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Retail marketing veteran talks trends, surprises and the very best of Super Bowl XLVII commercials

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The big game is over. After a night where a record-setting 179 million people watched the Ravens and 49ers battle it out, millions of us will spend time posting on our social networks and chatting with our friends and co-workers about what happened on the field and, more importantly, what we saw during breaks in the game.

According to our survey, 26 percent of Super Bowl viewers tuned in primarily for the commercials, and as the new head of NRF's marketing and advertising division, I was one of them. I certainly had my personal favorites, as what would the Super Bowl be without the E*TRADE baby, Clydesdales and our patriotic moments, but aside from watching the ads, I also enlisted the help and dialogue of my social networks. Not only was I getting plenty of live opinions on my feed, my friends were also telling me the reaction of the people they were with, even whether something resonated (or didn’t!) with guys or girls. The game felt very social for me, as I was sharing it in person, just not physically.

The brands are certainly tapping in to social media and who had my favorite tweet? Oreo, during the power outage; “You can still dunk in the dark”!

For a deeper dive into the trends, surprises, and best of the night (aside from what ended up being a close game before the Raven's win), I turned to the Retail Advertising & Marketing Association’s Chairman of the Board – Kevin Brown. After years of marketing for Meijer, Sears and Jo-Ann Stores, Brown has an eagle eye for the best and brightest of TV advertising. Following a night of enthusiastic cheering and booing with family, friends and neighbors, he still had it in him to answer a few of my questions about the most important part of the game – the commercials.

Which ads were the most creative or thought-provoking?

I think it is tough for a non-cause related brand to be considered thought-provoking. Driving cars, drinking soda, and eating salty snacks are not exactly deep thoughts. Kia, Audi, Toyota, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and Doritos each had some wonderfully creative commercials, but in the end they were ultimately trying to sell me something. There was one that stood out for me. The ad by SodaStream showed that if we used their product, we would have saved 500 million plastic bottles just during the Super Bowl. It was an astonishing figure and made me think twice.

The campaign that I thought was one of the most creative was JELL-O giving away pudding to San Francisco this Tuesday. JELL-O decided to focus on the Super Bowl runner-up and consoling them with sweet snacks. Eat up, San Francisco!

A number of companies released their Super Bowl ads early this year. Has that been effective? Do you see that trend sticking around in the future?

Besides when you release your ad, there are several other factors that determine whether it will be effective or not. That being said, the genie is out of the bottle on releasing ads before Super Sunday and that will likely be the norm going forward. It is a great platform for brands to get their message out there, especially for those that couldn't or didn't invest in a :30 second ad in the Super Bowl itself.

On the flip side, I had seen most if not all the ads before the game so didn't feel as compelled to pay as close of attention during the game. At some point that may become a factor, but not likely any time soon since the Super Bowl is one of the world's biggest media events.

Social media has added a new component to a long tradition of Super Bowl television advertising. Which brands most effectively leveraged social along with their TV ads?

There were several brands that used their TV ads and video to point to social outlets for more content, but I have to give the nod to Coke for their chase campaign. My daughter is 4 years old and spent every day for the past week watching the tease ad of the Cowboys', the Badlanders' and the Showgirls' race for Coke in the desert. She was rooting for the Showgirls all the way and noticed all the sabotages for the other teams, laughing at the horses stopping at the red light and the Badlanders jumping rope. She asked her pre-school class, teachers and principal all to cast their votes. She tried so hard to stay up until after the game to see who won the prize, but the power outage put it just out of her reach. But the family definitely DVR'd it for her so she could watch the finale. Thankfully the Showgirls won (spoiler alert in case you fell asleep and missed it!). This year, Coke nabbed another generation.

Put yourself in the shoes of the average consumer. Did any commercials make you want to buy a product or research a company?

There were several commercials that I thought broke through and would prompt some segment of the audience to take some action whether that be research or purchase. Interestingly, they all did it with a different hook, but the common thread was that they evoked a strong emotion. Here are a few that really stood out to me:

  • Jeep/USO - Who didn't find this spot stirring their national pride? The toughest thing that Jeep was up against was that their spot aired right after a high-energy show by Beyoncé, meaning they needed to grab folks and move their emotions in a short time. I know I Googled both Jeep and USO right after the spot aired.
  • Audi Prom Night - Okay, this one was just fun, especially for any guy that didn't have the confidence to ask the girl out that they always wanted to. Also, how cool was the kid's dad? I'd love to be able to offer up an Audi for my son's prom, but might make sure he has some basic self-defense moves down first. I'm checking out the new A-6.
  • Go Daddy YourBigIdea.CO -  I've been watching these commercials for years and still have difficulty understanding how the ads demonstrate what product or service they offer to customers. This one connected more directly to what their product and services are, and of course ended with an edgy punch line. Their other spot with Bar Refaeli kissing a 'nerd' was just flat out uncomfortable. I also heard it took a lot of takes to get the 'kiss' right. Like it or hate it, I now know that Go Daddy is the leading domain name registrar in the world and has an exclusive relationship with OfficeMax to reach even more small businesses and entrepreneurs.
  • Bud Light Superstitions - Probably because I'm from New Orleans, but I really appreciated the care this advertiser took to capture the local flavor. The ad took advantage of the Super Bowl being in New Orleans and leveraged their current campaign of 'it's only weird if it doesn't work'. It didn't hurt to have Stevie Wonder and Zoe Saldana starring in the ad either. I'm pretty sure that lucky chair isn't so lucky anymore.

Our research shows that more than three-quarters of those watching the Super Bowl see TV commercials as entertainment. Is that how the brands see their ads?

Not at $3.8 million for a 30-second spot plus the creative and production expense. Yes, the Super Bowl is absolutely the opportunity to showcase a brand's creative strength, but these campaigns need to hit some marketing and business metrics that will lead to profitable growth.

It's great that many people tune into the game just to watch the commercials, however each brands needs to understand whether it is helping or not.