Super Political Ads Don't Stake Up to Super Bowl Ads

As the noise concerning the Giants improbable Super Bowl victory over the near perfect Patriots dies down, Americans from coast to coast head to the polls to vote in the political equivalent of the Super Bowl: Super Tuesday.

With 24 states voting in the closest thing to a national primary in the U.S., the Republican and Democratic parties have managed to channel some of the excitement of the Super Bowl into a single, season-changing event.

There are many things the Super Bowl and Super Tuesday have in common. There is the fierce battle for victory. The star players and the celebrity hangers-on.

But there's one thing the Super Bowl has over Super Tuesday: advertising magic.

Because as any fan knows, half the fun of watching the Super Bowl is the ads.

After all, who can forget a bunch of lame men (and surprise celebrities) bobbing their heads to Haddaway's "What is Love", or the heartwarming Coca-Cola ad with the blimp floating in Gotham, or Danica Patrick's (almost) strip tease for

By comparison, political ads this season aren't nearly as much fun.

Certainly, the presidential candidates' media firms have had their creative juices flowing during this intense primary season.

In one holiday-themed political ad that aired in key early primary states in December, Sen. Hillary Clinton tried to play up her softer side. She was seen wrapping presents and getting ready for the holidays. The presents, however, were a bunch of social programs she would enact if elected president.

"Where did I put the universal pre-K?," she wonders aloud in the spot.

Other holiday themed ads were more traditional. Sen. Barack Obama's family gathered for his holiday ad. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was seated without his children, with whom he is known to have strained relations, and instead was seen sitting next to Santa Claus.

Millions spent on campaign commercials, nothing memorable

Senator Obama was the only candidate who got in on the Super Bowl ad game. He used some of the $30 million he raised in January to buy high-priced advertising time on local stations in 23 states as well as the District of Columbia.

The Fox television network, which broadcast this year's game -- and raked in $2.7 million for every 30 second spot -- did not allow political advertisements during the national broadcast of the game itself. Obama got around the ban by placing the ads in local markets instead.

While the Obama ad may have been seen in states that are just now beginning to see ads, in other states, the airwaves have been saturated for weeks.

According to studies by the Campaign Media Analysis Group and Wisconsin Advertising Project, the presidential contenders have spent $107 million on TV ads so far this election, airing roughly 150,000 ads.

The biggest ad man, the report found, is former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who has spent $29 million advertising on TV ads, followed by Barack Obama with $23 million and Hillary Clinton with $18 million.

Iowa was the state that benefited from the most candidate ad money, with some $40 million in advertising dollars that were spent by the candidates there. Another $32 million were spent in New Hampshire.

But with so many states voting on Tuesday the concentration of money has thinned. Only $8 million has been spent in Super Tuesday states, $3 million in California alone, the Campaign Media Analysis Group and University Wisconsin report.

Sen. Obama has put up advertising in every Super Tuesday state except Alaska and Idaho and Clinton is up in 16 of those states.

What the campaigns could learn from the Super Bowl ads?

The candidates have settled in on some signature styles for their political ads. Romney uses stars and stripes in 77 percent of his ads. Obama has high profile surrogates vouching for him in several commercials running across the country, including spots with Caroline Kennedy, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano and Sen. Claire McCaskill. Sen. Clinton is trying to drive home her campaign themes like being a good steward of the economy and fighting for universal health care coverage. Sen. McCain uses many images of his time as a POW in Vietnam, playing to his national security credentials. But the ads, according to some media observers, just don't seem as fun as the

Barbara Lippert, a columnist for Adweek, thinks campaign ads have become incredibly boring. "It's a paint by numbers operation," she said. "It's the same formula they've been using for 30 years."

"News clips, a voiceover talking about quotes and the candidate addressing the audience. It's like 'put your candidate here,'" Lippert complains.

She suggests that Sen. Clinton use a more subtle approach. "Hillary Clinton is most effective when she's talking to the camera. If it was just her, framed with a beautiful light, and just a little bit of music, it would be better," said Lippert.

For Romney, she suggests a total overhaul. "He needs to let himself go grey," said Lippert. "His ads are very stiff like the candidate himself."

But would campaign ads be more effective if the candidates broke out of their safe and traditional zones and instead really took a page from Super Bowl ads?

Imagine how much buzz Senator Clinton could get among the coveted young voters who tilt toward Obama if she did produced an ad like Bud Light's "superior drinkability" campaign and instead went with "superior electabilty?"

Romney, trailing McCain in national polls, just needs to catch voters' attention in any way he can. In a less serious world, he might consider jumping up and down to Michael Jackson's Thriller like the lizards in the Life Water Super Bowl spot.

Making the ads memorable

Republican Mike Huckabee may be trailing in the polls but he has one of the most creative ads this cycle. His first campaign commercial starred his #1 celebrity supporter, martial arts expert and actor, and was labeled "Chuck Norris Approved".

"Chuck Norris doesn't endorse. He tells America how it's gonna be," says Huckabee, the former Governor of Arkansas, with a slight grin.

A memorable ad indeed. But so far during this campaign season, the political ads are not going down in the history books. According to Lippert, these ads pale in comparison to her all-time favorite political campaign ad, Ronald Reagan's "It's Morning Again in America". "It showed a beautiful scenes of people. It was very symbolic and beautifully done," said Lippert. It had, perhaps, the imagination of a great Super Bowl spot.