While this year’s Super Bowl might have left something to be desired in terms of athletic competitiveness (second widest winning margin of all time), it did have a fair share of interesting commercials. Some were successful, while others not so much, which got us thinking. What makes a commercial successful?
A particular favorite at the Little Jack office was the Stephen Colbert pistachio commercial. However, the Arnold Bud Light commercial, after high expectations (and a lofty paycheck – Arnold reportedly got paid $3 million for his participation) ultimately fell flat.
So why did these two commercials, both using beloved celebrities, differ so drastically in their level of success? Read on for our play-by-play.

Why did the Colbert ad work?

1. Using a celebrity, the right way. Colbert was being his regular lovable self, with subtle differences (pistachio colored tie – check, bald eagle by his side (also with pistachio colored tie) – check).
2. Unique format.  The two commercials actually aired with with only one commercial between them. By doing this, they created a sort of before-and-after, expanding on the story. In that way, they achieved more than they could have in a single commercial alone.
3. Cultural awareness. Fans of The Colbert Report might be familiar with “the Colbert bump” – Stephen’s supposed ability to make any product or person he gives a shout-out to famous overnight. The commercial is being ironic about viral advertising, but also telling the truth (because Stephen does actually have this power), making for a perfectly entertaining combination.

Why didn’t the Arnold ad work?

1. Using a celebrity, the wrong way. Let’s face it – it’s basically impossible for anything that features Arnold to not be awesome. The problem, in this case, was that Arnold wasn’t doing anything particularly Arnold-like. He was just filling the slot of “awesome 80’s action star” and the part could have just as easily been played by Steven Seagal or Chuck Norris.
2. The ad didn’t make sense. The video you see above is the full length commercial. As you see, it tries to tell a story. The edited 30 second version that aired during the Super Bowl didn’t manage to be an effective summary, leaving most people confused about the text at the end.
3. The material was old. If something seemed familiar to you about the ad, you’re not alone. The “extreme” journey the Bud Light guy goes on plays on the “up for anything” beer branding that has been going on for years. For one, it seems to be taken straight out of Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World commercials. Or, after the concept took a step down, last year’s Heineken commercials. By the time the idea trickled down to Bud Light, there wasn’t anything left. Bud Light would probably have been better off going in an entirely different direction.
Obviously, we’re discussing ads with massive budgets here, but the same rules apply to small and mid-size business advertising. We hope the above gets you thinking both critically and creatively about your next commercial.
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