super bowl ads

Which tech companies scored on Super Bowl Sunday?

The most famous commercial to air during the Super Bowl during its 48-year history touted a personal computer, so it’s only fitting that tech companies see football’s biggest stage as an opportunity to make a big marketing splash. And while the ad blitz may have been nothing like the days of the Web 1.0 bubble—we miss you, too, Pets.com sock puppet—plenty of tech companies sought to buy their fair share of the spotlight during Sunday’s big game.

But which tech companies got the most bang for their buck and which ones would have been better off setting fire to the pile of money it takes to buy an ad spot during the Super Bowl? Here’s one man’s rundown of which tech players delivered and which ones fumbled their big opportunity.

T-Mobile’s war on contracts

America’s most pugnacious carrier continued its one-company war against the tyranny of two-year commitments, enlisting college football standout—and NFL washout—Tim Tebow to point out the folly of contracts.

Turns out Tebow is much better pitching wireless carriers than he ever was throwing passes to pro receivers.

T-Mobile made multiple Super Bowl appearances Sunday, again with Tebow and then with a fourth-quarter spot reminding everyone that it’s willing to pay your early termination fees if you care to leave your current carrier.

Grade: A—T-Mobile stayed on message, and even got this cynical football fan to laugh with Tebow for once, and not at him—or at least, not his throwing motion.

Microsoft: What is technology

In a one-minute spot that never mentions any of its products by name, Microsoft drives home the point that the things it makes can improve our lives and expand our horizons.

Grade: A-minus—Microsoft’s efforts to humanize itself in the past have been more miss than hit—who can forget the awkwardness of Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld bonding over churros?—but this minute-long ad actually generated a little lump in the throat in a venue that usually favors snark over sentiment.

U2’s “Invisible”

It’s not an ad so much as it is a public service announcement, but Bank of America bought time during the Super Bowl broadcast to let people know that they could download U2’s “Invisible” for free on Apple’s iTunes Store for the next 24 hours—and that the bank would donate $1 for every download to the [Red] charity.

Grade: A-minus—It’s hard to get too snooty when somebody wants to give you something for free and is willing to donate money to charity on top of that.

GoDaddy’s Puppet Master

The staples of past Super Bowl Sundays typically have included guacamole, bloated pregame shows, and revoltingly sexist ads from GoDaddy. This year, however, the Internet domain registrar and Web hosting company opted against an ad where women disrobe to instead talk about the service it actually provides. Why it’s just so crazy, it might work!

Grade: B—While it’s unsettling to see John Tuturro outside of his natural habitat in a Coen Brothers movie, if GoDaddy keeps this up, we might not instinctively dive for the remote control whenever one of its ads comes on.

RadioShack: In with the new

I won’t lie to you: The only time I set foot inside a RadioShack these days is when I need an HDMI cable. Apparently, I’m not the only one who sees the Shack as a relic of a bygone day of tech retail because the company is looking to reinvent itself with this fun little ad. “The ’80s called,” a hapless RadioShack employee says. “They want their store back.” Cue the avalanche of Reagan era icons like Hulk Hogan, Dee Snider, and Mary Lou Retton, who strip the store of all its parts. I hope they left me a few HDMI cables.

Grade: B-minus—Like I said, it’s a fun ad, and it’s nice that Alf is still finding work. But the ad really doesn’t do a good job of explaining what the reborn RadioShack has to offer consumers that online retail does not.

TurboTax: Love hurts

Sure, the Super Bowl is exciting, this ad from Intuit’s tax software division posits, but it’s a little heartbreaking to watch the game if you’re team isn’t involved. Maybe you should lighten the mood of existential dread by doing your taxes instead—or so the argument goes.

Grade: B-minus—As funny as the ad is—and I enjoyed the metaphor that watching other teams play in the Super Bowl is like watching some unworthy cad go to prom with your dream date—I’m not sure that I would prefer to spend Super Sunday itemizing my deductions. Broncos fans may have felt differently round about the third quarter.

Beats Music

Give the Beats folks credit for persistence. Ads for the company’s headphones and speakers dominated the pre-kickoff telecast, and once the game got underway, viewers got to hear about the new subscription music service from Beats Electronics. The likable Ellen DeGeneres seems like a good a choice as any to promote the service, and the Three Bears metaphor the ad uses is accessible enough; it’s the nightmarish human-animal hybrids, though, where this otherwise fine commercial goes quickly off the rails.

Grade: C-plus—It’s a decent enough introduction to Beats Music for a general audience, even though it’s more evocative of Dr. Moreau than it is Dr. Dre.

GoPro: Red Bull Stratos

With this ad, GoPro must have figured “What could be better to promote our versatile cameras than to show them in action as Felix Baumgartner leaps out of an aircraft and plummets 24 miles to Earth?”

Grade: C-plus: What could have been better would be to state more explicitly that GoPro cameras were capturing that exciting footage.

Intuit QuickBooks Presents: GoldieBlox

It starts out as a commercial for GoldieBlox, a company that specializes in inventive toys for girls. But just as the girls are firing off a rocketship they’ve constructed from their outdated pink toys, the spot morphs into a promo for Intuit’s QuickBooks software. A version of “Cum on Feel the Noize” plays during the ad, though, so at least you can rest assured that the members of Quiet Riot will be cashing a handsome residual check soon.

Grade: C-plus: Look, am I supposed to buy innovative toys for my daughter or business management software? Because it can’t be both. Pick a side, advertisers!

Squarespace: A better Web awaits

The website building and hosting service hopes to convince you to create your site using its tools by showing you the most horrific aspects of today’s Internet—from pop-up ads to incessant pleas for likes and links.

Grade: C—I was unaware the Super Bowl was now a podcast.

Sonos: Face off

Sonos shows you how easy it is to fill your pad with music by taking an antiseptic house straight out of a Stanley Kubrick film and blasting a cacophony of competing musical genres throughout the place.

Grade: C-minus—It’s a confusing ad to begin with—at first it seems to promote the Spotify music service more than Sonos’s brand of wireless speakers. And the competing tunes advancing toward each other suggests a house filled with more discord than harmony.

So that’s our rundown of this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads. Maybe you agree, maybe you don’t. But I think one thing is clear after Sunday’s Super Bowl telecast: You can never go wrong with Muppets.

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