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A Lesson In Branding and Buzz: Darth Vader Versus Groupon


The Super Bowl is more about branding than football these days. Not that I’m complaining – I laughed about the little Darth Vader kid just like the rest of you. I’m more of a Puppy Bowl girl than an NFL fan.

After the game is over, football fans go to sleep off the pizza/wing/beer binge and marketers start talking about the commercials. In fact, people everywhere are still talking about the commercials a few days later. The conversation seems to boil down to two points:

  1. Let’s talk about the funniest commercials, especially the little Darth Vader kid.
  2. Groupon’s commercials were horrendous.

Heck, I’m talking about those two points too. What was memorable? Who hurt their brand most?

But another question I think we need to ask is this: What will the end result be?

The entire point of a commercial is to raise awareness for your brand, hopefully in the positive light, so that you sell more. Funny commercials are usually memorable, so the Super Bowl is filled with them, but those aren’t the only kinds of commercials that can raise awareness for your brand. One campaign that sticks in my mind, for example, is Droid. (I didn’t see any Droid commercials during the Super Bowl, I just mean in general). They had a whole slew of weird alien/robot commercials last year that weren’t funny in the least, but they were certainly memorable. So commercials don’t have to be funny to be good.

Why, then, is there a push to make Super Bowl commercials funny? Because afterward, there are always ten billion people writing about and talking about which ones were funniest. You want your commercial to be part of those conversations so that it lives beyond its air time.

Except I wonder if that really matters. I’m starting to believe marketers need to think about branding and buzz a little differently.

Earlier today, I read an interesting post from Lawton Chiles called The Ugly Truth Behind the Darth Vader Superbowl Commercial (hat tip to @elijahryoung for tweeting the link). In this post, Lawton writes,

See how millions of folks are searching for the Darth Vader kid Superbowl commercial? Pretty nifty right? Seems like a lot of people are searching for that SPECIFIC video.

So, they watch the video, laugh, and then, move on. The fact is, I could not even remember what car company they were advertising. I’m sure 95% of the other folks looking for the commercial were in the same boat as me. I’m sure you were too, right?

What a great point. Does the Darth Vader commercial make you want to go out and buy that specific car? In actuality, no one is searching for that make and model of Volkswagen at all – and what did that commercial do to tell us about the car? It has a push-button start? Lots of cars have that these days. What in that commercial positively changed how I think of the Volkswagen brand? What in that commercial convinced me that I should buy this car over other cars I might be considering? At the end of the day, no one buys a car because the company had a funny commercial.

And as far as awareness goes? I’m more aware of that little kid, but I’m not really talking about Volkswagen. Like Lawton said, most people don’t even remember what car company was showcased in the commercial.

Not that brands shouldn’t have funny commercials. They can sometimes work. Doritos, for example, had some funny commercials that I think worked well to promote their brand. But we saw the same problem last year with Old Spice. While the Old Spice guy was hilarious and got a lot of buzz, sales for their Red Zone products – what he was actually promoting – actually fell.

I also saw an interesting tweet that I thought needed to be part of this conversation.

BobbyRettew: No offense…but those out there fussing bout Groupon Ad last night…they achieve their goal: Awareness. You are talking about #Groupon

Groupon offended me more than once during the Super Bowl, but Bobby is right – people are not only talking about the commercials, like with the Darth Vader kid, but they are actually talking about Groupon. Tons of brand awareness for that company. Even my mom, who is not an Internet person in the least, called me to ask what Groupon is exactly (she knew it had something to do with deals, and my mom can’t resist a coupon) and if she should sign up.

Of course, the flip side to this is that a lot of people are really upset with the Groupon ads, so they didn’t exactly raise brand awareness in a positive light. I think it will be interesting to see stats from the week after the Super Bowl for this company, but I predict that even with all the negativity and people boycotting, they’ll still have a spike in new users. Over time, those commercials might have a more damaging effect on their brand. Only time will tell I guess.

So the main question here, I think, is this: Who did a better job with branding and creating buzz? Volkswagen, a company with a commercial that has gone viral and is one of the highest-rated of the Super Bowl, but that created little brand or product awareness? Or Groupon, a company that pissed off a lot of people, but created tons of brand and product awareness?


  • lawton chiles

    Thanks Alli for the mention and the kind words.

    •Groupon and Volkswagon did a ton of shotgun marketing this weekend, and that’s good in a sense that when a company wants to get really big, it pays to advertise.

    The negative side of Big Image Branding is that it doesn’t really translate into increase dollars into their bank accounts. Overall, Old Spice went up in sales, while the main Red Zone product sales fell.

    There is a place for it, sure, big branding, but does it increase sales? That’s debatable. Where’s the direct benefit? Why didin’t they drive the Volkswagon views to a Facebook page?

    • Alli

      All really good questions! I think sometimes people get caught up in a good idea (like the Darth Vader ad) that they don’t keep their eye on the prize (driving traffic, branding, more sales, whatever).

  • Sarah

    Droid did have one – very creepy, an Asian man in some back alley place was sewing human thumbs on the Droid robot dude. Very. Creepy. But memorable certainly.

    I’d answer your question this way: personally, I think Volkswagen did a better job branding, but Groupon wins in the buzz department. Buzz is buzz, positive or negative. For those of us who DO remember what car maker the Vader and Beetle commercials were for, it builds up Volkswagen very positively as a brand. Groupon may have more people saying its name right now, but as a brand, my feelings toward them are questionable.

    But that’s just me 🙂

    • Alli

      I think you are looking at it from an interesting angle. If you remember the make/model of the car, you’ll probably be VERY likely to think more positively about Volkswagen when shopping. On the other hand, tons of people might join Groupon, but how loyal will they really be? It’s kind of like the argument that it’s better to have 100 super-loyal Twitter followers than 1000 who barely recognize your name.

  • Freelance Copywriter

    Alli – that’s a good point about the “Darth Vader” ad. It wasn’t well branded.

    And you also said something true about the Groupon ad:

    Although it’s put me right off Groupon, all the chatter it started will probably pull in loads of new customers.

    So do you think saying something really stupid and offensive is a good way to brand an ad?

    • Alli

      That’s a really good question that I don’t know how to answer. I don’t think it’s a good thing because it tarnishes your brand, but it certainly does create buzz. I definitely think there’s something to be said for being provocative. But you also run the risk of crossing a line where you offend so many people that your brand never recovers or people start to boycott you in massive numbers. Before you actually make an ad public, it’s hard to know how it will be received, and at the end of the day, if you’re the one approving the ad, you also have to look into your own soul and ask yourself, “Morally, am I ok with saying this for the sake of building my business?” So do I think it’s a good technique? I don’t know. It’s playing with fire, at best.

      I’d like to note that I don’t think Groupon was trying to say something offensive in order to create buzz. I think they legitimately were trying to be funny and took it too far. But then, that could be part of the ploy. Maybe this is exactly what Groupon wanted. Who knows?

  • Amber

    They may not have as much brand awareness as they should have, but humor is proven to be more successful than any other type of advertising. I’m sure a lot of people know that Volkswagen was responsible for the ad because they wanted to watch the funny video and it’s easier to find the video in a search if you know what it was advertising. And, because it will be watched again and again and passed on, they are getting a lot of bang for their buck. I’m sure they felt they won and will see results eventually. Their brand value must have increased from all the buzz.

  • Generic Viagra

    All really good questions! I think sometimes people get caught up in a good idea (as the announcement of Darth Vader) that do not keep their eyes on the prize (to drive traffic, branding, more sales, whatever).

  • Generic Viagra

    All really good questions! I think sometimes people get caught up in a good idea (as the announcement of Darth Vader) that do not keep their eyes on the prize (to drive traffic, branding, more sales, whatever).

  • Generic Viagra

    All really good questions! I think sometimes people get caught up in a good idea (as the announcement of Darth Vader) that do not keep their eyes on the prize (to drive traffic, branding, more sales, whatever).

  • web coders for hire

    I think compared to others groupon gives more offers ..  Is it right?

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