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Super Bowl: Why are the best movie ads not actually for movies?

February 6, 2012 |  6:00 am


The ads that ran during the Super Bowl were filled with some classic films and filmmakers. Too bad none of them had to do with movies actually coming to theaters

Clint Eastwood's impassioned plea for a Detroit comeback on behalf of Chrysler (viewable above) was up there on the acclaim scale with the operatic Eminem-starring, Sam Bayer-directed "Born from Fire" from the car manufacturer last year. And then there was the comedy--Volkswagen's game  riffs on the Star Wars cantina courtesy of a BAFTA-nominated cinematographer, and a Todd Phillips-directed spot for Honda starring Matthew Broderick about how Ferris Bueller might play hookie as a fortysomething man.

The actual movie ads? They were a lot less notable.

As we explore in a story in tomorrow's Times, ads for big-budget explosion-fests such as "Battleship," "John Carter," "Act of Valor," and "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" all came and went with little fanfare. Viewers didn't overly criticize them, but judging by surveys of Twitter and other social media, they didn't  single them out for any special honors, either. The ad for Sacha Baron Cohen's "The Dictator" was hailed as funny, but it aired before the game and seemed to be overshadowed once the high-profile spots began to run.

The spot for "Valor," which aired in the pricey fourth quarter, had a bigger issue--it followed the "Bueller" commercial and seemed that much more earnest by comparison.

It shouldn't be too surprising that the movie ads fell flat--if you're spending $3.5 million on 30 seconds of airtime, as a studio does, you're going to promote the biggest movies in the broadest possible way, which kind of rules out too much originality. On top of that, you're trying to drive sales to a single opening weekend, something an automaker, for instance, doesn't have to worry about.

But don't give movie marketers too much of a pass. Last year, Paramount's Super Bowl spot for "Super 8" managed to tease enough mystery and intrigue to get people talking about the ad. And far from hurting the film at the box office, it sent the film on its way. It's not impossible to spend millions and still put out a good Super Bowl movie ad.  It's just not easy or terribly desirable.

--Steven Zeitchik



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