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Super Bowl Ad MVPs -- From Brilliant Bonfires to Dying Embers

Posted Monday, February 4, 2013, at 12:38 PM

What will $126,000 buy you? Exactly one second of air time during Super Bowl XLVII. This year 30-second spots sold for more than $3.8 million. That kind of investment puts momentous pressure on the big brands to break through the commercial clutter with a memorable ad that distinguishes the brand and drives targeted consumers to take action.

To get a bigger bang for their buck, half of the advertisers released teaser ads before the big game. That's up from just a third last year. The goal is get viewers to "shush" the room for highly anticipated ads.

Twenty percent of ads this year were one minute or longer, nearly double the number of long ads just two years ago. Another trend: brands featured everyday people, including their fan-submitted photos and even commercials, in an effort to create greater consumer engagement.

Roughly half of this year's ads contained Twitter hashtags, up from just a handful last year and just one in 2011. Small brands took the big stage like never before, too. Last year, five Super Bowl advertisers put more than 10 percent of their full-year media budgets into the game. Gildan, MiO Fit, Century 21 and 5-Hour Energy are assumed to have similar budgetary allocations.

While smaller businesses may not have the budgets to invest in Super Bowl spots, there are lessons to be learned from the big brands that gambled on the big game. Some were on fire and others just fizzled.

In an online poll conducted by RedRover Sales & Marketing, fan favorites this year included Audi's "Prom," Volkswagen's "Get In Get Happy," and Budweiser's "Clydesdale" commercials. Fan-voted flops included Go Daddy's "Fly the Danica Skies" and "Perfect Match" commercials, as well as Hyundai's "Stuck."

While popularity is important, it doesn't always equate to effectiveness. Here are my top picks from this year's Super Bowl contenders.

RAGING INFERNO -- These brands were on fire, making good use of their Super Bowl investment:

Oreo -- "Whisper Fight" -- New player Oreo's ad depicted a quickly escalating fight among Oreo fans of either the cookie crunch or crème filling, but since the setting was a library, a "whisper fight" ensued. It culminated in a police officer trying to break it up by whispering through his bull horn. The ad reinforced what consumers love most about the brand in addition to delivering an original commercial that truly stood out from the pack.

Budweiser -- "Clydesdale Horses" -- This ad stopped America in its tracks with its heart-tugging story of a horse trainer who raised a Clydesdale foal only to have to let him go to join the other Clydesdales in the big leagues. A sentimental reunion at the end evoked the feelings of nostalgia and adoration much of the country has for the iconic Budweiser brand.

Tide -- "Miracle Stain" -- If the Virgin Mary can appear on a grilled cheese sandwich, then why not former 49er quarterback Joe Montana on a jersey via a salsa stain? This delightful Tide commercial delivered a powerful message -- "no stain is sacred."

SOLID HEAT -- These brands also generated some heat:

Cars.com -- "Wolf" -- This brand reinforces its key differentiator when a couple buying a new car admits to missing the drama of negotiation. The sales rep in turn hands the wife a wolf cub with its over-protective mother not far behind.

Doritos -- "Fashionista Daddy" -- Once again, Doritos inspired budding filmmakers -- everyday consumers -- to create its Super Bowl ads this year. This ad in particular pits a father's love for football against both his desire to make his daughter happy and his love for Doritos. As a result, an afternoon of football turns into a completely different game with a bunch of jocks dressed up for a princess party. The message dads would do anything for their Doritos and their daughters hit home for many.

Dodge Ram -- "God Made a Farmer" -- Reminiscent of Chrysler's "Detroit" ad from last year, this ad -- featuring the voice of Paul Harvey -- evokes a feeling of goodwill for hard-working Americans. And it certainly gets points for originality and compelling imagery.

SMOLDERING -- These brands, sadly, couldn't even muster a flicker of flame:

Go Daddy -- "The Perfect Match" -- Many had high hopes for Go Daddy this year after the brand announced it had determined ads objectifying women didn't sell domain registrations. Unfortunately, a terribly awkward kiss between super model Bar Refaeli and bespectacled "geek" Walter left viewers feeling uncomfortable, unsure what the brand was communicating, and actively trying to erase it from their minds.

Volkswagen -- "Get in. Get happy." -- The basic message was on target for the brand -- VW Beetles make their owners happy. Unfortunately, the delivery vehicle was too controversial for this otherwise conservative brand. A self-professed Minnesotan with a thick Jamaican accent spread joy around an otherwise uninspired office. Considering the financial gamble, it's a shame VW chose a creative path seen by many as racially insensitive.

E-Trade -- "Save Money" -- The talking baby theme has grown tired, and the irony of a spot that cost nearly $4 million to promote how the brand "saves money" just didn't work.

Visit redrovercompany.com/superbowl to view all of this year's Super Bowl ads.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and CEO/Founder of RedRover Sales & Marketing, www.redrovercompany.com. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).

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Lori Turner-Wilson
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Lori spent over 15 years leading corporate marketing and communications divisions in the financial services, hospitality and franchise restaurant sectors. As Director of Target Marketing for the Hampton Hotels brand of Hilton Hotels Corporation, Lori managed promotional, direct and Web marketing, as well as custom publishing, for the brand's franchise system. In her role as Vice President of Employee Communications and Development for First Horizon National Corporation, she managed the corporation's internal culture initiatives, communications, and employee recognition programs. Other positions held include Sr. Communications Director/Corporate Editor for TCBY Enterprises, Inc., and Vice President of Marketing for First National Banking Company. Lori is a founding sponsor and member of the Board of Directors for LaunchMemphis -- an organization committed to developing an entrepreneurial community in Memphis comprised of investors, entrepreneurs and local organizations. In addition, Lori is on the Board of Directors of the Sales and Marketing Society of the Mid-South and on the Advisory Board for the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County. She is a sought-after speaker in the Memphis area, delivering sales and marketing keynote addresses and workshops to organizations like: the Memphis Chapter of the American Advertising Federation, the Sales & Marketing Society of the Mid-South, LaunchMemphis, EmergeMemphis, the Memphis Regional Chamber, the National Association of Women Business Owners, and the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International. Lori holds a B.S. in Marketing from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, in addition to having completed the University of Colorado's School of Bank Marketing and Management. She is the recipient of numerous industry awards including local and district Addy's, Communicator awards, and a Telly. She received recognition as one of the Memphis Business Journal's "Top 40 Under 40" recipients in 2009. Lori also served as a contributing ghost writer for the renowned "Complete Idiot's Guide to Guerilla Marketing." Beyond her passions for marketing and dogs of all shapes and sizes, Lori is an avid traveler, runner and foodie.