Did online companies market their brands well at the Super Bowl?

Online firms came out in force at this year's Super Bowl. We take a look at their ads and see how well they did at promoting their brand.

Can you communicate what a Web site is about to millions of sports fans looking for entertainment above all else? Now that the Super Bowl is over, let's examine how well the online firms that bought ads fared in delivering spots that effectively communicated their online services.

Some companies did well. But it looks like others left viewers scratching their heads...

Online career search service CareerBuilder offered up a 60-second ad for the Super Bowl that used the tagline, "It might be time (to look for another job)" after providing examples of thoughts some workers might have when they're upset with their careers. My favorite: sitting next to a man who clips his toenails in the office...in his underwear.

It might have been somewhat entertaining, but CareerBuilder's ad didn't explain how the company would help job-seekers and opted instead, to deliver its URL at the end of the commercial. For those who have heard of CareerBuilder, that may have been enough. But for others who have never been to the company's site, the commercial won't answer why they should go there to find a job. Shouldn't that have been the point of the ad in the first place?

Cars.com is a popular destination for people who want to research, sell, or buy a car. But the company's Super Bowl commercial takes viewers through the life of David Abernathy, a supremely capable and confident individual who achieved great success in his life. Towards the end of the ad, Cars.com is finally mentioned as David worries about buying a car. Evidently, the online hub helped him in that endeavor.

Most of the commercial had nothing to do with cars at all. And even when the narrator finally mentioned the site, it only left about 10 seconds for the viewer to gain a solid understanding of what Cars.com is all about.

The commercial did tell viewers that Cars.com will help them buy a car, but it failed to inform them about the other site features they may have been interested in, like research and the option to sell their vehicles. Maybe that was Cars.com's intention all along, but I'm not convinced that talking about just one of its offerings for a few seconds in 30-second commercial is all that effective.

With the help of two babies, E*Trade Financial used its 30-second Super Bowl ad to promote its investment services. During the first 20 seconds of the commercial, the babies mentioned the troublesome economy and their need for a tool like E*Trade to help them "take control" of their investments. The ad ended with a narrator asking viewers to open one of the "1,000 new accounts opened each day" and "take control with E*Trade."

Much like other companies, E*Trade used its Super Bowl ad to provide more entertainment value than brand promotion. Sure, the babies were entertaining and it got a chuckle out of me, but simply saying that users can "take control" of their investments with E*Trade doesn't tell me what the company does.

E*Trade could have promoted its brand more effectively if it eliminated the banter between the babies and had them discuss all the features E*Trade offers instead. Without that, users who have never used or heard of E*Trade only know that the company lets them "take control" of their investments. But how?

Domain registrar GoDaddy has always been known to provide sexy commercials to promote its brand. This year's two Super Bowl ads were no different.

Dubbed "Shower," GoDaddy's first ad showed race car driver Danica Patrick, jumping into a shower as a group of boys watched. The other, named "Enhanced," brings Patrick and three other women into a courtroom to discuss "enhancements." The ad is meant to make viewers believe that the women are discussing enhancements of the anatomical sort, but Patrick says that she "enhanced her brand" by buying a domain name through GoDaddy.

GoDaddy's "Shower" commercial didn't say anything about GoDaddy's services and its story had nothing to do with domain registration. That said, it did ask viewers to watch the "unrated" version of the commercial on GoDaddy.com. That's a ploy the company has been using for years, so it must work.

The "Enhanced" commercial does a better job of discussing what GoDaddy actually does. That said, it only mentioned domains in passing and even then it was sandwiched between discussions about enhancements that may or may not have been made to the actresses' bodies. Suffice it to say that domain registration wasn't the memorable part of that commercial.

Online video site Hulu offered up an ad, called "Alec in Huluwood" for the Super Bowl, starring veteran actor Alec Baldwin. The 60-second ad takes place in an underground laboratory where Baldwin discusses in detail how Hulu will ensure you won't escape TV content, while reducing your brain "to a cottage cheese-like mush." The spot ends with a tentacle emerging from Baldwin's suit jacket and his claim that "we're aliens, and that's how we roll."

Hulu may have taken a decidedly extreme tack to promote its brand, but it did that exceptionally well. Combining a star from one of TV's hottest comedies, 30 Rock, along with some comedy, the commercial kept audiences captivated as Baldwin skillfully laid out the business model of Hulu: "Hulu beams TV to your portable computing devices, giving you more of the cerebral gelatinizing shows you want anytime, anywhere, for free."

Before the commercial aired, Hulu was known to a relatively small number of people in the Super Bowl viewing audience. But after the ad aired, everyone knew what Hulu is, how it works, and most importantly, that it's free.

It was a perfectly-crafted commercial from both an entertainment and marketing perspective.

Job search service Monster unveiled a 30-second spot for the Super Bowl that saw the camera swing 180-degrees around a wall. On one side, the boss of a company had a moose's head hanging from the wall in his beautiful office. On the other side, the rest of the animal's body was resting in the middle of an employee's desk as the narrator asked if it's time to find another job. After that, the narrator mentioned how many job listings are on the site and how to get there.

Monster's ad may have been simple, but it was extremely effective. It provided viewers with some entertainment--a must at the Super Bowl--but it used it to get to the marketing side of the ad, which mentioned the company's "millions of job listings."

Perhaps most important, Monster's ad included the company's URL: Monster.com. Many of the viewers may have already known it and even if the company didn't add the ".com", some would find their way to the site. But spelling it out makes it easier for the viewer and gets them to the site sooner. It's a simple thing, but it shouldn't have been overlooked by so many of the other companies advertising their brands at the Super Bowl--be they Web-based businesses or not.

Online discount retailer Overstock.com made an appearance in this year's Super Bowl with the help of NBA player, Carlos Boozer. The ad starts with Boozer at a computer scrolling through Overstock's listings. Children standing around Boozer ask him what different products around his home are and he responds with the percentage discount. The ad ends with one child picking up his 2008 Olympic Gold medal asking him what it is. "That's about 20 years of dedication, right there," he responded.

I don't quite see the point of the ad. When Overstock's Web page is shown in the beginning of the commercial, there's no way to tell which site it is. You can't even see its logo in the few seconds that it's displayed.

Worse, the discount percentages Boozer throws out mean nothing without context, which eventually comes at the very end of the commercial when the company's logo and name are displayed. In the process, there was little indication given to the viewer about why they should choose Overstock over any other online retail destination.

Priceline, the online travel deals site, featured William Shatner in its ad this year. The ad starts with a married couple discussing their desire to go on vacation, but eventually realizing that they couldn't afford it. Shatner, who was outside their home in a van, tells the husband to repeat after him and goes on to explain to the wife how they can save money on a four-star hotel by using Priceline. He does so, at times dropping into the old Captain Kirk-style of speech with its halting cadence. The ad ends with the wife agreeing to book the reservation.

Priceline's commercials are barely different each time they air, but they work. The ad offered some entertainment value and throughout, the message was made clearly to the audience: if you want to save money when you travel, listen to Priceline. Whether or not that's true is a different story. But the ad left little doubt in the viewers' minds. It was well crafted.

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