Sentimentality won the Super Bowl ad contest – if not the game

02/03/2014 9:06 PM

02/03/2014 9:07 PM

Cue the Kleenex.

Sentimental won by a landslide in this year’s Super Bowl ads. Maybe that’s because there was about as much in-your-face humor in the ads as there was defense being played by the Denver Broncos on the football field. That’s to say, not much.

The creators of General Mills’ “Gracie” ad for Cheerios took the top prize in the University of South Carolina’s annual Super Bowl ad poll, decided by a 98-student class that spends the entire semester studying Super Bowl commercials. The ad’s creators will be given the 11th annual Cocky Award.

In the ad, a father is using Cheerios to show his daughter how many people are in their family. He adds one to the three Cheerios on the table as he tells her that she soon will have a baby brother. In turn, she adds a fifth Cheerio for a puppy, too. Dad takes the deal, but the look on the surprised mom’s face is less than enthusiastic.

The ad was indicative of this year’s commercials – which cost about $4 million for a 30-second spot and were estimated to be seen by about 100 million people.

“There were a lot of lovely stories being told,” said Bonnie Drewniany, the professor who teaches the USC class.

Humor was not missing altogether.

“It wasn’t the doubled-over, laughing-out-loud kind of humor,” Drewniany said of this year’s ads. “It was more the kind of humor that puts a smile on your face.”

Think Stephen Colbert for the Wonderful Pistachios brand. In a mildly humorous, 15-second spot, he tells viewers to eat pistachios. (“They’re wonderful. I’m wonderful.”)

Drewniany said she was disappointed, expecting something more clever – until she realized, after an in-between 30-second ad, that there was a Part 2 showing Colbert going over the top to promote the nuts.

“Boom, they catch you by surprise,” she said.

That ad tied for second place in the students’ poll with Budweiser’s “Puppy Love,” another awww-worthy spot that captured first place in an accompanying online poll that is open to the public.

In that commercial, a big, fluffy puppy repeatedly escapes an adoption rescue center to be with a horse at a nearby barn. When the puppy is adopted, Clydesdales surround the car until the puppy is released – presumably to stay with its horse forever as they frolic together in a field.

Also winning were:

•  Budweiser, third place in the students’ poll with “Hero’s Welcome,” which shows a community rallying around a returning soldier.
•  Coca-Cola, second place in the public poll for “America the Beautiful,” which shows the patriotic song being sung in different languages by different races of people: all Americans.
•  Cheerio’s “Gracie,” third place in the public poll.

The next step is for Drewniany to invite the creators of the winning ad – New York’s Saatchi & Saatchi – to a future class to pick up the award and explain the back story.

“We hope to get some interesting little behind-the-scene stories that you didn’t know happened … nuances that you just take for granted,” she said.

The ad features the same biracial family that was in an ad last year that stirred controversy. The story of why General Mills decided to bring back the family for this ad should be interesting.

In addition to the heartstring-tugging story, the ad also appealed to the USC class because it kept a strong brand identity throughout and because the acting was extraordinary, Drewniany said.

“If you just look at that little mischievous face (on the girl) and then you see the mom just give this glare to the dad, we have all experienced that in our life and that’s why it resonated.”

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