It is clear that advertisers know everyone is watching the Super Bowl. Super Bowl XLVII featured ads that were broadly appealing, safe, and focused on delivering a brand message. The tradeoff, of course, is that it is hard to be distinctive and safe at the same time. This year we saw a lot of ads that worked well but won’t be remembered years from now.
There were two notable trends this year. First, advertisers ran long spots. Many developed sixty-second spots and Jeep, Dodge and Samsung ran spots lasting two minutes. Marketers are recognizing the power of stories to engage people and build brands. It takes time to tell an engaging story.
Second, social media reached a new level. Most Super Bowl advertisers had elaborate campaigns before the game and several were active during the game itself. Oreo, Tide and other brands tweeted about the blackout, demonstrating an ability to react quickly to developments in the world. One of our favorite tweets was from SodaStream, which signed off after the game with this comment: “Hope you all enjoyed the game! We’re signing off before we have to see that Go Daddy commercial again.”
A group of almost sixty Kellogg students watched the Super Bowl in Evanston and evaluated all the spots. Here are some of the grades and highlights.
Tide topped the list this year with a very engaging spot about a Joe Montana stain. Going into the game, we weren’t sure the spot would do well since the branding is late; Tide shows up just at the end of the commercial. But the ad had tremendous breakthrough. In addition, since the ad focused on a stain people quickly connected it to Tide, the clear category leader. This sort of ad wouldn’t work for a smaller brand but for Tide it is a huge win.
M&Ms almost won the review for the second year in a row with a spot that had very strong branding and breakthrough. From the first second it was clear this was a spot for M&Ms. The ad was clever and engaging; it quickly got people’s attention and kept it.
Best Buy (A)
Best Buy has run Super Bowl ads for several years. This was its best year; Best Buy’s ad featuring Amy Pohler was one of the top spots in the Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review.
The spot had strong branding; it was very clear this was an ad for Best Buy. The ad also communicated a benefit: great service. It got attention and was very distinctive.
Chrysler’s Jeep ad was one of the most emotional and somber spots on the game. The ad ran during halftime, right after the Beyonce’s half-time extravaganza. The rather jarring contrast attracted attention, reminding people that even as they enjoy the game there are service men and women all over the world serving our country.
The spot worked for Jeep; it touched the brand’s historical roots and gave the brand meaning and importance.
The joint Jeep – USO branding was curious. This reduced the chance Jeep would be accused of opportunism but might have diluted the branding to some degree.
Wonderful Pistachios (A)
Wonderful Pistachios ran a terrific spot featuring Psy and his Gangnam style dancing. The ad was distinctive and very well branded. The line “Get Crackin’ Gangnam Style” was a triumph.
Wonderful Pistachios focused on the category of pistachios more than the merits of Wonderful Pistachios over other competitors. The strategic clarity kept the spot simple and focused.
Unilever’s Axe brand ran an insightful spot about men, women and astronauts. The brand found a way to build on its historical equity and keep things interesting and fresh.
Samsung made an interesting choice with its spot on the Super Bowl; the brand decided to run fresh creative, not its highly successful ads attacking Apple and Blackberry.
The ad worked; it was distinctive and communicated clearly that Samsung was indeed the next big thing.
An interesting side note: Kellogg student Sam Sung approved the use of his name in the spot.
E Trade (B)
The E Trade baby returned this year with another solid Super Bowl spot. The message this year was clear: keep retirement account fees low with E Trade. Branding was solid; using the baby means people immediately know who the ad is for. The ad didn’t have quite the magic of some E Trade’s earlier spots but it still finished near the top of our rankings.
Audi had a distinctive spot with a clear benefit: driving an Audi makes you confident and brave. Audi relied on consumer input to select the ad’s finish. We are curious why none of the options showed the girl traveling with the brave fellow in the Audi.
Taco Bell (B)
A solid spot for Taco Bell featured old folks acting young. The insightful ad dramatized youth as a mindset. Taco Bell embraced an emotional benefit; the ad didn’t talk at all about specific menu offerings or food quality.
An interesting move by Mercedes: highlighting the brand’s surprisingly low price. The point came across. We wonder if this is where Mercedes should focus.
Speed Stick (B)
Speed Stick’s spot on the Super Bowl worked well; it was distinctive and got the point across in a humorous fashion.
The Low Scoring Spots
BlackBerry received the lowest score from the Kellogg panel this year. This is unfortunate because BlackBerry really needed a strong performance to reverse the brand’s negative trends.
There were two big problems in the BlackBerry spot. First, branding was weak; it wasn’t clear who was advertising. Second, there wasn’t a benefit; the spot talked a lot about what the product didn’t do but little about what the device could do. Why should we use a BlackBerry? We wish they had given us a reason.
Lincoln also needed a big year on the Super Bowl but fell flat. The brand showed an attractive car. Unfortunately, the Super Bowl is full of ads featuring attractive cars.
Go Daddy (D)
One of the factors the Kellogg panel considers is amplification. The question: what will people remember from the spot? Is this positive or negative?
Go Daddy had a distinctive spot but negative amplification; people found the kiss to be disconcerting. The extended play version posted on-line was even more disturbing for those who went to see it.
Subway ran some fine spots on the Super Bowl; the branding was clear and the message distinctive. Most days, this would be fine. On the Super Bowl, however, standards are higher and the Subway ads just didn’t measure up so suffered in terms of getting attention and being distinctive.
Calvin Klein (D)
In 2012 we saw the male form displayed by H&M. This year we saw it showcased by Calvin Klein. The spot was distinctive but didn’t resonate with the Kellogg panel.
Other Notable Spots
One of the top ads on the Super Bowl was Budweiser’s Clydesdale ad. What a remarkable piece of film; in just sixty-second, Budweiser told a very complicated story but everyone could follow it. We showed the ad to a seven-year old girl one time and she then immediately played back the entire story in great detail, both what happened and the emotions involved.
The Kellogg panel scored the Clydesdale spot as one of the very best on the game this year. Unfortunately, the other spots for Bud and Bud Light were not as effective; this brought the score for the Budweiser brand to a C.
The ad we’d most like to see again is the spot from Dodge featuring Paul Harvey talking about farmers. The spot is deep and emotional.
The power of the Dodge ad is that it gives the brand soul; it really connects Dodge to rural America and traditional values. This is strategically brilliant. Chrysler has clearly defined the Chrysler brand as an urban brand and the Dodge brand as a rural brand.
The spot fell in the middle of the pack with the Kellogg panel; it wasn’t clear that people connected the creative to the brand and there were some concerns as to whether the brand took too much time to share its message.
Kraft’s Mio took aim at Gatorade in its Super Bowl ad. The spot showed how to use the product and set a clear frame of reference. The ad would have scored better with a stronger benefit: why use this product, again?
Cars.com has been a consistent Super Bowl advertisers; the brand has run solid spots over the years. This one worked well but didn’t break into the top of the rankings. Still, with the brand’s aggressive integrated marketing effort supporting the ad we suspect the overall impact might be very positive.
Super Bowl advertising is only getting to be more important; it has a unique role in the marketing calendar. Social media will play a big role again next year.
The challenge for marketers is to be safe but not too safe. The spots that live with us forever as blockbusters in the Super Bowl advertising hall of fame are those combine exceptional strategy and creative brilliance.