Marketing feats and fumbles from Super Bowl 50

After manning - no pun intended! - PRWeek's Twitter account during Super Bowl 50, Frank Washkuch picks the ads that made his night, as well as readers' favorites.

There were some fumbles during Super Bowl 50, and I mean beyond the six turnovers committed by the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers on the field.

As is the case every year, some brands tried to be funny and fell flatter than the Panthers’ offense. Others struck the wrong tone. Some were actually funny. And others ambitiously tried to appeal to people’s better nature and hit their marks.

Let’s start with them.

There’s a fine line between creating an emotional ad that resonates with audiences and taking advantage of nostalgia for a recently deceased celebrity icon, but Audi pulled it off, using David Bowie’s song Starman in the most memorable ad of the night. The @PRWeekUS Twitter handle – I confess: that was me live-tweeting – received a few complaints of opportunism, but marketing experts I spoke with gave the ad high marks.

Kudos to Jeep for appealing to viewers’ sense of patriotism with its striking and well-written black-and-white Portraits ad, which reached back through the brand’s history from Jurassic Park to  D-Day.

On to the issues ads.

No Clydesdales this year for Budweiser, which instead ran a spot featuring actress Helen Mirren, overflowing with gravitas, imploring viewers not to drink and drive.

A worthy message, sure, but I initially wondered whether the humorous copy was too light for such a serious issue (or if Mirren would touch a Budweiser in the first place). Twitter users set me straight.

Of course, Budweiser ended up getting more than $3 million in free advertising after the final seconds ticked off the clock when winning quarterback Peyton Manning mentioned the brand twice in post-game festivities.

That sent Anheuser-Busch marcomms chief Lisa Weser scrambling to correct the record on Twitter, though she couldn’t have minded too much.

Props to the toothpaste brand for trying to get its customers to waste less water while brushing their teeth, a worthy message.

However, I questioned whether the ad missed its mark by running just before the two minute warning in the fourth quarter, just as the Broncos got the game in hand and many viewers, especially those in the Carolinas, turned it off. I asked Twitter. A mixed reaction followed.

Other brand messages just felt out of place. Cure Auto Insurance’s "dying dad" was more morbid than funny. (Every brand should have learned from Nationwide last year that killing off the actors in your ads isn’t a good look).

The OIC Is Different ad team forgot that viewers probably don’t want to hear about constipation while binging on beer, chips, and guac at a Super Bowl party.

Same for the Xifaxan team. Animals are great mascots; pink intestines are not.

And I think most of us would like to forget the spot starring former football stars Deion Sanders, Phil Simms, and Howie Long for toenail fungus prescription Jublia.

Speaking of walking a fine line, ads by Heinz and Avocados from Mexico were solid, funny Super Bowl ads that delivered chuckles. Meanwhile, Mountain Dew created nightmares with puppy monkey baby.

You’re on the clock, brands. Only 52 weeks until Super Bowl 51.

Frank Washkuch is news editor at PRWeek.

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