina recreation. Another big win for Volkswagen, and this year they’ll likely see greater recall for the model featured (the new VW Beetle) than they did for the Passat with last year’s spot.”

Honda, “Matthew’s Day Off”

Natividad: “Here’s evidence of why the world is better without a Ferris Bueller sequel. Seeing the anxious-eyed Matthew Broderick try to recapture that magic, on Honda’s dime, just leaves you swimming in pools of abject sadness. Not convinced? Imagine if Margaret Mitchell gave in to all that peer pressure and released Scarlett + Rhett Deux, sponsored by Tupperware.”

Siedell: “If Mathew Broderick is going to have a nervous breakdown and think he’s in one of his old movies, I’d much rather it be “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” than, say, “Godzilla.” No one wants another minute of that one. And I certainly don’t need to see him held high above his butler’s head on the balcony during one of his “Lion King” fantasies. For the most part, this commercial is quite satisfying and entertaining. Although I really wish Charlie Sheen could have reprised his role from the movie, as well. Imagine Matthew ending up on a park bench next to Charlie, who turns to him and says: “Why are you not working? Drugs?”

Toyota, “Reinvented”

Brady: “This spot succeeds on two fronts: as a Super Bowl spot, it’s silly, mock pompous and original (pizza curtains!) to entertain and stand out; and for the brand and model (Camry), it reinforces a message of innovation. It ventures into Go Daddy’s sexist Super Bowl spot territory by opening with a bikini-clad female couch as the first example of reinvention, but it’s quickly counterbalanced by the beefcake version and moves on.”

Siedell: “Now this is classic storytelling. Did you notice the baby was sent to the year 1780? Obviously, the baby has been sent back in time to kill the half-dressed gentleman in the powdered wig. But to what end? To prevent the fourth Anglo-Dutch War? To forestall the looming French Revolution? Or to start it? The commercial is maddeningly vague. Like Malick’s Tree of Life, the viewer is left to come up with his or her own answers. Like what improvements were actually made to the Toyota Camry? We may never know.”

Chevy Sonic, “Sonic Anthem”

Natividad: “The energy behind this was infectious, and the clever partnership with band OK Go, a wildly imaginative digital media darling, didn’t go unnoticed either. I’d have watched it twice and let it sweep me off my feet if Chevy hadn’t begun the Super Bowl with an ad jab at Ford in very bad taste. Have confidence of your convictions, guys. Chevy could’ve ridden OK Go successfully to the finish without kneeing a competitor below the belt – particularly one that, like OK Go, is also beloved on the socnets.”

Hyundai, “Cheetah”

Siedell: “Okay, I like the simplicity of this one. It’s basically coming right out and saying Hyundai owners aren’t too bright. What we’re witnessing here is a Darwin Award winning level of idiocy (all the more impressive since there are no rocket boosters or weather balloons involved). Not only does one guy meet a brutal, bloody death (hilarious), it comes as a result of trying to prove that a Hyundai is faster than a cheetah. Which, according to Wikipedia, tops out at around 65-70 mph.”

BelVita, “Breakfast Police”

Brady: “This spot, which reaches for the funny bone but misses the mark, shows a couple of hapless cops becoming more energetic (but not more efficient or smarter) after trying belVita breakfast biscuits. It’s not particularly memorable and doesn’t get across the biscuit’s selling point of sustained energy, but Kraft is following up with 16 million free samples (including police groups) as part of belVita’s U.S. launch.”

Siedell: “This commercial drives home two points. First, BelVita biscuits are a great way to get energy in the morning. Secondly, if you live in a place like Nebraska, you don’t need energy in the morning because your life is so stupid and boring. Heck, you can’t even handle energy. Which, as a Nebraskan, I find more than a tad offensive. Hello, this is meth country. I think we know how to handle foreign-substance energy bursts, thank you very much.”

TaxAct: “Free to Pee”

Siedell: “This cute little kid doesn’t want to cheat on his taxes. But gosh darn it, sometimes circumstances arise that makes adhering to society’s rules and regulations almost impossible. Like an unfair tax code that regressively punishes the middle class. Or something like that. I guess. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what this kid’s plight has to do with tax software. But I assume he’s sticking it to the man, somehow. Represented here by the unsuspecting little girl at the end. Or something like that.” 

Natividad: “Whoever convinced TaxAct to associate its services with bladder relief did it a great disservice. The idea was witty, but tax time is already so heavy with negative baggage that packing a [urine] metaphor on top was just a straw too much.”

Budweiser, “Eternal Optimism”

Brady: “Budweiser also got more of a lift by not leaking any spots in advance. If the purpose of this spot is to evoke the brand’s heritage and acquaint younger audiences with the updated logo, it succeeds more on the former score than the latter. This commercial was better than the Bud Lite Platinum spots but nowhere near as memorable as the good feeling and goodwill that Bud engendered with the funny ‘Here Weego’ spot.”

Audi, “Vampire Party”

Natividad: Pop culture is drowning in vampires, thanks in no small part to the success of “Twilight” – which, for all its charm, has added embarrassing tropes to beloved vampire lore (“vegetarian” vamps that sparkle in sunlight and climb trees like spidermonkeys, anyone…?). This chill, well-paced ad gives the trend a long-awaited – and curiously good-natured – [expletive]-slap without forgetting what it’s marketing: headlights as strong as daylight itself. We even got some gratuitous sparkle before the last couple of undeadlies burst into flames. Bonus points for the hashtag, #solongvampires.

Dannon, “The Tease”

Siedell: “Is yogurt the secret to John Stamos’ youthful good looks? That’s just one of the subtle implications in this spot. The other being that domestic violence is funny if the man gets hurt. Great idea for Dannon to promote their Greek yogurt line with a Greek-American actor. An even better idea to have Stamos flirting with an attractive woman (original idea was to use fellow Greek-American, George Stephanopoulos). But am I the only one who thinks this commercial could have been even stronger if Stamos was flirting with himself? A second Stamos. Just a thought.”

A previous version of this post misspelled Siedell’s name.

By  |  12:51 PM ET, 02/06/2012

 
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