Chimps, bikinis, cold beer, fast cars… I love the Super Bowl!

By SEAN BENTON

The Super Bowl is bigger than the game of football, and I’m not talking about the halftime wardrobe malfunctions and ‘70s rock acts.

I’m talking about the commercials. Super Bowl Sunday is the one day of the year when people not named Don Draper embrace advertising unabashedly. When DVRs get set for the ads. When Joe the Plumber runs to the fridge during the football so he can make it back to watch the commercials.

This phenomenon has been strongly reinforced to me over the past week or so. It began with an email I received from Marketing Charts, a service we subscribe to at our agency.

According to its research, 72 percent of viewers consider Super Bowl commercials to be entertainment. Seventy-two percent! Huge. It would be hard to get 72 percent of Super Bowl viewers to agree that dogs are cute and talking babies are creepy. (Did you hear that, E-Trade?)

Confirmation of the craze doesn’t end there.

A teaser — yes I said teaser — for Volkswagen’s Super Bowl commercial had nearly 12 million views on YouTube by Saturday. CNN, the “Today Show” and countless other programs spend millions of dollars in air time previewing — yes I said previewing — commercials. And if you Googled Matthew Broderick on Saturday — yes I said Matthew Broderick — three of the top five organic listings were for his Honda CR-V commercial reprising Ferris Bueller.

Most telling, Honda’s competitor Mazda bought the top paid placement on the Google results page for Broderick. It reads: “It’s a Fun Commercial. But we have a better option.” The link lands you on a microsite for Mazda’s SUV. When competitors start using black ops tactics to infiltrate your mega millions ad buy, that’s saying something.

Question is, is it all worth it? The average national Super Bowl advertising package costs around $4 million. I’m not sure what stars like Broderick get paid, but it’s likely seven figures. Even spots like Career Builders’ (man, I love chimps) are expensive to produce — probably around $1,000,000 when all is said and done.

And, you know what? Thanks largely to the World Wide Web, it’s worth every penny for these big brands.

Yes, the Internet has given advertisers a platform for leveraging the millions they spend on the production, movie stars and air time. It’s also created a hyper-media market where everyone from the Huffington Post to the “Today Show” is vying to grade, dissect, report on and gush over the commercials.

Calculate the viewership, public relations value, social networking pass along, YouTube views and extraordinary buzz that brands get for no other reason than they are running an ad on the Super Bowl, and it may be the bargain of the year.

As an advertising agency working in a small market, we often get asked if the Super Bowl is something local companies can benefit from.

Absolutely.

You’ll get the best ratings of the year, people will be more likely to watch your ad, and you won’t pay anywhere near $4 million.

For example, in Missoula this year airing a local spot on the Super Bowl cost in the range of $1,500 to $3,500. To get the most for that money, you’ll want to produce the spot well (remember the ads you’re being compared to in the moment), which ups the budget ante.

Still, it can be more than worth it. Local Super Bowl buys have been very successful for our clients in the past. We can easily track increased website hits and following-week sales to the awareness generated by a spot on the big game, even one that’s only run once.

All of that assumes the spot is good, relevant and touches some kind of emotional chord.

Amid all the hype, hoopla, and dollar signs, the best ideas still stand out. And there were several good ones for Hyundai (Cheetah), Doritos (Great Dane), Chrysler (Eastwood), and Fiat (Super Model).

But here are the three Super Bowl spots that stuck with me in the end, including my favorite, which only aired in Canada but I caught online. You can see them and lots of other Super Bowl commercials at superbowlcommericals.org.

  • A still from VW's 2012 super bowl ad.VW’s Dog Strikes Back — This spot is not a classic like the Darth Vader kid. But it is a fun story, well-produced and engaging. Personally, I think the online teaser The Bark Side is even better. Viewers online must agree, since The Bark Side has four times theviews.
  • Kia Optima Dream Car — I love how over-the-top this spot is. It’s got Motley Crue, a stadium filled with bikini-clad women, a cowboy riding a rhinoceros and two lumberjacks sawing a giant hoagie. It’s bombastic fun that screams, “Super Bowl!!!” and still manages to show off the car.
  • A shot from the Canadian Budweiser Super Bowl ad.Budweiser Canada Flash Fans — This is great advertising any day of the week. Budweiser gives the gift of “the big time” to two amateur Canadian hockey teams. Authentic and touching, it champions a reason people drink beer — to celebrate sporttogether.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Dannon Oikos commercial featuring John Stamos, the Teleflora commercial featuring Adriana Lima, and the Acura commercial with Seinfeld didn’t do it for me.

The reasons? They had few surprises (or bad ones) and the stars outshine the brands, rather than enhancing them.

Which brings me back to Ferris Bueller and Honda. From the buzz online, it was clearly a big winner in the free-media sweepstakes, and I have to admit I enjoyed the commercial in a nostalgic way. Still, I couldn’t help but think that when the valet catches air in Broderick’s CR-V the whole thing had, well, jumped the shark.

But then, maybe that’s what Super Bowl advertising is really all about.

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Sean Benton is an agency principal and creative director at PartnersCreative in Missoula, Montana. When not thinking creative strategy for his clients, he might be thinking about his Labrador puppy and bird hunting. Check out PartnersCreative website to see all of theirwork.