Who Won the Real Super Bowl Competition?

Okay, here are my thoughts on the two Super Bowls -- the competition played out on the field and that which unfolded during commercial breaks:

First, the game on the gridiron:

As NFL owners and the players union hurtle headlong toward the incredibly stupid debacle of a season-disrupting dispute, for three and a half hours Sunday night, the world saw the performance, passion and ethos that makes American professional football the ultimate team sport. In this hard-fought battle, it's a shame that they couldn't both win, but the Green Bay Packers was clearly the better than team on this night than the Pittsburg Steelers.

Now on to what has in many quarters become the even more important Super Bowl: the ad wars.

At a reported $3 million price tag for a thirty-second spot, the business logic of Super Bowl advertising long ago entered the realm of folly. But for us marketing communications types, it remains a seminal event, and picking winners and losers an annual rite. Here's my take:

I thought the overall ad quality level dropped substantially this year. There are never more than a small handful of truly great Super Bowl spots, but there are usually a couple of dozen that are pretty good, or at least interesting. I'd put less than ten in that category for 2011.

That said, there were two that I thought were really strong and a third that I would rate as excellent.

Chevrolet's "Misunderstanding" spot for the Cruze Eco probably won't make a whole lot of lists as one of the top three, but it makes mine. Why? Because it accomplishes what precious few ads do: clearly driving home the key customer benefit for a specific market segment. Using the admittedly risky humor of a message misunderstood by several hard-of-hearing elderly residents in a group care center, the ad repeatedly hammers its simple message that the Cruze Eco achieves a whopping 42 miles per gallon. Nothing fancy, just darned effective.

Next, the Doritos "Best Part" spot. This one is part of the smart "Pepsi Crash the Superbowl" contest the company introduced five years ago. A creepy office worker's love for Doritos is so great that he ends up sucking the Doritos crumb dust off a mortified coworkers thumb. The ad is clever, just edgy enough to be memorable and injects some much-needed vitality into a mature product.

Finally, the hands-down best ad of the 2011 Super Bowl: Chrysler's "Imported from Detriot".

The company made history by airing this first-ever two-minute bowl spot. While they probably paid in the neighborhood of $5 million for the time and at least a tenth of that amount for production, I'd say they actually achieved a higher bang for the buck than any other bowl ad.

Opening from the vantage point of driving through the gritty streets of Detroit, with distinctive landmarks of its skyline rolling by, a tough-talking narrator intones:

"What does a town that's been to hell and back know about the finer things in life? I'll tell you; more than most. See, it's the hottest fires that make the hardest steel, add hard work and conviction and the know-how that runs generations deep in every last one of us...that's who we are. That's our story."

An attractive luxury car pulls up to a majestic downtown theater where emerges Detroit-area resident Eminem, the ultra-talented, ultra-controversial white rapper who has sold more than 80 million records in his 15-year career. Walking into the theater and climbing onto a stage with a gospel choir in the background, he faces the camera and utters a scant 11 words: "This is the Motor City, and this is what we do."

He then walks off, and as the car drives off into the night, screen captions read "The Chrysler 200 has arrived. Imported from Detroit."

While it is an open question whether the customer experience with the new model will actually measure up to the advertising, this spot is simply brilliant, connecting at an emotional level that few automobile spots ever reach.

This isn't just an ad. It is cinema that sells.