It wasn't a total bust (the $12.79 Doritos commercial lives on), but last year's powerhouse Super Bowl advertising trend—user-generated commercials—petered out pretty quickly.
In its place this year several sponsors seem to have gone the opposite route. Under Armour, GoDaddy.com, Victoria's Secret and Salesgenie.com are all producing their Super Bowl spots in-house. So is the NFL, which in 2007 opened its ad creation process to the entire Web.
In the case of GoDaddy and Salesgenie, the companies are run by their strong-willed, high-flying founders, entrepreneurs who built their businesses from nothing and tend to operate outside the standard parameters of advertising. Well, that's a nice way of putting it: They're usually nightmare clients.
A first-timer last year, Salesgenie's ad, "Pearce," was so preposterously flat and infomercial-like that I thought it was a parody. I kept waiting for the payoff and the laugh, but there wasn't one. But you can't argue with results: Widely disparaged as the worst ad on the Super Bowl, the little PowerPoint-presentation-that-could resulted in 25,000 registrations to the Web site within the next 24 hours, according to the company. (That's customers signing up, not just hits.)
This year Salesgenie is spending about a quarter of its entire budget on the big game. Back with three spots, including one in the pre-game, the company's strategy seems to be screw the whole ad meter thing; bad ads sometimes equal great PR.
"I know who the customers are and what resonates with them," Salesgenie founder Vin Gupta, who again conceptualized and wrote his ads this year, told USA Today. "These are not great ads, but they are good enough.'' (Oddly, Donald Trump has said almost the exact same thing about his hair.)
Or bad enough. Apparently, the company is openly courting the "worst ad" title once again, while getting much better prepared than it was last year to service the flood of responses.
Although they are bad, these latest Salesgenie ads are possibly not the worst. This year's spots are animated, so in that way they are a league above the bad-linoleum look of last year's work. These are like The Simpsons without the humor and irony. The writing should bring a flood of protest from ethnic Americans. But comedian Carlos Mencia's multi-accented Budweiser ad was a hit last year, so what do I know?
"Sales Hero" features an Indian guy named Ramesh who speaks heavily accented English and has seven kids with his sari-clad wife. (Apu on The Simpsons has 10 kids and an arranged marriage.) His boss threatens to fire him if he doesn't double his sales. He uses Salesgenie and, voila, becomes Salesman of the Year.
The animation, outsourced to Mint, San Francisco, is quite good, so the cartoon aspect helps the pitiful story line. (It has a similar feel to Esurance.) Another spot, set at an ailing bamboo furniture store in China, uses pandas with amazingly racist Chinese accents. In this case, Ling Ling gets 100 free leads at Salesgenie and saves the day.
GoDaddy, an Internet domain name company that ran its first Super Bowl spot in 2005, would seem to be in a similar critic-proof position. In three years, the company has grown its market share from 16 to 42 percent, all the while proudly building itself into the Mount Rushmore of bad Super Bowl ads. Its founder, Bob Parsons, is a genius at fighting with network censors and then promoting the "banned" ads on his site.
He calls the risque ads featuring GoDaddy girl Candace Michelle and crew "funny, edgy, and just a touch inappropriate." I call them not only terrible, but infuriating. The bad taste is such that they are simultaneously porn-y and corny. Regardless, they sure bring out the Church Lady in me.
This year's contender, "Exposure," was rejected because it uses the word "beaver." Yuck. Who would go there anyway? It's such a gross, 1970s term. But Parsons would not compromise with Fox in the use of the word, since he claims he was referring to the actual animal. Yuck. Who wants to split hairs over whether he means mammalia or genitalia?
Using two of the big cliches of what supposedly makes a Super Bowl ad memorable and great—animatronic critters and celebrities—the spot shows fake starlets getting out of cars, being snapped by the paparazzi while carrying these furry beasts. The ending features Indy racer and GoDaddy Girl Danica Patrick zipping up her jacket, saying that since she got a domain name, she doesn't have to show hers. Patrick has an actual talent—why would she want to do this?
The spot that was approved is a poorly produced scene in a living room where people are gathered to watch the Super Bowl. As we watch them watch, a guy at his computer in the corner of the room drags the crowd over to GoDaddy.com, to view the banned ad instead. It will probably produce a Pavlovian response in getting actual viewers in their own living rooms to do the same.
With this kind of cynicism, it's hard to keep up. But because these are Internet companies that track the results exactly, the response, in sales, speaks for itself.
Has the Internet brought us to a place where the truly bad is the new good?