2011-02-10_0019Did it (or would it) work is always the wrong question to ask around advertising.

And that holds double for Super Bowl Ads.  So while I hardly relish the annual jawboning of the chattering classes in their predictable disdain for Go Daddy’s commercials, and equally predictable love for things like VW’s commercials, there are things to learn from those discussions.

Specifically, whenever you’re in the middle of such a yammer session, it’s always worth asking:

  • How do people frame the debate?
  • How do they (fail to) define their terms?
  • What assumptions go unexamined?
  • Which bias holds strongest amongst the public?

What you’ll typically find is that most everyone jumps right into asking, “did it work?” But almost no one stops to ask whether “did it work” is the right question to focus on.  Honestly, anything can be made to “work” given ever increasing resources and ever diminishing definitions of “work.”

The right question is: did (or does) this ad represent the wisest and best use of the company’s resources?

Or hell, I’d even settle for a wise use of company resources.  But still, that question changes the discussion rather profoundly doesn’t it?

Let’s take the Chrysler ad as an example: did that ad work?  Well, if you mean did its emotional message touch the hearts of most viewers, then yeah, it “worked.” Mostly because people wanted to believe it. But in the larger sense of “did it represent a wise use of Chrysler’s resources,” I think most people would be hard pressed to say that two minute spot was a wise investment.

Why? Because, as my colleague Tim Miles said, “I love the concept. I love the copy. I love everything about it. It made me want to check out the car. I just wish the Chrysler Eminem Detroit Love Story had been for Ford.”

And what I believe he meant by that was, “As much as I want to believe that message about Chrysler, I can’t and I don’t. But I would (and I do) believe it about Ford.” Which brings to mind a few questions:

  • Why wasn’t Ford advertising in the Super Bowl?
  • What makes Ford a more credible protagonist for the comeback kid story Chrysler was trying to weave?


1) Ford’s main advertising goal has been to spotlight and reinforce the growing REALITY that its cars and trucks are superior to (or at least equal to) the best that Toyota and Honda have to offer. Better build quality, resale value, feature sets, style, etc.  They aren’t spending money on a Super Bowl Ad because they’re too busy trumpeting the fact that this or that car has a higher projected resale value than a competing Toyota model. Or showing how this or that prospective customer likes the Ford model better than the Honda model. It’s pretty much the Pepsi challenge with cars: you take a prospective Toyota customer, have them drive around in a Ford, and “Oh my gosh, I actually like the Ford better!”

2) Both Ford’s better reality and more consistent advertising of that reality prior to the Super Bowl made us all more willing to believe a Ford-based comeback story.  And yeah, the fact that Ford didn’t take any bailout money also helps, but I’d bet that if Cadillac had made that Chrysler ad, we’d all have had a much different reaction. Cadillac’s been pumping out world class vehicles for awhile now, and they also have a very consistent advertising message.

So did the Chrysler Super Bowl Ad represent the best and wisest use of their ad budget? Remains to be seen, and I don’t really have enough info to answer that, quite frankly. I can say that it’s not only possible but likely that tons of people will give the Chrysler 200 a look who never would have without the big splash that ad made. And it’s also possible, though far less probable, that just maybe that car is good enough to convert those “looks” into sales. With that last part the make or break factor.

But this post isn’t really about Chrysler and its ad; it’s about you and your advertising. The same questions I’ve been applying to Chrysler are even more important for your marketing.  So let me ask you:

  • Are you going to ask “would it work?” Or are you going to do the hard work to determine, “does this represent the highest and best uses of my resources?”
  • Are you going to attempt to entrance people with a false narrative that’s directly countermanded by what people see with their own two eyes?  Or are you going to tell your own authentic story, complete with strong proof elements, easily seen and confirmed by your target audience?
  • Are you going to spend an outsized portion of your budget on a stunt? Or are you going to put your faith in a consistently repeated and reinforced message that’s relevant to your prospects buying motivations?

P.S. It was also interesting to see how this old school ad medium was driving the oh-so-new-school Social Media “conversation.”  Don’t tell me offline advertising is dead…

P.P.S. On the other side of the coin, is it just a coincidence that Ford has opted to invest their marketing resources in launching a massive Social Media campaign around the launch of their new Ford Explorer?  Me thinks not.

P.P.P.S. Bitch about Go Daddy ads all you want, but those ads not only have proven, dramatic ROI, they’ve also made Go Daddy THE household name for domain registration — even amongst the Church groups who have petitioned against their advertising practices.


  1. dirt on 02.10.2011

    Bullseye … every small business that markets needs to read this post. This is what I call “Meat & Taters”.

    Am I asking the right question … just might be the right question.

    One of the biggest challenges for small biz folks is they fail grasp what marketing really is … the most common idea is that marketing is about sales … they want their agency to paper over their weakness, bamboozle the consumer and hustle up some bucks.


    MARKETING is telling your STORY.

    The real question is “What’s our STORY?”

    The follow up question is “Is our STORY worth hearing?”

  2. Grammar Maven on 02.10.2011

    It’s is a contraction for IT IS. Its is the possessive.


  3. Jeff on 02.10.2011

    Thanks, Grammar Maven. I am, in fact, aware of the difference.

    As you may know, most blogs are self-edited and sometimes these things slip through. That said, if you are going to point out a grammatical mistake, your correspondent just might find it helpful if you also point out where to find the mistake. Just as you may also find it helpful to avoid acting like a smug jackass in the future.

    – Jeff

  4. Phil Wrzesinski on 02.10.2011

    Excellent post (as usual). What i found most compelling with the Chrysler ad was how it portrayed Detroit. As a Michigander, it was a refreshing look that will do more good for Detroit over the long term than it probably will for Chrysler.

    But as to whether it was a good and wise use of resources, I think it will prove to be in the long run. My reasons for this are two-fold.

    First, they don’t have the compelling story to tell that Ford does right now. They have this one new car, but not a lot of feel-good or civic generation story behind it. Trying to tell the story the way Ford is going about doing it would not work as well (plus would be seen as a “me too” campaign).

    Second, the cache with putting this type of campaign out there is already geting people to talk about the forgotten third (as most of us in MI think of Chrysler) more than since the days of Lee Iaccoca.

    And as a bonus, the portrayal of Detroit will win them some local business/local favor.

    So I believe the goal of the ad is already being reached and tip my hat to Chrysler for having the balls to run it.

    Yes, the long-term ROI will depend on if the car meets the expectations. That remains to be seen. But the conversation is going strongly in the direction they wanted.

  5. Jeff on 02.10.2011


    I agree that the ad definitely recast the Chrysler narrative and won the hearts of viewers. I just don’t think it proved credible in the end, though, as I admit, the final result remains to be seen.

    What has me scratching my head is that the new Chrysler 300 is coming out (or is out) and that may have been a better product to plug as the last 300 was one of Chrysler’s few real success stories. The Chrysler 200 may be a nice car, but I’m not sure plugging it as a luxury vehicle was a smart move. Echoes of Chevy’s lame attempt to brand the Cobalt as a “Premium Compact” still ring in my ears.

    But you are right that, when you need to radically re-alter the way people FEEL about your brand, a big splashy, high production value ad on the Superbowl may be exactly what’s needed. You just have to have a reality to match the message…

    Finally, if you liked that ad, you may want to google “Pure Michigan,” which is another brilliant campaign that radically altered America’s image of Michigan from rust belt to possible Vacation-land (though we all know the real vacation land is in Maine ; )

  6. Smug on 02.10.2011


    you can feel the deeper OOOOMPA of the Chrysler theme that was revealed last year in the new Jeep ads … Just listen to the dark undertones of the Johnny Cash tune that anchors this ad …


    The Superbowl ad narrowed the beam from the American worker to the city that Mr. Ford built … Detroit. This is drilling down into the thick loamy soil of Americana … a place where men roll up their sleeves and get work done … is great marketing … even if I can’t stand the vanilla flavored M&M as the front man.

    Smug J. Ass

  7. Jeff on 02.10.2011


    I actually like that Jeep ad quite a bit, but I had the same reaction to it: I want to believe they’re telling the truth about the new Grand Cherokee, but I really didn’t. At least not until I checked out the reviews. And what do you know? The reviews are looking pretty good. It may not be what everyone is looking for, but then that’s not the point to a jeep. As one reviewer put it: “think of the Grand Cherokee as a much less expensive Range Rover Sport.” Awesome!

    And that’s my point with the Chrysler Ad – it’ll definitely get people to check out the car, but is the car good enough to make that extra attention profitable?

    – Jeff

  8. Smug on 02.10.2011

    you are correct sir

  9. Human Persuasion on 02.10.2011

    Great piece of commentary Jeff! After I saw the ad I was left confounded.

    I liked Eminem appearing and don’t want to see the Motor City or its people not doing what they once did…robustly contributing to the American/global economy.

    But with all that, the ad did not change my opinion of a Chrysler vehicle at all, not that I had an opinion anyway. I’ve never thought about it until now Jeff, but it just occurs to me that the only opinion I’ve ever had about a Chrysler is “I know one place we’re going to have to go to look for a car…the Chrysler lot.”

    I don’t mean that in a condescending way, but I’ve never been in a place where I liked or felt good about one of their cars. Not saying that wouldn’t change.

    For me, Eminem’s appearance and the Motor City pitch added enough positive mental leverage w/ me ABOUT THE AD (but surely, I didn’t just dislike THAT ad, did I?).

    Nothing changed with me about the vehicle.

    What if Eminem would have just said,

    “There was a time when we lost our way. We stopped making the best cars in the world. Starting NOW, we make the best cars in the world again. And this is the first one that proves it.”

  10. Jeff on 02.10.2011


    Well, that’s the rub, isn’t it? You can’t say “and this is the first one that proves it” unless you actually have a car that would, uh, prove itself as a world-beating best in class vehicle. Ford DOES have those kind of vehicles and that’s why their version of the Chrysler ad is titled “Proof,” and specifically talks about the accomplishments of their vehicles while ALSO resurrecting the brand’s heritage:


    – Jeff

  11. Human Persuasion on 02.10.2011

    Yep I hear ya there Jeff.
    That’s the ad that could have positively affected my attude about Chrysler though.
    Of course, it’s easy to say all this NOW.

    Remember I don’t know about these proofs during Super Bowl and I’m not even in the market for a car anyway. Most viewers are in a similar place.

    A big point in the ad was “Detroit makes fine luxury cars. Eminem thinks so. Here’s the proof. Come drive it and see for yourself.” That wasn’t said.
    That way Chrysler purchases a better location in the mass mental real estate, without seeming like a corporate charity drive or asking the wrong questions, like,

    “What does a town that’s been to hell and back know about the finer things in life?”

    If the ad will make me feel bad about American auto industry, then the right question to start the ad was,
    “Why did this town go to hell and back? Why were we the world leaders in vehicles and why are we not anymore? Well we fixed all that. Here’s how, etc. etc.”

    Even if most viewers aren’t in the market, most want the American can industry to be strong again.

    With Undefined Terms :),

  12. t on 02.11.2011

    Jeff … last word from me on this … at least Chrysler didn’t fumble the ball like GROUPON. What where those idjits thinking? later t

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