Dreamworks’ 3D Super Bowl Stunt Gets Mixed Reviews

By J. Sperling Reich | February 2, 2009 12:07 am PST

[youtube width=”480″ height=”295″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNK3vdyYdGw[/youtube]

From the moment Dreamworks Animation first announced that it would run a 3D trailer for it’s March release “Monsters. vs. Aliens” during Super Bowl XLIII everyone working in the entertainment industry took notice, especially those in distribution and exhibition.  Now that the big game is over and sports pundits have begun recapping every play, marketing experts and the public at large will spend the next several days discussing which Super Bowl commercials worked, which were forgettable and which were downright embarrassing.  This year, Dreamworks’ 1:30 second trailer for “Monsters vs. Aliens” will definitely be one of the ads which is hotly debated in regards to whether it helped or hindered the film it was meant to promote, specifically because it aired in 3D.

Certainly the Super Bowl telecast is no stranger to advertising stunts, though not all of them turnout as expected. (remember Budweiser’s Bud Bowl?).  Over the years, giving moviegoers a first glimpse of upcoming tent pole releases during the Super Bowl has become an important part of many blockbusters’ marketing campaigns, not to mention one of the most expensive parts.  Ads for this years Super Bowl cost USD $3 million for a 30 second spot.

Nobody needs to be told, at least nobody in the United States, that the Super Bowl has become a premiere event for launching advertising campaigns.  In fact, it may be the single most important event in the North American ad world each year.  During the last four decades numerous memorable television spots first aired during the Super Bowl.  In 1973 Master Lock set the bar by firing a bullet through it’s product.  Coca-Cola, a perennial Super Bowl advertiser had a huge hit with it’s spot featuring hall-of-famer Mean Joe Green in 1979.  Beer commercials, such as Budweiser’s “True” spots, have also been a big hit through years.  But by far, the most referenced Super Bowl commercial of all time was Apple’s 1984 ad to introduce the Macintosh computer.  The spot, which first aired 25 years ago, is still deemed one of the most successful ads to ever run during the telecast, even though it never even showed the product.

To pull off their 3D Super Bowl ad, DreamWorks Animation teamed up with PepsiCo and microchip manufacturer Intel.  PepsiCo produced and ran a 60 second 3D spot to advertise its product SoBe Lifewater.  Intel produced 125 million pairs of 3D anaglyph glasses which could be picked up on SoBe retail displays.  Big box stores such as Target also had a supply of the glasses.  The public was made aware of the promotion and instructed where they could get obtain the 3D glasses through special radio and television ads like the one embedded above.

I picked up a pair of glasses just a few hours before the Super Bowl began at a Target in Woodland Hills, CA.  When I asked the cashier at the front of the store where I could find the 3D glasses, I was directed to the store’s electronics department where personnel promptly handed them out.  At least in my personal experience, retail staff was well educated about the promotion and not an obstacle in distributing the glasses.

The glasses are plastered with logos for Intel, InTru3D, “Monsters vs. Aliens”, NBC and SoBe along with instructions to “Tune in at the end of the 2nd quarter” on February 1st, 2009.  However, nowhere does it say “tune in” to what.  Of course, the glasses were the standard anaglyph variety with a red, or amber, lens on the left side and a blue lens on the right.  For a majority viewers, anaglyph is the only way to watch 3D broadcasts on a television at home.  Some LCD, DLP and plasma sets being sold today come with modern 3D capabilities though the install base is negligible.

At the end of the 2nd quarter, just before the half time show, the block of 3D commercials for “Monsters vs. Aliens” and SoBe were preceded by a brief announcement instructing viewers to put on their 3D glasses.  The 3D effect in the trailer for “Monsters vs. Aliens” was certainly noticeable, but due to the anaglyph glasses the image was dark and discolored.  As well, the quick editing in the trailer exacerbated that vertigo feeling some viewers of 3D films have historically complained about.  Using the glasses to watch the spot on a computer was a surprisingly better experience.  You can view the trailer which ran during the Super Bowl here.

Ironically, the SoBe commercial may have come off better, technically speaking.  It was shot entirely in white, so brighter and less discolored.

But, in the end, it is the more than 125 million viewers that were watching the Super Bowl who are the ultimate judges of whether the ads actually worked or increased the awareness of “Monsters vs. Aliens”.  To find out what some of them might be saying I turned to Twitter, a popular social networking application that allows users to send short, 140 character text messages to friends and followers.  Twitter’s site was abuzz with people talking about the 3D ads and the reviews were mixed at best.  Some blurted out frustrations at not having the 3D glasses.  Here is just a sampling (with identities removed):

“Wow I’m sorry DreamWorks & Intel but your 3D stuff in red and blue sucked!! Yes someone brought me glasses but it looked terrible!!”

“I had heard coming out of CES that 3D TV was going to be big, but I REALLY don’t get it.”

“No 3d glasses”

“Sobe 3D ad was better 3D than the Monsters vs Aliens 3D ad”

“Monsters vs. Aliens 3D 5 out of 5!”

“Forgot to cut our 3-d glasses. Only one of us could watch.”

“I guess i’ll have to get 3-d glasses somewhere. The commercials look weird without them.”

“Rewind and watch in 3D again…”

“Is it just me, or was all that 3D stuff really difficult to watch?”

“Oxfordfilm**** wishes she hadn’t forgotten her 3D glasses at work.”

“Monsters vs aliens 3d was incredibly disappointing”

“Overall, the SoBe ad 3-D effects came off marginally better than ‘Monsters vs Aliens.’” (From TVGuide)

“Monsters vs. Aliens on IMAX is gonna be flippin’ AMAZING!”

“Aliens vs. Monsters will be so bomb.”

“Alright I saw the movie trailer I wanted to. Aliens Vs. Monsters looks awesome.”

“Monsters vs. Aliens in 3D – red ball in beginning by far best 3D moment.”

“The 3D with the glasses on my wall mounted screen was awesome. Esp the one w/ everyone in white.”

“Kind if disappointed at the 3D commercials. I gotthe glasses for it and everything.”

“Wow that 3D ad was a total fail. Good thing it didn’t cost much, oh wait….oops.”

“3D glasses??? How come we never heard about this??”

There were also a few from viewers who tried to use polarized 3D glasses they held onto from recent 3D film releases:

“The Hannah Montana 3D glasses did NOT work for the Monsters VS. Aliens trailer, which is OK cuz it looked stupid anyway.”

“Wasn’t impressed with the 3D ads – I put on my Hannah Montana 3D specs on – could see 3D but color was off.”

Most important to Dreamworks Animation no doubt is whether the trailer actually got people interested in seeing the film.  Some seemed to be won over:

“I think I’ll have to take the kids to see monsters vs aliens in 3d.”

The ads certainly worked to get people talking about the technology.  I even ran across a Twitter post from Senthil Kumar, head of Reel Image:

“I’ve seen the TI DLP RP TVs with demo 3D content and it’s great for the home but you need a 60+ in screen or it’s no fun.”

Blogs, the latest baromoter of public opinion for just about everything in life, were quick to weigh in on the 3D commercials too.  SlashFilm ran a poll asking readers to vote for their favorite Super Bowl movie ad.  After 690 votes, the trailer for “Star Trek” was leading with 59% of the votes while “Monsters vs. Aliens” wasn’t in the top five.  CrunchGear, an offshoot of popular technology blog TechCrunch, cut right to the chase by asking whether the 3D ads were “hot” or “not”.  With 178 votes in, Not was leading with 126.  Cinematical was running a similar poll and of the five choices “I never picked up the glasses to begin with” was leading the pack with 101 votes.  “They were okay” was in second place with 55 votes.

While these polls may not prove much, it was one of the comments posted on Cinematical that may have best summed up the 3D stunt:

“Why promote the amazing current technology that would wow the majority of public that hasn’t seen it with antiquated red/blue-lackluster crap?”

J. Sperling Reich