Nostalgia Beats New Media Hype in Super Bowl Ads

In social media circles, the buzz leading up to the Super Bowl was all about digital and social integration in advertising. It’s not just about a funny or explosive TV ad anymore. This is the future. There were ads created and voted on by fans. Brands would be talking about their ad campaign in advance on Facebook and Twitter, leaking sneak previews on YouTube, encouraging viewers to interact with them before, during and after the game in the digital world. A commercial would no longer just a commercial. It would be an ongoing, fully conversational campaign. 2011 would kick off a whole new trend in Super Bowl advertising.

So who came out on top? PepsiCo’s Crash the Super Bowl” spots for Doritos and PepsiMax may have been put there by fans, but they employed the same old, tired slapstick humor: people throwing cans of soda that hit someone in the crotch or head and men who act like cavemen.  Another, more clever,  Doritos ad, “House Sitting,” was good for a laugh, but was it truly memorable?  Both Pepsi Max and Teleflora stuck with the all-men-think-about-is-sex shtick. Groupon, a company with roots in social media, invested in traditional media but revealed that they never took  Advertising 101 and have been subsequently slammed for poor taste.

Only a few brands actually referenced social media or new technology in the ads themselves. Best Buy was a standout, making fun of rapid changes in technology to promote their “Buy Back” program – when you want to upgrade to the newest device, they’ll buy back your old one. They featured the juxtoposition of old and new in the “classic” rock star Ozzy Osbourne and current pop star Justin Bieber. The humor in the ad isn’t forced. It feels authentic because everyone just spoofs themselves — Best Buy spoofing the latest technology, Bieber and Ozzy spoofing themselves. Authenticity. That’s what makes the social media wheel go ’round, doesn’t it?

But really, my friends,  despite all the new media hype, in my book the winner was good old fashioned… Nostalgia. Sure, we’ll always have dumb men and hot women on display, but the ads that I remembered most the following day were those that allowed us to connect with icons of our past. Last year’s most memorable (and most impactful in the long-term) ad featured Betty White, an icon of the pop culture past. This year, Volkswagen’s “The Force” revived Darth Vader through the eyes of a child, connecting many of us with one of the greatest film franchises of the last 30 years. I’m still laughing out loud every time I watch this ad. I’ve watched the Today Show interview with the kid that plays Vader. I’ve watched “The Making Of ‘The Force’“. It was real. It connected with the kid in all of us. And it stuck. The official Volkswagen account has over 28 million views for the video.

Another instant classic was NFL’s “American Family,” a montage of favorite television clips where the characters are getting ready for the Super Bowl. Retrospective montages of classic TV moments pretty much guarantee success. Who doesn’t love watching Seinfeld’s 100th episode, no matter how many times you’ve seen it before? Remember Apple’s “Hello” ad that introduced the iPhone?

So, a word to advertisers for next year: Don’t think forward. Think classic.

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