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Professors say poor economy affected Super Bowl ads

Feb. 2, 2009

KALAMAZOO--It was a lackluster year for Super Bowl ads, and the poor economy might have had something to do with it, says a panel of Western Michigan University professors.

For the sixth year, faculty members in the WMU Advertising and Promotion Program and Department of Marketing rated ads, and the results were not very positive. For the first time this year, students also rated the ads.

"Commercials were somewhat mediocre this year and appeared overly cautious, perhaps in response to the economic slowdown," says Dr. Steve Newell, chair of the WMU Department of Marketing.

While millions of football fans watched Sunday as the Pittsburgh Steelers outlasted the Arizona Cardinals, WMU professors paid close attention to the ads between the action on the field, rating them for their creativity, strategy, execution and production values on a 10-point scale.

What they saw was mostly disappointing.

"The football was better than the ads again," says Dr. JoAnn Atkin, assistant professor of marketing. "Only a handful made me laugh out loud. Less than that showcased creative ingenuity."

Companies seemed uncertain what to do this year, adds Dr. Karen Lancendorfer, assistant professor of marketing.

"I don't think the companies really knew how to advertise this year," Lancendorfer says. "Advertisers attempted to balance the public's want for entertainment, which is traditional for Super Bowl ads, with their concern for the economy, and instead fell flat because they came across as trying too hard."

Lancendorfer says the Super Bowl has often been the venue for slapstick ads that get a laugh, but several advertisers, including Anheuser-Busch, attempted ads that just came across as cheesy.

For the first time since the WMU professors have been ranking Super Bowl ads, a Budweiser commercial did not make their top 10. Other companies, such as Doritos and Monster.com didn't overtly address the economy, but appealed to consumers' funny bones, and succeeded.

Professors still came up with the top five ads. Those ads were:

  1. Doritos "Crystal Ball I'll Take That as a Yes" (consumer generated ad)
  2. Doritos "The Power of the Crunch" (consumer generated ad)
  3. Monster.com "Which end of the Moose are you on?"
  4. Career Builder "It Might Be Time"
  5. Cash4Gold "Pitchmen"

The students' top five differed somewhat from their professors. Their picks were:

  1. PepsiMax "I'm Good"
  2. Doritos Crystal Ball "I'll Take That as a Yes"
  3. Career Builder "It Might Be Time"
  4. Coca-Cola "Heist"
  5. Pepsi "Refresh Anthem"

Some students thought the Budweiser Clydesdale commercials "were very sweet and they made you laugh," but others put them in the bottom five ads.

"The horses are getting old and it doesn't make me want to drink beer," says Matt Verona, a senior marketing student.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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