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The Best Spots of Super Bowl XLVI

Chrysler sneaks up on Super Bowl viewers and delivers a knockout with "It’s Halftime in America." That spot tops our list of the best of Super Bowl XLVI.

Chrysler and agency Wieden + Kennedy demonstrated the power of zagging with their powerful Super Bowl XLVI entry, "It’s Halftime in America."

In a year which saw most Super Bowl advertisers teasing or just straight up releasing their commercials ahead of the game to maximize social media play, Chrysler took a stealthier approach. There were rumors a few days before Super Bowl Sunday that Chrysler might tap Clint Eastwood for its spot, but nothing much else. That element of surprise gave the spot that much more weight when it did hit, so the already unusual film became something that viewers clammed up and paid attention to.

The dramatic two-minute spot, directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, All The Real Girls) opens with a shadowy figure walking through a darkened tunnel in a stadium. It soon becomes apparent from the voice-over who it is—it’s Clint and he’s got a message for America. Some viewers have observed that the spot reads as a political ad (sample copy: "It seems that we’ve lost our heart at times. The fog of discord, division and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead. But after those trials we all rallied around what was right and acted as one.") though there’s no political message. It’s more stump speech and rallying cry. The core metaphor may creak under too much scrutiny, but the writing and overall execution are excellent—especially given the venue and the reading level of the other ads. There’s no Chrysler pitch and few car shots and the spot wraps with a close up of Clint in full "Do you feel lucky?" mode, promising that the world is "gonna hear the roar of our engines."

"Halftime" is a continuation of the "Imported From Detroit" campaign that kicked off during last year’s Super Bowl with a similarly rousing spot starring Eminem (at publishing time, this year’s spot has been removed from YouTube due to a copyright claim by the NFL).

Expect to see more marketers return to debuting their Super Bowl spots in the game in 2013. Too many followed in the footsteps of VW this year, perhaps not realizing that the reason VW "The Force" found so much success last year as a pre-release, was that it was simply a great spot, and bore repeat viewings.

"It’s Halftime in America" was the clear highlight in a so-so Super Bowl year. You could choose to see this year’s Super Bowl as evidence that the ad industry has lost its mojo. Or, you could see the game as reflecting an industry in transition. As we’ve discussed here before, ad contests like USA Today's Ad Meter have tended to dumb down Super Bowl ads over the years, as agencies strive to hit that gag-driven formula that tends to win commercials ranking in the top 10 (a clue as to the link between ad quality and placement in the Ad Meter list: Chrysler’s "Imported From Detroit" placed number 43 last year. Bud’s "Dog Sitter" and Doritos "Pug Attack" tied for first place).

But those contests are becoming less relevant in the social media age—when marketers can measure the impact of their ads via more consumer-direct means. So, while there were still too many "classic," trying-too-hard gags, there were also some brands that seemed to be trying something new. Most of them didn’t make it. But still. This year also saw a few attempts to create social media campaigns around the game that weren’t last-minute add-ons (read about some of the Super Bowl digital/social media efforts here), though not nearly as many as one would expect given the opportunities there.

Chrysler’s a clear number one. Here, some of the other spot highlights of Super Bowl XLVI. They were, in most cases, very distant runners-up and (aside from one pick) they’re all car spots.

2. Volkswagen "The Dog Strikes Back"
Agency Deutsch had an even tougher gig this year than Eli Manning—following up 2011's blockbuster, "The Force." They should win points for not simply doing "The Force" version two, while still continuing the Star Wars theme (albeit in a not quite seamless way) and for essentially creating a two-part commercial, the game spot and a great bespoke teaser, "The Bark Side."
Read about the spot and see credits here.

3. Kia "A Dream Car. For Real Life"

Kia and agency David & Goliath took a maximalist approach in this ad, which depicts his and hers dream sequences. Yes, bikinis, chainsaws, etc. etc. blah blah. But the spot was perhaps rescued from Super Bowl pap-dom by a romantic twist ending, and the agency tried some pre-game stunts that repurposed spot footage, posting, for example, "5 Hours of Adriana Lima Waving A Flag" on YouTube in the lead-up to Sunday. Credit for ambition and use of, um, assets.
See credits here.

4. Chevy Sonic "Stunt Anthem"

Another somewhat pleasant surprise. You might have skipped this one entirely based on the premise, but this spot, from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners served up all the stunts promised in the title with style. The ad features a cameo from the band OK Go and the band has now released a Chevy-backed music video for "Needing/Getting."
See it below.

5. Chevy Silverado "2012"
Maybe it felt a little mean-spirited (especially next to the Chrysler paean to unity) but it was entertaining, and it stirred up some pre-game controversy—GM CMO Joel Ewanick informed the Twitter crowd on Sunday that Ford had asked him, and NBC, to ban the spot. Read about it here.

6. Hyundai "Cheetah"
No, this isn’t the most important brand statement of the game, but this is one of those silly Super Bowl spots that shows that silly can sometimes work. See credits here.

7. Honda "Matthew’s Day Off"
Matthew looks a little sad here, but this Ferris Bueller-themed spot from RPA drummed up massive pre-game hype.

8. Audi "Vampire Party"
Spending all that money to showcase headlights seems odd. Audi and agency Venables Bell & Partners do, however, score points for making a sort of classically funny Super Bowl spot that comments on an entertainment trend (and for the Echo & The Bunnymen track). Read about the spot here.

9. Acura "Transactions"
Car nut Jerry Seinfeld is serviceable in this spot for the not-yet-available NSX. See credits here.

10. Budweiser "Flash Fans"
This would have been our number two pick, but it sort of doesn’t count. As we’ve noted before, the spot, created by Anomaly, didn’t air during the game here; it was created to run during the Canadian Super Bowl broadcast.

Now, go deeper with a look inside the way Gatorade used the Super Bowl setting and the world’s best athletes to create a high-tech pop-up test kitchen.

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  • ex-pat Canadian

    Last time I checked Canada had a Grey Cup not a Superbowl (football) and a the picture that is shown here is hockey which is the Stanley Cup.

  • Jonathan Salem Baskin

    Actually, while as art or entertainment many of the spots might have been ok, they were all consistently horrible as ads. David Ogilvy said "The proof of a great ad is to make the consumer like the product, not the ad itself," or something like that.

    I make my case here:

  • Tom Pick

    Overall, this is a solid list, but how could you have left out Toyota's "reinvent" spot? Along with the Chrysler and Audi commercials, that was one of the most creative and attention-grabbing.

  • Sally Shaheen Joseph

    While I agree with your first choice, I think you overlooked the ad I believe came in second. The M&M ad was so funny, it is the only ad I remember, other than my first choice, "Imported from Detroit" The ad with the dog came in third for me.

    ssj, Flint, Michigan

  • Lynn Epstein

    Reading your analysis and picks and I'm also wondering what happened to the M&M spot it was funny and clever. My ranking "Imported from Detroit", "The Dog Strikes Back", M&Ms and ...yes H&M Beckham - too many tattoos but ...memorable.

  • not god

    agree with everything except Cheetah and Flash Fans... sophomoric, and not in a good way. Swing and a miss.

  • not god

    Sorry, was thinking about another Bud ad for Flash Fans... retracted, that one's not bad.

  • markusfei

    great to see how impulsive the discussions about those ads are every year. 
    Not heaving seen all this year but my impression is that it is not about creativity. Some ads make me think its how to spoil 90s time with a lot of money. As being from EUR I can't follow exactly Handi45´s argument but at least I see a story in that commercial. Well made - with a big budget of course.
    I would love to see a section where creativity can find a space ... 

  • creativity1

    It would be nice to see some more commercials made by women that didn't pander to male fantasies.

  • handi45

    I cannot disagree more. The "Halftime in America" is a bad rip off of Reagan's "Morning in America" ads of 1979.

    The difference is that Reagan was talking about revitalizing America through LESS government command and control of the economy. "Halftime in America" talks about how to revitalize American manufacturing through the government stealing the corporate shares legally owned by private citizens, (not to mention millions of tax payer dollars "loaned" to Chrysler) paying off the unions that had a big hand in the failure of the company to begin with, and then giving the rest away to a foreign company is hardly a sustainable plan for revitalizing American manufacturing.

    Ralph Bagnall

  • David Vawter

    Agreed.  The kneejerk Pavlovian response to a big-name celebrity and the self-congratulatory monologue are mystifying.  Meanwhile, the dollars keep flowing to Italy while the city of Detroit goes into receivership.  No reason to spoil a good urban myth with the truth.

  • EricC

    How could you possibly leave out the Dorito's ad with the dog paying off the master with Doritos for the demise of the family cat?  Guessing Teressa that you're a cat lover without a sense of humor.

  • Teressa Iezzi

     My Rottweiler thinks I have a fine sense of humor.. But yeah, I thought that was the best of the Doritos bunch. And others agree with you- the spot won the USA Today Ad Meter (about which more later here).

  • Bobw

    I thought the VW ad was charming all by itself; the bolted-on Star Wars bit at the end just to refer to last year's ad was unnecessary. They should have used a tag line like, "VW -- worth catching."