NEW YORK (AP) — A timely Tweet that was praised. A story of a baby Clydesdale growing up that tugged at heart strings. A Jamaican accent that caused controversy.
In the world of advertising, any publicity can be good publicity. The goal is get people talking. And there’s no bigger stage in advertising than the Super Bowl, which for the last few years has been one of the most-watched events in U.S. TV history with more than 100 million viewers tuning in.
Companies spend millions to create Super Bowl ads that they hope will have people gabbing around the water cooler the next day. But the holy grail is keeping them talking weeks, months and even a year later.
This year, dozens of big companies from Pepsi to Chobani are spending an estimated $4 million for a 30-second spot during Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday in hopes they’ll do just that. But as they gear up for the biggest day in advertising, they can take lessons from some of the most talked-about Game Day ads last year.
Here’s a look back at how those ads came to be, and what the companies that created those spots plan this year:
VOLKSWAGEN GOES REGGAE
Sometimes ads are better known for their controversy. Take Volkswagen’s “Get Happy” for the VW Passat Super Bowl last year.
The company’s ad last year depicts the life of a white middle American office employee so happy he drives a Passat that he starts speaking in a Jamaican accent, much to the consternation of his co-workers. “It got a lot of laughs in testing and to be honest within the Volkswagen office itself,” he said.
The company says it was looking for a way to convey the idea that when you “see the world through the lens of Volkswagen, things get a little rosier,” said Justin Osborne, general manager of brand and marketing communications for Volkswagen.
The concept came about because there was no new car model to introduce, so the company decided to focus on the optimistic nature of VW users. The company considered five other ad concepts, but Osborne said the Jamaican ad was the clear winner in the way that it showcased the message in a funny, easy-to-understand manner.
So the company, which released the ad before the Super Bowl, was surprised when it generated a flurry of controversy. Some people said it bordered on racist because it portrayed the Jamaican accent as a caricature. “It felt like a risk but a pretty small one,” Osborne said.
The furor was quelled, however, by Jamaicans. “Very quickly, the Jamaican tourism board and Jamaicans themselves came to our side and said it was not an issue,” Osborne said.
In fact, Scott Vazin, vice president of VW brand communications, said the flap might have actually worked to the brand’s benefit. “It helped boost our message,” he said.
This year, Volkswagen is planning another humorous ad: It shows a factory where Germans sprout wings every time a Volkswagen passes 100,000 miles to a catchy tune. The company also plans to increase its social media presence.
“DUNK IN THE DARK”
Last year’s Super Bowl taught advertisers the power of a good defense. One of the most memorable Super Bowl ads was a spur-of-the moment social media post by Oreo that went viral.
When a blackout hit the stadium early in the third quarter last year, Oreo was prepared to create instant social media content because the cookie maker and its digital agency 360i had been working on a campaign for Oreo’s 100th anniversary. The campaign featured a different ad every day that responds to news events for 100 days.
“We knew how to seize that moment,” said Janda Lukin, senior director on Oreo at parent company Mondelez.
About 10 people at a 360i’s social media command center in New York immediately huddled with others on the phone. Ideas flew back and forth. Ten minutes later, the ad was out on Twitter and Facebook. No one recalls who came up with the ad, which featured an image of an Oreo in partial darkness and the tagline “You can still dunk in the dark.”
In the first hour, the ad had more than 10,000 retweets on Twitter and 18,000 likes and 5,000 shares on Facebook. “We didn’t realize how far it was going to go,” said 360i CEO Sarah Hofstetter.
Even with the success of the spot, this year, Oreo is sitting out the big game. In 2013 the Super Bowl was the best channel to kick off Oreo’s “Cookie vs. Creme” campaign, but this year the company says it’s using other channels as its marketing evolves.
Some Super Bowl themes never seem to grow old for viewers, as Anheuser-Busch learned last year.
The beer maker, which is known for using Clydesdales in ads, last year depicted a Clydesdale growing up with his trainer and then recognizing him years later during a parade in Chicago in a spot called “Brotherhood.” Fleetwood Mac’s ballad “Landslide” played in the background.
It wasn’t easy to orchestrate that ad’s emotion. One problem: the company had to wait for a baby Clydesdale to be born after the ad was conceived the summer before.
The company has a horse farm near St. Louis, Mo., where it keeps about 50 Clydesdales. Two mares were in the final stages of a mares’ 11.5 month pregnancy at the appropriate time, but they weren’t sure which Clydesdale would be born first.
Next, the company considered hundreds of actors to find one who was comfortable around horses. After all, one shot shows the actor sleeping in a barn next to the Clydesdale. “It has to be someone who has grown up around horses, these horses are gigantic. They’re super gentle, but if you move the wrong way you’re going to get stepped on,” Anomaly partner Mike Byrne said.
The work paid off. The spot resonated with fans and was named the top ad of the game by USA Today’s AdMeter, an annual ranking of Super Bowl ads.
This year, Anheuser-Busch is sticking with the “cute” theme for its Clydesdale spot, with “Puppy Love,” an ad about a friendship between a Clydesdale and a puppy.