Winning Ads of Super Bowl XLVI

Before getting to the winners and losers among the 2012 Super Bowl ads, allow me to digress. Borrowing from ancient practical wisdom, two is better than one, three is better than two. Consider a cable. A cable is a stranded cord. No argument that two cords wound together are stronger than one. Three cords wound together are stronger and therefore better than two. Stretching the analogy, an advertisement that is entertaining can be good. An advertisement that is likeable is better. But, an advertisement that is entertaining, likeable and effective is best of all. Three cords are better than one.

Most ads today are two-corded, combining entertainment value with a high likeability score. What's the third cord? Effectiveness. The strong center of any brand (and by extension any advertisement) is whether or not it conveys a compelling selling idea. As positionists®, we look for this strong selling idea -- the no-nonsense clear difference that truly motivates people (and whole markets) to prefer and choose one brand over all others. Ads that leave the selling idea on the cutting room floor can earn marks for style, but fall short of the positioning goal.

So...with three cords guiding the way...here are our picks for this year's Super Bowl advertising winners and losers, ranked 1-5 for entertainment value, likeability, and positioning effectiveness, with 5 being the highest score.

Our Top-5 Super Bowl XLVI Picks:
1) Chevy Silverado: "Apocalypse"
This humorous "end times" spot is on point and on culture. Survivors of the Mayan Apocalypse gather after the devastation. "Where's Dave?" asks the one man. "Dave didn't drive the longest lasting most dependable truck on the road. Dave drove a Ford," glumly responds his friend. It's a serious throw down to Ford, and from a positionist's point of view, it works! Barry Manilow's 1977 torch song, "Looks like we made it," provides an unexpected and yet apropos juxtapose. This spot wins on all three cords, Entertainment value 5. Likeability 5. Positioning 5.

2) Audi: "Vampire Party"
"Daylight, now in a headlight." Audi capitalizes on the Twilight vampire phenom (with apologies to Ann Rice who may have started it all) to deliver a strong product difference in a highly dramatic way. Best part of all, "Daylight now in a headlight" is not a slogan. It's a position. Entertainment value 5, for great narrative storytelling and top-notch special effects; Likeability 4, with one point off for jumping on the over-exposed vampire bandwagon; Positioning 5, for delivering the product difference in a horrifically memorable way.

3) Chrysler: "It's Halftime in America"
You know the voice even in the shadows. When Clint Eastwood whispers, people listen. This isn't just huckstering celebrity power. Clint, in this case, is the message. When he says, "This country can't be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again, and when we do the world is going to hear the roar of our engines. Ya, it's halftime in America, and our second half is about to begin," you believe it! Score: 5 for entertainment, 5 for likability and 3.5 for positioning effectiveness as the slogan "Imported from Detroit" still seems more rhetoric than a reason to buy.

4) VW: "The Dog Strikes Back"
This year, about 20 of the roughly 36 Super Bowl advertisers put their TV commercials online before Sunday's broadcast. They've taken their cue from Volkswagen who took a risk last year by releasing its Super Bowl ad for its redesigned 2012 Passat sedan featuring a young boy in a Darth Vader costume before the game aired. VW's gamble paid off and the ad quickly became a viral hit on video-sharing websites. This year VW is back with the new Beetle. We watch as an overweight dog goes on a diet and exercise regimen just so he can get out his doggy door to chase the new VW Beetle. Entertainment 5. Likeability 5. Positioning 3. (Good brand recognition, but the spot only modestly boosts VW Beetle's brand mystique.)

5) Teleflora.com: "Adriana Lima"
Contrary to what most people think, sex doesn't always sell. It's tricky. This time it works. Brazilian Victoria's Secret model Adriana Lima is coy and chic, sensual and sexy, without being sleazy or cheesy. Her single line, "Guys, Valentine's Day is not that complicated. Give and you shall receive," plus the pan back to reveal a vase of flowers pretty much says it all. Entertainment 4. Likeability 4. Positioning 3. The ad is effective for Valentine's Day, but what next? Unless Teleflora can find a way to stick with Adriana, long-term brand value is questionable.

In addition to our top five, here are some Honorable Mentions:

1) E*TRADE Baby: "Fatherhood"
This commercial has America's favorite wisecracking brand ambassador, better known as the E*TRADE baby, in the hospital nursery with his Dad. Three words carry the day as far as positioning is concerned: "E*TRADE financial consultants."

2) Honda CR-V: "Matthew Broderick"
"Get going in the new CR-V." In this commercial Matthew Broderick reprises his 1986 role as Ferris Bueller. Heavy on fun with many throwbacks in homage to the original movie, this ad is sure to be remembered...but will younger audiences, the target for the CR-V, get it?

3) Fiat 500 Abarth: "Seduction"
"You'll never forget the first time you see one." Italian Actress Catrinel Menghia sells the seduction of new Fiat Abarth. Will the product deliver? The ad may be a winner, but the name of this product is a loser. What's an Abarth?

Positioning Losers:
1) Bud Light Platinum
Another ridiculous line extension from Budweiser. Who wants (or needs) yet another Bud Lite? Platinum is just plain dumb.

2) Pepsi
Sir Elton John and Melanie Amaro in medieval garb garble the Pepsi brand position. Is this the drink for a new generation? Can't tell from this ad.

3) TaxAct.com: "Bathroom Break"
How does a little boy peeing in a pool compel us to buy software from TaxAct.com? We don't get it. Cute but irrelevant.

4) Chevy Camaro: "Happy Grad"
This spot is predictable from start to finish and tells us nothing of the car. We much prefer the Aliens commercial for the Chevy Volt for its EG (Extra Good) humor, originality and personality, not to mention a clear selling message.

5) Acura NSX: "Jerry Seinfeld"
This commercial wins second place in celebrity huckstering (behind Pepsi's Elton John ad). What is an Acura NSX? Who knows? We never learn anything more than Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno desperately want one.

6) Chevy Sonic: "Stunt Anthem"
Buy this car; you can parachute with it? Expensive irrelevance.

In retrospect, there weren't any real surprises or breakout ads this year. One thing that was different was the number of ads released online pre-Super Bowl. Many advertisers asked fans to vote for the ad they'd like to see air from a varied field of alternatives. "It's creating 'pre love' for your spot," says Greg DiNoto, chief creative officer of advertising agency Deutsch in New York. I think this practice weakens anticipation and interest. Long-term, I predict it will dilute the value of watching Super Bowl ads. What do you think?

Lorraine Kessler is Innis Maggiore's Principal Client Services & Positioning Strategist.