Five Qualities That Make A Great Ad
January 30, 2009

818 Tequila Aerial Billboard

The Superbowl has become as much a contest of commercials as a contest of football teams.  Some call it the entertainment of high priced commercials interrupted by a sports event. And for good reason. Each thirty second ad in 2009 will cost $3 million, up from $2.7 million in 2008.  And that’s just the cost of air time. Planning and producing the commercials are extra. With that much money changing hands, we can be sure that much research and many creative minds will go into every commercial. It will be worth watching the Superbowl, even if you don’t like football.

But what makes a memorable commercial? Analyzing Superbowl commercials is a good gauge of this since these have become the most famous. They are even rated as the best – and worst – for each year and through the years. Of course, what is best and worst is a matter of opinion. Perhaps they could be rated on how well they paid for themselves in sales, or how long they are remembered after the dust of the game settles. But instead of trying to pick the best five, let’s analyze five qualities that make a commercial memorable, and, therefore, effective.

First, of course is humor. Everyone likes a good laugh and will watch a commercial over and over if an ad is funny to them. So the funny commercials are often remembered the longest. One example is a FedEx ad. It includes six keys to making a winning commercial. They are obvious, for they are listed in the commercial. Of course, as mentioned in the ad, sex and alluring girls are a used in many commercials but the samples given here show that a good commercial does not have to degrade women. When humor is used in a way to promote the product, it can be effective and tasteful.

The second appeal we might call nobility. In this sample, a horse named Hank wants to meet the criteria for pulling the Budweiser wagon. When he doesn’t meet the cut, his dog friend puts him through a rigorous year long training ending in his acceptance. Not only associating greatness with effort and their product, the commercial appeals to the drive in each person to be excellent at something. Little is said about the product, yet the association with the Clydesdales, and wagon associates effort with success for them as well.

This famous “Mean Joe Green” commercial for Coke features the contrast between the toughness of a football player, and the tenderness of a boy. One person said about this commercial, many still cry when Joe throws the boy his jersey. Contrasts tell a story. You can be great by performing, or you can be great by encouraging someone else on to greatness. Even a child can do that. Watching the Superbowl, those who identify will most likely see themselves in the latter.

The famous eTrade commercials featured the unexpected. In them a toddler speaks with a man’s voice and mannerisms to show how easy it is to buy stock through their program. Special effects make it appear the child is really relating to the audience in this adult way. Unfortunately, in some of the commercials, the child uses inappropriate words which wasn’t necessary.

One of the most famous Superbowl commercials came out in 1984. It is still rated by some as the best of all time. The ad presented the about-to-be-released Macintosh computer as innovation that would defy Orwell’s book 1984 for it would break the stereotype of big brother control (at that time IBM). The commercial presented a destiny beyond the box and appealed to the imagination.

What will be the appeal of the commercials during the next Superbowl? You can be certain that much thought and analysis have gone into them. As you watch the commercials, look for humor, nobility, gentleness, surprise, and destiny in these expensive 30 second entries. Which of these, or other qualities, appeals most to you?