Many of the best-received commercials during Sunday's Super Bowl referenced movies — they just weren't for movies heading to the local cineplex any time soon.
Several car ads that sparked some of the biggest interest on Twitter and other social-media platforms during the big game alluded to classic older films. Meanwhile, studio spots for major upcoming releases — including Marvel's "Avengers," Universal's "Battleship," Disney's "John Carter" and Paramount's "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" — passed without any great excitement or anticipation from a large number of online commenters. Companies paid an average of $3.5 million for a 30-second spot, to be seen by what ratings experts believed would be well over 100 million viewers.
Marketers paid homage to "Star Wars" (Volkswagen) and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (Honda) during the big game, generating strong word-of-mouth before and during the action.
Volkswagen revisited the boy in the Darth Vader mask from its buzzed-about 2011 spot titled "The Force," bringing the child back to settle an issue in the "Star Wars" cantina. Meanwhile, in a spot directed by Todd Phillips and starring Matthew Broderick, Honda made numerous references to "Bueller" without ever mentioning the 1986 movie's name. The commercial aired early in the fourth quarter at 60 seconds, truncated from its more than 21/2-minute run-time online last week.
Both the "Bueller" and "Star Wars" commercials played on the nostalgia that those in key thirty- and fortysomething demographics have for those properties.
Fox attempted to make use of that nostalgia more literally with its commercial for "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace 3D," hoping to kick off a Skywalker revival when the movie opens in 3-D this Friday.
A classic era of American filmmaking was also referenced in another way, with one of the most buzzed-about spots Sunday featuring preeminent filmmaker Clint Eastwood, offering a message of economic hope on behalf of Chrysler. Commentators on Twitter both praised the spot and joked about its campaign-ad flavor.
Even a classic of a different sort, "The Twilight Saga," got its due from Audi, which nodded to the vampire trend with a commercial featuring fanged ones in a nighttime setting, throwing in a Robert Pattinson look-alike for good measure.
Among commercials that retailed movies as a product unto itself, it was harder to discern a clear winner.
Last year, Paramount scored a big response when it unveiled the first TV commercial for "Super 8," J.J. Abrams' coming-of-age science-fiction film. The closest comparison Sunday evening was for a different Paramount film, spring's "The Dictator." Like "Super 8," the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy is not part of a major franchise. But the ad played before the game and did not at first blush generate the same intensity of online response as "Super 8."
"Battleship" and "G.I. Joe" occupied the spot that the "Transformers" franchise did last year, with explosion-filled commercials revealing little about the film and instead mainly serving to remind viewers a movie was coming out. "John Carter," Disney's expensive gamble that hits March 9, also failed to stand out as one of the more buzzed-about ads.
One test for a new release will come with "Act of Valor." Relativity Media's spot for the Navy SEALs action picture followed the Bueller ad and didn't spark a strong reaction. But the company will quickly be able to see if the investment paid off — the movie opens in less than two weeks.