The horse hug had it all Sunday night for a group of USC students studying Super Bowl advertising.
The minute-long Budweiser commercial featured a farmer raising a baby Clydesdale – nursing it, playing around with it and petting it as it slept -- until the full-grown horse is ready to join the beer maker’s team. Fleetwood Mac’s emotional “Landslide” plays in the background.
Three years later, the farmer drives to town to see the horse in a parade and looks disappointed that the horse doesn’t recognize him. But as he is getting in his truck to leave – cue the tissues – the horse comes galloping down the street and stops in front of him. The man smiles and gives the horse a heartwarming hug.
“We all know the Clydesdales. It’s been a long, storied relationship with the brand. The story (of the man and his horse) was very, very endearing,” said USC professor Bonnie Drewniany, who has taught the Super Bowl of Advertising class for a decade.
Advertisers hope to bring their A-game on cleverness as they spend millions of dollars even on 30-second spots played during the biggest football game of the year, which this year drew a near-record number of viewers.
The Budweiser ad’s creators took home the Cocky Award for best Super Bowl ad – named after the University of South Carolina’s mascot – and will be invited to speak to the class later in the year.
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The ad was a departure from some of the “cutesy” ads the beer brand has rolled out in recent years, Drewniany said.
“They didn’t try and use sophomoric humor or bad celebrity endorsements,” Kim Barrett, a public relations major from Philadelphia, said in a statement. “They stayed true to the brand and went with a concept that has been successful in the past, and that’s why it worked.”
But the tear-jerker ad was not everybody’s favorite.
More than 100 students in the class critiqued the Super Bowl ads for likeability, persuasiveness and brand identity.
The Clydesdale commercial “was very good, and it definitely pulled on the heartstrings for a lot of people,” said Kevin Walker, a senior advertising major.
But his favorite was the Mercedes Benz ad in which a customer comes close to signing his soul over to the devil for the new Mercedes CLA -- until the price of $29,900 is revealed. “Thanks, but I think I got this,” the customer says as the devil vanishes into a puff of smoke.
“That was so clever,” Walker said. “It kind of unfolded as it went. Each turn was a little more intriguing, and it all came into full view at the end.”
Not so Super ads
An ad for Dodge Rams featured a Paul Harvey monologue hailing the virtues of farmers as scenes of fields and farmhands played on the screen. At the end, the words “To the farmer in all of us” appeared.
The ad ranked in the bottom five for the class. But it was in the Top 5 for a group participating in an online poll and not watching with the class.
Harvey was a nationally syndicated radio commentator until his death four years ago at age 90.
“I’m pretty sure that (ad) was missed on most of our generation,” said student Kevin Walker. But then, he also didn’t think the ad was shooting for the under-20 crowd.
Drewniany also questioned whether the ad would appeal to certain parts of the country -- someone in New York City, for example.
“I wonder if it really did resonate with a broad group,” she said.
A Go Daddy ad was meant to show the “sexy” and “smart” sides of GoDaddy.com by showing a model kissing a geeky-looking guy – up close and complete with smacking noises.
It worked mostly to gross people out.
“No one needs a close up of people kissing for over 10 seconds. Ever. Under any circumstance,” Dominique Johnson, a senior broadcast journalism major from Columbia, said in a statement.
Walker said the ad succeeded in making people “just a little but too uncomfortable.”
“It actually zoomed in just to make you squirm,” he said.