Super Bowl ’09 ads tackle corporate social responsibility

There was plenty of usual advertising fare on last night’s Super Bowl, from Pepsi’s silly “Pepsuber” and Budweiser’s schmaltzy “Clydesdale Circus,” to Doritos’ frat boy “Crystal Ball” and GoDaddy’s steamy “Major league enhancement” spot.

But the ads that got my attention weren’t peddling products.

Among a sea of seemingly entertainment-for-entertainment-sake ads were a handful of visionary advertisers who aligned their companies with social causes while simultaneously driving traffic to their corporate Web sites.

Did you notice?

GE ran a clever spot – inspired by the Wizard of Oz’s Scarecrow character – plugging “smart grid technology.” Yes it was self-promotional, but it also conveyed a “larger than GE” thought leadership message built around its successful “Ecomagination” campaign which urges a cleaner, greener world.

First time advertiser Pedigree used humor to make a bigger statement. It showed owners of exotic pets frustrated by their behavior:

  • An ostrich chasing a mailman
  • a wild boar sticking its head out a family car’s rear window to catch some air
  • a rhino rampaging through a living room as the owner called its name to go out for a walk
  • a bull that wouldn’t catch a Frisbee.

Pedigree capped off the frivolity with a crisp message:

Maybe you should get a dog. The Pedigree Adoption Drive. Help us Help Dogs.

Pedigree has promised to donate one bowl of food to animal shelters every time their Super Bowl commercial or related vignettes are viewed on the Pedigree Web site. Their objective is to get 4 million Web site views, enabling Pedigree to make the claim that every sheltered dog in America was fed for one day.

Denny’s literally stepped up to the plate with its Super Bowl ad. While advertising their Grand Slam breakfast, Denny’s announced an amazing act of kindness: giving away free Grand Slam breakfasts for everyone in America on Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. at all 1,500 locations. While self-servingly winning new customers, Denny’s is also building tremendous ‘helping others’ goodwill at a time when people need it most.

Frosted Flakes raised the bar with its 30-second “Plant a seed” spot, urging people to visit to nominate youth playing fields to be rebuilt pro bono by Kellogg’s. Tony the Tiger even made his Super Bowl debut. After sorting through thousands of nominated playing fields, Kellogg’s will narrow the list to 100. Then it will select 30 which will all be brought back to life by Kellogg’s.

The NFL and United Way have long collaborated on many “giving back” campaigns, frequently communicating their good deeds via TV spots. This year’s Super Bowl featured a simple ad that tackled the subject of childhood obesity and promoted a mobile text link to donate.

It’s about time.

72% of Americans wish their employer would do more to support a cause and social issue. 87% are likely to switch from one brand to another brand if the other brand is associated with a good cause (Source: 2007 Cone Cause Evolution Study).

Last night’s advertising assault finally included companies with a conscience who understand that it’s good business when brands make-the-world-a-better-place.