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Celebrities, authenticity trump controversy at Super Bowl

The Super Bowl represents a great opportunity for direct marketers to stand back and gauge consumer appetite. Though most Super Bowl commercials don’t trigger a direct response (aside from the typical invitation to visit a Web address) the ads generate enough buzz to indicate whether consumers crave controversy or conservatism, celebrities or common Joes.

Webtrends, a mobile and social analytics service provider, measured the buzz produced across social networks during the big game. The following themes emerged from the company’s findings:

  • Celebrities were mentioned much more than one would expect
  • Authenticity was king

Forget Green Bay — Eminem was the winner of this year’s game. He was mentioned 9,083 times in association with Super Bowl XLV. Kim Kardashian also shined as a spokesperson: the Skechers ad she was featured in generated a 4.34% growth in Facebook fans for the shoe company. Lipton also saw a healthy 3.64% increase in Facebook fans as a result of its Eminem-featured ads.

“From a pure volume stand point, nothing came close to the celeb mentions,” blogged Hope Frank, CMO at Webtrends. “Black Eyed Peas took the crown with Christina Aguilera just beating Fergie despite Will.i.am’s attempt to generate buzz from his 700,000-plus Twitter fans. By the way, from our count, @iamwill grew over 30,000 fans during the event, ’nuff said.’”

Chrysler also scored big, receiving 6,048 mentions as a result of its Eminem-backed “Imported from Detroit” ads.

“Chrysler did such a good job using Detroit in its ad,” said Marko Muellner, director of marketing programs at Webtrends. “It was a Super Bowl about hard-working cities. Green Bay versus Pittsburgh. Detroit fits right into that. They put the right commercial on during the right show.”

Using celebrities in genuine, relevant campaigns isn’t avant-garde in any way. But it was interesting to see that Eminem and Chrysler generated more buzz than Groupon‘s controversial Tibet-related ad, which received only 5,384 mentions. The ad began with actor Timothy Hutton saying, “The people of Tibet are in trouble. Their very culture is in jeopardy.” He then switches gears and says, “But they still whip up an amazing fish curry…and since 200 of us bought at Groupon.com, we’re each getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15 at Himalayan Restaurant in Chicago.” The New York Times suggested the ad “[made light of Tibetan refugees to sell online discount coupons.”

Controversy has flooded the advertising industry in the past few weeks. MTV’s new teen-focused TV show, Skins, dominated industry headlines when sponsors began dumping the show because of adult material. Kenneth Cole drew fire for some controversial tweets last week (as my colleague Kevin McKeefrey intelligently and calmly covered in his February 3 blog).

Perhaps as more time passes, the Groupon controversy will generate more buzz and the enthusiasm surrounding the well-executed ads will die down. Perhaps. But marketers should emerge from this year’s Super Bowl feeling encouraged; for one night consumers were more interested in talking about their favorite people and products than talking about what went wrong.

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