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Time to retire the babies and animals.

There has long been a formula for creating a great Super Bowl commercial. And therein lies the problem.

The old formula is tired and out of step with the times. This premise was on full display yesterday. The decline in the quality of the spots has nothing to do with the notion that marketers need to play it safe because the economy sucks. I don’t subscribe to this school of thought. Now more than ever, we want to be entertained.

No, the dynamic that is undermining the age-old Super Bowl formula is YouTube. In a pre-YouTube era, animals, animal puppets and babies doing hilarious things used to be really fresh and funny. Super Bowl commercials were the original viral video. Now we can see even more outrageous and funnier videos from around the globe every day of the year with just a few clicks of our collective mouse. It is hard to out-zany the Internet.

The Super Bowl is still one of the best places to be if you want to reach a huge, tuned-in audience. But don’t go there for buzz. Three million is a lot to pay for a brief burst of chatter. If you show up, have something to say.

Be in the Super Bowl when you need to launch something meaningful, perhaps a new product or a new positioning, because it still has the power to place new ideas squarely in the middle of pop culture. Get more than :30 for your money ($3m to be precise) by teasing weeks ahead of time to get the entertainment and news media to extend the message. Design an employee promotion around the sponsorship to use it as a morale-boosting event. Redesign the website (message and functionality) to capitalize on the inevitable burst of traffic.

So what did I like yesterday? Pepsi and Gatorade stood out. Both were launching big brand positioning campaigns. Both used it as a reveal after weeks of teaser advertising. Both executed well. The Denny’s spot was extremely funny, and is supported by a big promotion offering free Grand Slam breakfasts tomorrow all across the country.

Don't get me wrong. I like seeing guys getting whacked in the head, Mr Potato Head driving a car, a Cheetah unleashing killer pigeons and fully agree with Pedigree that dogs rule. But folks, we're talking about spending $3m for something you could have done any day of the year.

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