Even though the Super Bowl is the single most-watched TV event of the year, it can be hard for advertisements to get noticed. There are so many possible distractions: Football, nachos, hopefully your friends and family. But every year, a few commercials manage to stick out, if only for long enough to briefly become a Twitter trending topic. In honor of the Matthew Broderick Ferris Bueller commercial, already the most popular and most disappointing ad of Super Bowl 2012, here are five sure-fire ways to have people talk about your commercial. (Warning: Maybe 1 percent of those people will remember the product you were advertising.)
1. Play the nostalgia card. Revisiting a movie that was popular roughly 25-30 years ago allows you to attract the broadest possible demographic, since people who are now grandparents were bringing people who are now parents to see those movies. Even better, the now-parents have probably forced their children to watch those movies, too, because we all hope in vain that our children will put aside the stupid things they enjoy to watch the totally awesome things that we used to enjoy.Thus, we get Darth Vader boy. Fun fact: Between the Vacation commercials and the Broderick Bueller commercial, John Hughes has now been graverobbed by the Super Bowl twice.
2. Get B-list celebrities to embarrass themselves. In extremely rare situations, big celebrities will do a Super Bowl commercial — think Brad Pitt in his beer commercial, or the Jay-Dave-Oprah quorum. But the real goal should be to find a slightly faded B-lister — someone recognizable but not unapproachable — and allow them to make fun of themselves in an endearing way. Think Betty White in her Snickers commercial. (Which also featured Abe Vigoda. How come he didn’t get a Facebook group?)
3. Make animals act like people. Americans love animals. Animals don’t judge. Animals are our friends, our saviors. That’s why everyone is guaranteed to enjoy a commercial featuring a cute dog doing something. In truth, of course, the eyes of animals offer no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. Their blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. But the overwhelming indifference of nature can easily be defeated by setting the advertisement to a beloved ’80s song, about which, see No. 1.
4. Make men act like idiots. This particular corporate meme may have reached its zenith a in 2010, when ever other ad featured dudes dudefully duding it up. (The most infamous example: The Dodge Charger “I will do the stupid female things you want me to, wife” ad, which is basically like Fight Club except less fascist and totally stupid.)
5. Make women boobs boobs boobs. Boobs! Women have them, and men love looking at them. Some of the most famous ads in Super Bowl history play off that basic evolutionary impulse. Who can forget Cindy Crawford having boobs that one time she drank a Pepsi? Or Ali Landry, who ate Doritos while having boobs in a laundromat? Or every GoDaddy ad ever? Boobs! America loves them! Except when they move from “barely covered” to “genuinely uncovered,” in which case outrage. We’re a fun nation.
6. Promote nihilistic decadence. Last year, popular website Groupon ran a commercial series featuring Elizabeth Hurley, Timothy Hutton, and Cuba Gooding Jr. But these adverts went far beyond B-lister embarrassment (see No. 2). Each of the ads started out with an apparently humanitarian message — save Tibet, save the rainforests, save the whales — before taking a hard-left turn into jokey consumerism: “Thanks to Groupon, we got to enjoy Tibetan food/Brazilian waxes/whale-watching!” The ads were criticized and quickly pulled for making it seem as if Americans care less about global issues than about inane extravagance. They may have been the most honest Super Bowl commercials ever.
Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich