NPR: 3 Hidden Themes Of This Year’s Super Bowl Ads

Sharethrough in NPR today — exciting!

Many of this year's Super Bowl ads, like this one from, play off our affection for animals.

Many of this year’s Super Bowl ads, like this one from, play off our affection for animals.

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February 3, 2012

Come Sunday millions of Americans will be watching Super Bowl XLVI. This year’s NFL championship football game features New versus New — England and York. There will be dens of thousands swilling and spilling beer and pontificating about play action passes, blind-side sacks and franchise quarterbacks scrambling in and out of pockets.

But for many nonfans, the football is merely filler material between lavishly expensive commercial advertisements. Research conducted in 2011 by Hanon McKendry showed that more than half of those tuning in want to see the commercials as much as — or even more than — the game itself. They’re hooked by the quick and quirky ministories for a hurried world.

Spots — created after months of planning — can cost several million dollars apiece to air. During the game, people will compare the commercials and contrast the campaigns. They will score the music scores and high-five the hyped-up humor. They will play Super Bowl 2012 Ad Bingo. On this given Sunday, everybody is an ad critic.

Drew Lange, a student at North Dakota State University who has designed a Super Bowl 46 drinking game for Midwest Sports Fans blog, suggests a similar contest for the ads.

“I suppose,” he says, “it would be smart to include ‘drinking rules’ that also cover the commercials, since most times people pay more attention to those than the actual game. This would be like: Take a drink every time a beer commercial comes on. Take three drinks if a commercial includes a baby. Take two drinks if the commercial doesn’t make any sense. Something similar to that.”

Watching the Super Bowl ads every year has become not only a parlor game but an annual checkup of the national zeitgeist. Inevitably, there are new wrinkles and twists, but there are also dependable, underlying eternal verities that recur — and that marketers will milk for time immemorial.

Here are three to watch for in this year’s ads:

1. The quest for our inner child. Americans may talk a good game about looking forward to the future, but we sure can get nostalgic for the past — especially for the way things felt when we were younger.


In this ad, Honda appeals not only to our pasts but to Matthew Broderick’s as well.

“Marketing to the inner child is, I think, a response to wider trends in Western societies: specifically, the growth in complexity of modern society people’s growing anxiety about modern life and the erosion of people’s trust in institutions such as big corporations,” says Jonathan Fletcher, creative director of the global marketing firm Illuminas.

And so big corporations try to appeal to the part of us that has not grown jaded and cynical — about big corporations.

“By evoking childhood,” Fletcher says, “brands can enable customers to regress to a simpler, more innocent time and take temporary shelter from the complexity and stress of adult life.”

In the tradition of the E-Trade babies and Volkswagen’s pint-size Darth Vader, Chevrolet will play to our youthful yearnings during the Super Bowl with its Spy Thriller and OK Go ads. And Honda appeals not only to the pasts of the Gen Xers but to Matthew Broderick’s as well, with the Ferris Bueller homage: “Matthew’s Day Off.”

“It’s a mystery to me why marketers don’t play much more on boomers’ childhood nostalgia,” says Bob Garfield, longtime ad critic for Ad Age. “The smell of Play-Doh. Baseball cards. Baseball-card gum. Chatty Cathy dolls. Where’s the Lone Ranger movie? These are the Proustian madeleines of the Eisenhower administration. They remind us of the past — when we were, you know, happy.” 

2. Our affection for animals. Cats and kittens may rule the Internet, but this year’s Super Bowl is going to the dogs. The ads — from Volkswagen, Chevy, Skechers, Doritos, Toyota and others — promise more pups than a Westminster show ring. (Warning to drinking gamers, do not take a swig every time you see a tail wag. On Monday morning, nothing will help – not even hair of the dog.)


Cats and kittens may rule the Internet, but this year’s Super Bowl is going to the dogs. One example: Volkswagen’s sequel to its popular 2011 Darth Vader ad.

In a doggone wild move, Volkswagen posted acanine chorus trailer on the Internet to introduce its “Dog Strikes Back” ad. The spot (get it?) boomerangs back to boomers because it’s about getting back in shape and, at the same time, in a meta way, creates nostalgia for last year’s Volkswagen ad.

There will be lots of other animals on display as well, including animated polar bears, an inanimate panda, chimpanzees, a cheetah, dancing holographic monkeys, a runaway bunny and swarming bees.

“People like animals,” Garfield says. “If the animals talk, so much the better. This is a very quick way of arresting human attention. In my opinion, the State of the Union address should not begin with the speaker of the House blabbing about ‘high privilege and distinct honor.’ It should begin with a kitten going down a sliding board.”

3. Um, well, uh, sex. And in case you didn’t get the txt msg: Sex sells. Some of this year’s spots are steamier than a pot of lobsters. Fiat, Toyota, Doritos and other companies feature wily women enticing gullible guys to buy products.

True, H&M counters tarts with tats in its ad showcasing a scantily clad, and slinkily inked, “David Beckham.”

But, as usual, Go Daddy sells its services with in-your-face salaciousness. “Who won’t notice a hot model in body paint?” asks one woman in its “Body Paint” ad.


Some of this year’s spots are steamier than a pot of lobsters. H&M appeals to women with this David Beckham ad.

If you are not too deep in a drinking game you might ask: What exactly does a painted naked body have to do with domain names?

“In all the hoopla, we forget football is a game played by young men,” says advertising copywriter Steffan Postaer, who’s perhaps best-known for his Altoids mints curiously strong ad campaigns. “Does it not follow that adolescent humor and sexual innuendo fit right in? Said another way: Boys will be boys.”

The cavalcade of commercials, he says, “is “a lot like a large and raucous class of teenagers all vying to be the class clown — the one who gets the laughs, the attention, the props, even the girl.”

Go Daddy/YouTube

“Who won’t notice a hot model in body paint?” GoDaddy asks.

And that, Postaer says, brings us back to the inner child, and why it’s an underlying theme of Super Bowl ads.

He points to something he wrote a while back: “The older I get the more I realize how important it is to stay connected to my ‘inner child.’ The best creative people do not grow out of it when they grow up. We remain inquisitive like children. Lovers of fun. You see it in our bicycles in the hallway. Our dubious wardrobes. Our playlists. Our flirty snapshots on Facebook. Alas, you also see it in meetings, where we become pouting and defensive, wilting under criticism, frustrated by the grown-ups ruining our fun. I know we can be insufferable.”

Postaer’s blog is called Gods of Advertising and its motto, apropos for understanding the Super Bowl ads, is this: “We make you want what you don’t need.”

Pushing, Patience and Nonlinear Thinking: AdWeek Panel

Awesome to see this write-up on our panel from yesterday in NYC.  More to come!

Pushing, Patience and Nonlinear Thinking: How to Succeed at Viral Video Now

Advertising Week Panel Talks Strategy for Captain Morgan, Audi and Dentyne Campaigns

A scene from 'World Gone Sour,' a Method Man video promoting Sour Patch Kids

Building a successful video virus requires more than clever creative, panelists said during an Advertising Week talk on Thursday entitled “The Viral Business: How Brands Can Create Online Video Hit Machines.”

Buying a TV spot delivers a big crowd of consumers all at once, for example, but audiences for web video take time to accumulate as pass-along and social media build. So patience is often a necessary virtue in planning and gauging branded video endeavors, said George Smith, senior manager-social activation strategy and execution for PepsiCo. The company’s first video with the humor site Funny or Die to promote Pepsi Max in Australia and the U.K. generated fewer than 100,000 views, but the audience had doubled by the 10th video, he said. Continue reading

The Future of Media is Content, Not Ads

Got to write up a cool article today for Mediapost’s “Future of Media” series about the future of content, not ads and the power of “native monetization.”  Check it out!

Publishers Take Note: The Future of Media is Content, Not Ads

by Dan Greenberg, 9/29/2011

The future of media will be content, not ads. That’s because even with the many innovations around traditional online advertising units such as banner and pre-roll, consumers have developed a knack for ignoring interruptive advertising experiences that deliver standard, unwanted ads. And as I recently noted in this MediaPost article about online ad spending, brands have recognized this dynamic and are now making major investments in long-form and viral video content that has the potential to engage and inspire audiences. Top agencies are now even hiring directors of earned media to amplify the reach and impact of this content. Continue reading

NYC Ad Week Panel: The Viral Business

If you’re in NYC next week, you’re invited to Sharethrough’s all-star-studded Advertising Week panel!  The list is invite-only, so email me if you want me to put your name on there.

The Viral Business: How Brands Can Create Online Video Hit Machines


Tom Herbst, Director of Marketing, Rums at Diageo

George Smith, Sr. Manager, Social Activation Strategy and Execution,PepsiCo

Jackson Jeyanayagam, Vice President of Digital Strategy, Taylor

Adam Pincus, Managing Partner, Director-Content, Mediacom

Dan Greenberg, CEO and Co-Founder, Sharethrough Continue reading

Five Signs Social Video Is Closing The Online Ad Spending Gap

Check out this perspective piece I wrote for Mediapost today on the social video market.  We’ve been talking a lot recently about brand content (not ads) and discovery (not interruption), and the future of “native monetization” (not boxes on pages).  With Facebook and Twitter leading the charge on integrated, content-driven brand advertising products, this market is at the tipping point.

Here’s to the end of interruption!

Glad to see this has struck a chord on Twitter and beyond.  Plus it’s always fun to get the Mediapost “Most Read” award, even if just for a moment. :)

Five Signs Social Video Is Closing The Online Ad Spending Gap

by Dan Greenberg, Yesterday, 5:00 PM

We’ve long heard about the sizable gap — currently estimated at $60 billion — between what marketers spend on brand advertising on the Web, and the amount of time and attention that has shifted to the Internet.  And while the growth of both social media and online video advertising has quickly put a dent in this number, we’ve yet to see the watershed moment.

Social video may prove to be the missing link.   Continue reading

Numbers for Social Video Exploding

Originally posted on Digiday by Mike Shields on 8/31/11


A three-year-old San Francisco, Calif. startup you’ve probably never heard of is now the seventh biggest video property on the Web.

In fact, according to comScore’s latest video report, in July Sharethrough reached 97 million unique users. That’s nearly four times as many as Hulu, and close to double Facebook’s, Yahoo’s and Microsoft’s numbers. In fact, based on its impressive reach, it’s one of the few companies in shouting distance of YouTube, and it’s also in range of several of the top mega-video ad networks.

So what exactly is Sharethrough?  It’s a leading company in the emerging “social video” space, its founders say.  

Along with Unruly Media and Jun Group, Sharethrough is one of several firms claiming to manage vast distribution networks for video content and ads. 

Some of these companies claim they’re able to push video to thousands of sites but can’t say exactly which sites they work with. Regardless, they promise to deliver brands thousands of video views. So how is that not a video ad network exactly?

“This is a platform for distribution,” said Sharethrough CEO Dan Greenberg. “This is for brands creating content for the Web. But there are no pre-roll ads. This is about a human being clicking on a video because they want to view it.” 

Comscore’s First YouTube Rankings

Comscore now tracking YouTube channels like regular TV.  Pretty cool glimpse of the future.

Top 10 channels via AdAge’s release (click here to see rankings of all YouTube channels):

YouTube Channel 
Uniques (000) 
Videos/ Viewer 
Minutes/ Video 
YOUTUBE.COM* 158064.57 114.3 3.1
VEVO 59708.68 14.1 4.7
Warner Music 31251.43 6.3 4.5
Machinima 16925.82 15.7 4.6
Demand Media 15222.32 3.0 4.0
Maker Studios 11445.24 8.9 4.3
Revision3 7593.84 3.4 4.6
Clevvertv 7301.64 2.4 4.3
Associated_Press__AP_ 6580.30 2.2 3.8
IGN 5863.12 3.7 4.4
Next New Networks 4771.56 4.4 4.0
Discovery Communications 3831.53 2.8 4.1
Break Media 3727.32 2.9 4.1
Hearst Television Inc. 3102.47 2.1 4.0
Smosh 3051.76 8.8 4.3

Continue reading