In the Spotlight - 2014 Super Bowl Ad Showdown

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After the Denver Broncos were comprehensibly beaten 43-8 in yesterday's Super Bowl, some suggested the team needn’t have shown up. Could the same have applied to advertisers?

Research out last month suggested that companies who stump up the estimated US$4m per 30 seconds of Super Bowl ad space may be wasting their money. Apparently, 80% of the commercials shown on the night don't compel consumers to buy what is being sold.

But since when has Super Bowl marketing been about game day?

Not since about 1999, I'd wager. Or at least, not since whenever YouTube came around. Since then, the Super Bowl has been about teasers and previews, about grabbing land in that far more lucrative corner of advertising real estate - the viral video.

No company understands that better than SodaStream, which is why this year, for the second year in a row, its Super Bowl campaign was effectively done and dusted a week before the Broncos and Seattle Seahawks checked in to their New York hotel rooms.

Super Bowl broadcaster Fox rejected the company's initial offering (see above) because it name checked PepsiCo and the Coca-Cola Co. But, as happened last year when SodaStream's debut Super Bowl ad was blackballed for similar reasons, the ad has found a ready audience online. 

In fact, the only real difference between this year's and last year's ad is that the latest one has been reached even more people - 10m YouTube views and counting, compared to about 5m in 2013.

SodaStream claims it wasn't trying to get its ad banned on purpose, but it will be interesting to see what the company does next year. For now, though, SodaStream can congratulate itself on some excellent exposure.

But while SodaStream won the underdog stakes, Super Bowl regular Anheuser-Busch InBev proved it's still the top dog overall.

The brewer's Puppy Love spot for its Budweiser brand was achingly traditional, but according to a social media tracking company cited by Reuters the ad was one of two that created the most online buzz. That it featured Budweiser's photogenic Clydesdale horses and an adorable Labrador puppy gambolling in a sun-lit meadow surely helped.

Budweiser took the other top spot in the buzz charts with another ad that played heavily on emotion, this one showing a real-life US soldier returning home to a parade. 

"We are seeing companies talk about more inspirational topics," a marketing professor told Reuters about the feel-good nature of this year's offerings. "I think this reflects a little bit how people are feeling in the country. People are feeling a little hopeful."

Coca-Cola also aimed for positivity this year, though some of the reaction to its rendition of America the Beautiful sung in string of different languages - including Arabic and Hindi - showed a far uglier side of human nature.

According to the Independent newspaper, the hashtag #SpeakAmerican started trending shortly after the spot aired. One commentator on Twitter reportedly said “Characters in these Cola commercials, from Mexicans to Indians, learn to #SpeakAmerican already! Or better don’t be in em.”

Another reportedly said: “Some terrorist (sic) were singing our song.”

But trust Arnold Schwarzenegger to come to the rescue. The star was in scintillating form in A-B InBev's epic three-and-a-half minute “Whatever Happens” Bud Light ad, shown over two slots. It also featured comedian and musician Reggie Watts as a limousine DJ as well as actor Don Cheadle in a lift with a llama.

Arnie has made a return to movies since his political hiatus as California governor, but this may well be his best work for years. “Prepare to be crushed in tiny tennis,” Schwarzenegger growls as he plays ping pong with a bewildered man caught in a memorable night created for him by the Bud Light brand.

Less memorable was Bud Light's other offering, showcasing the brand's new resealable bottle, that one commentator called “the least inspired commercial of the big game”. 

On the other side of the creativity spectrum was PepisCo's intro for its Pepsi-sponsored half-time show. Its simple premise of using New York as a giant musical instrument was pulled off with real technical and creative flair.

Another spike of inspiration came from Red Bull, which managed to sneak its way into the Super Bowl arena hidden in the folds of video camera maker GoPro's push.

GoPro provided the high definition equipment that filmed Felix Baumgartner's space dive in 2012, so audiences got to see the Red Bull-sponsored stuntman - and plenty footage of the company's logo - in the 30-second ad.

If the Broncos had tried a few more fake plays of that quality they might not have lost so badly.

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