I hardly noticed what was happening while it was happening: a short “sponsor message”, a Kia advertisement, playing on my screen directly preceding the “Budweiser: Tiny Dancer” ad I was waiting to watch online. It was an ad before an ad, on a website bordered by ads.

This moment reminded me that Super Bowl Sunday was the perfect day to ponder the power of advertising. Every year people gather to watch not only the most important football game in the NFL, but also the commercials that go along with it.

Although prices for commercial airtime dropped this year for the second time in Super Bowl history, companies still pay big bucks on their commercials, more than any other television event during the year.

According to TNS Media Intelligence, the price for a 30-second time slot was between $2.5 and $2.8 million. While it is slightly down from last year’s $3 million average, advertisers still ended up paying about $90,000 per second.

For a commercial that expensive to be aired during a game like the Super Bowl, one would expect that each company put time and effort into every $90,000-second of their ad. All 30 of those seconds must have had a purpose, all going toward a message they hoped to deliver.

Volkswagen’s message turned out to be an audience favorite as it is the highest rated ad on superbowlads.fanhouse.com. I liked the commercial. I thought it was cute and quirky and it was delivered in a clean, simple way. However, I did found it interesting that no information was given about the new Volkswagen Passat.

It told viewers that the new car was “Coming soon” and would be “Starting around $20,000.” But aside from that and the fact that the car has a remote control with the ability to start the engine, the kid dressed up as Darth Vader running around his house trying to use “The Force” on various household items, including the dog, seemed to be selling an idea, not a car.

These ideas of happiness, family and magical miracles are evidently supposed to be connected to the idea of purchasing a Passat.

Being a viewer favorite is a good way to gauge the success of your ad, but when the car hits the market, the real test begins.

Sometimes companies do not have to wait to realize its ad did not please viewers. Shortly after the “Groupon: Tibet” commercial aired, Twitter was abuzz with expressions of shock and anger at the discount-dealing company and by the time the game was over, numerous news stories and blog posts, from outlets including The Wall Street Journal, were written about the controversial ad.

Opening with a scenic view of the mountains of Tibet, the narrator of the ad described the hardships of the country.

“The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture in jeopardy,” he said.

The scene then switched from Tibetan children dancing to the narrator dining at a restaurant.

Now for the punchline of the ad: “But they still whip up an amazing fish curry. And since 200 of us bought on Groupon.com we’re getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15 at Himalayan restaurant in Chicago,” he finished.

The majority of the Twitter community has taken offense to this ad, as seen through tweets like: “Groupon seems to have achieved the unique feat of paying $3M to lose customers who previously loved them” and “Can’t wait for Groupon to poke fun at the ongoing genocide in Darfur next year.”

And even though I too gasped at the insensitivity of the ad, it does not seem like Groupon meant to offend anyone. Groupon is matching donations with Groupon credit dollars to anyone who donates to the charities on their Save the Money website. A $15 donation to Greenpeace will earn the donor $15 of Groupon credit, making the donation basically free.

And regardless of the fact that they disappointed and offended a lot of Super Bowl viewers, they did a good job of getting people to talk about them.

I guess they were embracing the old saying that “all press is good press.”

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