Volkswagen's 2011 Darth Vader kid spot proved a big hit before Super Bowl Sunday.
Updated at 4:24 PM CDT on Wednesday, Jan 15, 2014
Volkswagen’s latest Super Bowl ad features reggae great Jimmy Cliff channeling the Partridge Family as he urges the crying cat lady, the screaming politician and others who became improbable Internet stars by letting their passions overwhelm them to “C’mon, Get Happy.”
The meta approach feels appropriate: The YouTube spot, which debuted 11 days before kickoff, pokes fun at folks who get too emotional over things that aren’t all that important – like, say, football games and Super Bowl commercials. But unlike Cliff’s cast of characters, who unwittingly became Internet jokes, Volkswagen’s goal is to go viral.
Volkswagen, which gave us the Vader kid in 2011 and the “Star Wars” singing dogs ad last year, has a knack for stoking the Internet hype machine to get viewers to watch repeatedly online – and then tune in again on Super Sunday. The efforts go hand in taped hand with the game, TV’s greatest exercise in promotion. But unlike the gridiron contest, the winners and losers of the commercial competition aren’t determined by the final whistle.
For advertisers, the stakes – and costs – are high: CBS reportedly is charging a record $3.8 million for a half-minute of ad time, or nearly $127,000 per second, to reach an audience expected to exceed 100 million. So the advertising playbook is constantly being tweaked, spurring enough creativity and gimmicks to keep us entertained – even if we usually remember the laughs more than the product.
Some ads build excitement, earning repeated viewings online (the Vader video is at 55 million YouTube hits and counting) and culminating in a satisfying shared experience on game day. For others, the broadcast threatens to be anticlimactic after days of teases or longer versions online. As much as we liked Honda's "Ferris Bueller" ad last year, it felt a tad overplayed by the time the final version hit TV.
It's also difficult to predict which ads will show staying power. Last year’s amusing spot with the dog that uses Doritos to get away with murder wasn't our favorite of the crowded field, but still brings a smile on the umpteenth viewing.
Doritos is behind the “Crash the Super Bowl” online commercial contest, which taps into social media and the ingenuity of the masses – this year offering the winner a chance to work with director Michael Bay on the next "Transformers" movie and a possible $1 million bonus. Coke, meanwhile, wants the public to pick the ending to its movie-genre-mixing desert chase spot.
Volkswagen’s Jimmy Cliff commercial, which is an homage of sorts to Coke's old "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" campaign, logged a modest 670,000 views as of Monday morning. That’s far behind the 5.2 million hits already racked up by Mercedes-Benz’ steamy Kate Upton ad, which relies on the time-tested selling power of sex – and, to a lesser extent, celebrity.
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As with the game, the ads we’ll be talking about most probably will be the ones that pack surprises – like when Oprah Winfrey got David Letterman and Jay Leno to share her couch in 2010. There will be plenty of time, though, after Super Bowl XLVII for Monday morning quarterbacking. In the meantime, c'mon get happy and check out some early pre-game ad favorites: