Having grown up in Boston, I’m hesitant to admit I’m not a huge Patriots fan. So, while I was cheering the team on Sunday night during the Super Bowl, I was not flying off my seat screaming at the television like many of my friends. Instead, throughout the course of the night, I chose to analyze the more important parts of the Super Bowl for me: the halftime show and the advertisements. As far as the halftime show? Here’s the recap: Madonna lip syncs while Ce-Lo Green provides backup vocals and awkwardly dances in a black sequined robe. Overall, it was a valiant effort.
As far as the advertisements, I thought this year’s were fairly average. A few did resonate with me, including the “Etrade speed dating baby” as well as the “Doritos sling baby,” although I don’t think either necessarily created a type of humor or sentiment that hadn’t been done before.  This feat was left up to the mighty Coca Cola.

Coke certainly hit the mark with its real-time, social media-optimized campaign. The company’s spots featured two loveable polar bear mascots, one a Pats fan and one a Giants fan in various scenarios including “Catch,” (above) and “Superstition,” both of which were altered in real-time based on how the game was going. The bears were also featured on a microsite CokePolarBowl.com which showed their reactions to the game and even other ads, also in real time. The idea was to drive viewers to the microsite and spur a robust discussion on social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook.

I thought the idea behind this campaign was very creative and well-thought out in that it combined and integrated polar (no pun intended) opposites. By featuring the polar bear mascot, we are brought back to Coke’s roots, its classic feel, consistency and reliability. At the same time, the spot encourages innovative, real-time social media interaction, and we are reminded that Coke is edgy and original; in other words, Coke still knows what’s up. By featuring a Pats polar bear fan and a Giants polar bear fan, the spot played off the intense rivalry felt between the two teams after their last Super Bowl meeting in 2008.

Super Bowl spots from companies like Coke, Acura and the movie Act of Valor were highly effective, and actually, believe it or not, a little too effective. Monday morning it came out that websites from these three companies all crashed during the event due to too much ad-driven traffic. The average 30-second Super Bowl commercial costs $3.5 million plus production costs. So, although these companies certainly hit the mark with their carefully crafted ads, all that work and money poured into the effort could be meaningless when a consumer is unable to access the website for more information.

This situation stresses the importance of not only having a well-thought out campaign, but planning ahead and taking into consideration how essential follow through and reinforcement is. You could spend millions of dollars to develop a really cool, interactive, social-media optimized campaign that no one has done before. But if your website buckles under the pressure, you make a different impression; consumers could walk away with a bad taste in their mouth.

In my view, these companies could have spent a little less on the commercials and instead put a chunk of change into optimizing their websites ahead of time, making sure they would be fast and reliable for the big day, regardless of the number of visitors. Of course this is all in hindsight and it’s certainly hard to predict these sorts of things—but it’s a lesson learned. I’m willing to bet that next year companies will pay a little more attention to website optimization to foster a good user experience, which is equally important, if not more important, than the ad itself.

Jessica Boardman a senior consultant at Greenough. She can be reached via email at jboardman@greenough.biz or follow her on twitter @J_Boardman.