Who Won the Night? Best & Worst Ads of the Super Bowl

First Posted: 02/04/13 EST Updated: 02/04/13 EST

By Frank Luntz and Chris Kofinis

Super Bowl XLVII is over and while we may long remember the blackout and a miraculous near comeback by the 49ers, it will be hard to forget some of those commercials –- for better or worse.
The best ads of the Super Bowl opened strong and closed even stronger. They used humor in a creative way that treated the audience as smart, rather than playing for the cheap laugh. They sought to inspire by going for the heart. And one, in particular, achieved greatness by marrying the perfect song with inspiring images and story that spoke loudly … even though no words were spoken.
As for the ads that didn’t fare so well, they either tried too hard or were so patently unoriginal that they were painful to watch. You know the ones: stale ads featuring celebrities that in some cases achieved the immortal distinction of being so memorable for being … so bad. Or the ads which played the sex card and succeeded in dividing men and women.
But enough with the play-by-play, let’s find out which spots our AOL dial session focus groups -- equally divided betweeen men and women –- scored as the best and worst of Super Bowl XLVII.

The Worst Ads

Calvin Klein Underwear - For Turning People Out

The two worst ads, not surprisingly, played the sex card so obnoxiously that they succeeded at one thing: alienating men and women. Take the Calvin Klein men’s underwear ad, for example. The group was unanimous in concluding that the ad made 'no sense at all,' and may even lead men to prefer going commando over buying this underwear. In fact, with men, this spot hit such lows that one had to wonder whether the goal here was to have women buy the underwear, because men, based on their reactions, won’t. However, based on the women’s reactions, they won’t either.

GoDaddy.com “Super Model Make Out” – For Making Kissing Disgusting

While Calvin Klein’s spot may have been ranked the worst by the group, it was a close contest with perennial Super Bowl ad presence GoDaddy. In fact, on the gross scale, GoDaddy may have redefined the standard of how to effectively alienate women. While men liked the ad more, not surprisingly, women outright HATED it. As one female in the group said, “it wasn’t so much the visual, it was the sounds of the kissing.” On the plus side, everyone agreed that it was one of the worst ads, but that it did achieve the infamy of being the ad people will MOST talk about after the big game -– but for all the wrong reasons. Dishonorable Mention: GoDaddy’s Danna Patrick spot.

Subway “Jared’s 15 Years” & “FebruANY” & Budweiser “Black Crown” - For Worst Bang for the Buck

The next two spots –- Budweiser’s “Black Crown” beer and the Subway “Jared & FebruANY” -- were, on the scale of cost effectiveness, among the worst of the worst. The Budweiser ad’s party images just didn’t relate at any level with anyone in the group –- and this group ranked beer ads as some of their favorite spots from past Super Bowls. The Subway ads were seen as tired and unoriginal. As one group member put it: Is the best you got another Jared spot?
All in all, while they may not have been ranked as the single worst spots of the Super Bowl, given the number of times these ads aired, they failed to connect the first, second, or third time. Which leads us to ponder a new rule to be added to our “8 rules for successful Super Bowl ads." Don’t spend millions airing unoriginal ads again and again.
Instead, companies need to remember this is the Super Bowl. Viewers want to see something smart, bold, and different -– once! Repeat showings of the same spot don’t increase the impact, even if it is a great ad. Even worse, it can be an outright and costly disaster if you spot fails to connect with a very demanding Super Bowl audience.

Dishonorable mention: Pepsi Next. Scientology – For Turing People Off in the last 3 seconds.
Airing a religion spot is difficult under the best of circumstances -– it’s football, and people don’t want to think about religion. The Scientology spot backfired because it was misleading; it was scoring about average right until the end when it became finally clear that this ad was about scientology … at which point the dials nose-dived. While the general consensus was this ad was out of place during a football game, it failed because folks felt they were tricked. The lesson? The last 3 seconds can indeed sink you.

The Best Ads

For Making Us Feel So Good, We Cry – Budweiser’s Clydesdale
Budweiser may have had one of the worst ads of the big game, but oh boy did they redeem themselves with this instant classic. Not a word was spoken in this spot, but the images of a horse and a man who raised him, coupled with a perfectly matched Stevie Nicks' song, made this ad stand out among the crowd. Need proof? Six people, including two guys, teared up during the ad. Why? Because the group –- men and women both -- loved the emotion of simple story communicated with powerful visuals married to a memorable and moving song. Honorable Mention: Jeep’s Vets Come Home.

For Helping Every Parent Explain Where Babies Come From - Kia’s Where Baby’s Come From
Great ads, whether they are gimmicks or not, tell a story that you can relate to while highlighting the product (a family car) it sells. This spot did so with humor, sheer creativity and rare panache. What was so brilliant was that this spot took on one of the most difficult stories (how do you tell your young child where babies come from?) but didn’t make people feel awkward in doing it. Folks were laughing out loud, right to the end. In fact, it succeeded because, as one focus group member put it: “People could see themselves reacting just like the parents in the ad.” Make no mistake: if you can make people watching a commercial feel like that during the Super Bowl – you just made a great ad. Honorable Mention: M&M’s Sing.

For making Chaos Look so Funny - Oreo’s “Cookie vs. Cream” Whisper Debate
This ad was one of the first to air during the game, and even after a sea of commercials -– not to mention a blackout delay (what was that again?) this spot stood out among the crowd. Why? It was humorous and rooted in razor sharp creativity. A whisper battle? Whoever thought that up was thinking effectively outside the box, and the execution connected brilliantly. People laughed, and laughed and laughed again. The focus group loved how it took the very idea of chaos and turned it upside-down and made it, well, pretty darn funny. Honorable Mention: Tide’s Miracle Montana Stain.

For Being Smart on How You Use Celebrities – Samsung’s Galaxy
For the most part, the celebrity spots either tanked or didn’t stand out during the Big Game, but this one did better than most. Why? Because it made celebrities look and sound real and funny at the same time. It used two main celebrities, Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen (with an appearance by Lebron James and Bob Odenkirk) who focused more on poking fun at themselves than trying to remind you that they are … celebrities. This hilarious spot reinforces an important lesson: (we’re speaking to you Mercedes, Best Buy, and Milk spots) If you want to use celebrities to make your product stand out, play against type. People expect the loud, brash, and funny celebrities, but when you make people laugh at celebrities acting real, now that is a memorable accomplishment. Honorable Mention: NFL Redrafting of Deion Sanders.

Looking back, there were some surprises, and yes, some ads –- including the worst ones -– that we expected (I mean c’mon, GoDaddy loves being the most divisive ad). But much like we predicted, the companies that followed our 8 rules did extremely well, while those that didn’t failed because they either didn’t stand out or -– even worse -– stood out for all the wrong reasons.
But for now, we can all sit back, remember a great football game, and ponder who will come up with something new, creative, funny and inspirational during next year’s Super Bowl. We can’t wait.

Frank Luntz is President of Luntz Global. He has advised companies on Super Bowl ad campaigns and tested
Super Bowl ads for major news networks.

Chris Kofinis is a communications consultant and has advised Fortune 500 corporations on messaging and