NEW YORK CITY — In the Super Bowl of advertising, Justin Bieber replaced Ozzy Osbourne and Joan Rivers became a GoDaddy girl. But a pair of commercials by automakers took the early trophy for online buzz.
A two-minute ad for Chrysler starring Eminem and a Volkswagen ad featuring a mini-Darth Vader that went viral before it even aired were two of the most talked-about spots during advertising’s big night, the Super Bowl, in which Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25.
Chrysler was one of nine automakers that took advantage of advertising’s biggest and most expensive showcase, at $3 million for 30 seconds, to try to show they’re back after two tough years for the industry.
The cinematic third-quarter Chrysler ad starred Eminem driving through Detroit and introduced a new car, the Chrysler 200 sedan, amid gritty scenes of the city. A voiceover talks about how the city has survived going through “hell and back.”
“This is the Motor City and this is what we do,” Eminem says.
The Chrysler ad was “the big story of the night,” according to NM Incite, a Nielsen/McKinsey Co. that tracks online buzz.
Consumers repeated the “imported from Detroit” slogan over and over in online buzz, the company said.
“It was a very risky commercial, but it scored very well with our panel” that rates the ads, said Tim Calkins, Clinical Professor of Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management.
Another hit was a Volkswagen’s ad that showed a boy in a Darth Vader costume trying to use “The Force” on objects, including the Passat.
“It really wasn’t selling a car, it was selling a feeling, and it tapped into its target market of families very effectively, which you usually don’t see in a car ad,” said Robert Kolt, an instructor at Michigan State University College of Communication Arts & Sciences.
Volkswagen released the ad early on Youtube.com and it had than 13 million views before the game even started.
Elsewhere, celebrities and humor dominated. A scantily clad Kim Kardashian broke up with her trainer for Skechers, Roseanne Barr took a big hit from a log in a Snickers ad and comedian Joan Rivers, her head at least, became a GoDaddy girl.
According to the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter, the best-scoring ads featured dogs: A Doritos ad that showed a man taunting a dog and getting smashed under a glass door, and a Bud Light ad that showed dogs catering a party. The newspaper uses a panel of viewers who rate the commercials as they watch them.
After avoiding the Super Bowl for two years as it went in and out of a government-led bankruptcy, General Motors came back with five ads for Chevrolet. In one ad, a seemingly mundane car dealership ad is disrupted when a Camaro suddenly morphs into the Bumblebee character from the “Transformers” movies.
One miss was daily coupon website Groupon’s fake public service ad with Timothy Hutton, which appeared to be a plea for help for people of Tibet but instead touted a deal from Groupon for fish curry.
While aiming for humor, “It wasn’t a very effective piece of communication and clearly rubbed some people the wrong way,” Calkins said.
A Homeaway.com ad featuring a “test baby” smushed against a window also garnered negative reaction from ad experts and “didn’t resonate with people,” Calkins said.
Some ads, predictably, drew criticism for being entertaining without doing much to sell people on the item being advertised.
Among those was an ad for Lipton Brisk Iced Tea in which an animated Eminem explains why he doesn’t usually do endorsements. He throws a business type off a roof when he refuses to rename the drink “Eminem.”
“It was confusing, and it didn’t say a lot about the product,” Calkins said.
Not all ads went for laughs. Motorola Mobility’s 60-second spot during the second quarter played off of the famous Apple ad “1984.” The dialogue-free Motorola ad shows a world where drones dress all in white and wear Apple iPod-like earbuds and a man uses a Motorola Xoom tablet to free and woo a girl.
The message is that Apple has become an oppressor rather than a liberator, and show Motorola’s tablet as a worthy opponent to Apple’s popular iPad, said Bill Ogle, chief marketing officer of Motorola Mobility.
“A lot of people just try to go for laughs,” he said. “There are all kinds of sex and monkeys and horses (during the Super Bowl), but what we were trying to do is a bit more of a serious story.”