Four Super Bowl Ads That Touched the Heart

January 30, 2014

In just a few days, advertisers will spend millions of dollars running Super Bowl commercials. If history is any guide, most of these spots will feature funny jokes and impressive special effects.

Few of these ads, however, will make an emotional appeal. They will try to amuse and dazzle more than touch the heart.

This is a missed opportunity. At Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, we’ve been evaluating Super Bowl ads for 10 years. Our focus is somewhat unique; we aren’t interested in entertainment value, we are interested in business impact. Our student panel studies each spot and evaluates its power to build the business and to build the brand.

While emotional spots are not common, they are some of the most effective we have seen in the last decade.


Google: In 2010, Google won the Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review with a spot called “Parisian Love.” While the spot showed Google’s functional side, the story was a classic love story. Boy travels to Paris, boy meets girl, they date, they marry and start a family. Google helps with all of it.


Dove: Unilever ran an astonishing commercial for Dove in 2006 that won the Kellogg review that year. The commercial dealt with the rather serious topic of self-image among girls. This is not traditionally a Super Bowl ad theme. But Dove’s spot broke through that year and stood out. It conveyed an import message in an emotional way and built the brand.


Jeep: Last year Jeep ran a remarkable commercial saluting the troops fighting overseas. The ad was serious and emotional. It noted, “There will be a seat left open, a light left on, a favorite dinner waiting, a warm bed made…because in your home, in our hearts, you’ve been missed. You’ve been needed, you’ve been cried for, prayed for. You are the reason we push on.” Jeep touched deep emotions about loss and longing. And the spot worked to build the brand; it made people feel proud of Jeep and its values.


Budweiser: Perhaps more than any other Super Bowl advertiser, Budweiser knows the power of emotion. Over the years the brand has run a series of emotional spots featuring the iconic Clydesdales. The 2013 spot, for example, highlighted the emotional bond between a horse and its trainer. It was one of the top spots of the year.


It isn’t easy to create an emotional spot for the Super Bowl. The environment is fun and energetic and people aren’t primed for serious themes. And, in many ways, the safe approach that many brands will take is to air the funny and lively commercials.

But, if we are lucky, one or two brands will tap into our emotions. And if they do it well they will emerge as some of the most effective spots.

Soda Stream’s PR Win

January 28, 2014

Marketers advertising on the Super Bowl face two challenges. The main issue is breaking through the clutter during the game. The other challenge is getting PR attention in the days leading up to the event.

The PR battle isn’t easy. There are only so many news outlets and business writers. A newspaper has only one front page each day and can only fit a certain number of stories. There are dozens of Super Bowl advertisers fighting for coverage.

Soda Stream has deftly managed its PR this year and is getting enormous attention as a result. For a small advertiser, Soda Stream is getting disproportionate amount of coverage.

Soda Stream got off to a strong start when it announced in early January that it had signed Scarlett Johansson to be its spokesperson. This move provided a big boost for the brand. Johansson did a number of interviews discussing Soda Stream. Here is an example of the coverage:

Last weekend, Soda Stream was back in the news when it revealed that Fox had rejected its Super Bowl ad because it mentioned Coke and Pepsi by name. Daniel Birnbaum, CEO, announced the news and said he was shocked by the decision. He sputtered, “This is the kind of stuff that happens in China. I’m disappointed as an American.” You can read more about it here:

Soda Stream wasn’t surprised about the Fox rejection; it was just creating news.

The brand is again in the news today defending its factory in the West Bank. This is less favorable coverage but news nonetheless.  Scarlett put out a statement about it:

The overall impact is quite impressive. Soda Stream is everywhere. As of today, its rejected commercial has 1,587,464 views. You can contribute to the totals by watching the spot here:

This is a great example of how a brand can get media attention by creating and managing the flow of news.

The only problem is that I think the basic strategy is off; saving the world is a nice concept but it won’t drive adoption of the Soda Stream. Product quality and image matter more.

*  *  *

If you are in Chicago, join me the evening of February 5 for a review of the 2014 Super Bowl advertising. I’ll be showing many of the commercials and discussing which ones scored well with the Kellogg panel and which ones didn’t. It should be a fun event. You can sign up here:

The Hype Begins

January 20, 2014

Tomorrow the build-up to the 2014 Super Bowl begins in earnest.

It used to be that Super Bowl advertising was just that: Super Bowl advertising. Companies would buy some time, develop a spot and hope it generated some discussion and buzz the following day. The more sophisticated advertisers would add a bit of print into the mix, perhaps running an ad in the USA Today the following morning.

Things have changed.

The Super Bowl is now a multi-media marketing spectacle. Companies advertising on the game will work very hard to get attention and discussion in the two weeks leading up to kick-off. They will use teaser television spots, social media campaigns, promotions and PR efforts.

Last week I spoke with a notable Super Bowl advertiser who reported that he now thinks of the Super Bowl as a month-long event.

A few advertisers have already gotten started. Jaguar and Axe rolled out campaigns last week. Soda Stream announced its spokesperson. And it was impossible to miss the teaser spots from Bud Light on yesterday’s playoff games.

Here is one of Bud Light’s many teaser spots:

This is the teaser spot from Butterfinger peanut butter cups:

I suspect Super Bowl advertisers will be fairly quiet today; it seems wrong to launch a splashy new advertising campaign on Martin Luther King Day.

Tomorrow, however, the frenzy will set in.

If you want to see the state of marketing today, follow a few of the Super Bowl advertisers and watch what they do. Look at how they use Facebook, Twitter, promotions, a website and PR.

The stakes are very high and every Super Bowl advertiser wants to win the next two weeks.

*  *  *

This weekend I’ll be taking a break from tracking Super Bowl advertising to help lead the Kellogg Healthcare and Biotech Case Competition. Eleven teams of students from business schools around the world are coming to Kellogg to compete. It is a global event with teams from the UK, Mexico and Canada. This year’s case is about reducing childhood pneumonia in Uganda, a major global healthcare challenge.

Soda Stream’s Super Bowl Challenge

January 13, 2014

Last year Soda Stream ran its first Super Bowl ad ever. The spot was mediocre; the Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review panel gave it a C.

Here it is:


Soda Stream was smart to advertise on the Super Bowl. The brand was growing quickly and needed to accelerate adoption. A Super Bowl ad is a great way to build broad awareness and spark adoption.

The issue: Soda Stream had a strategy problem.

Soda Stream’s 2013 spot featured exploding bottles. As people carbonated water, plastic soda bottles blew up. The key line was this: “With Soda Stream you can save 2,000 bottles a year.”

This would have worked well if saving bottles is a priority for people. Unfortunately, for most folks it isn’t. I’m certain it scored well in consumer tests because people like to think they care about the environment. It probably did even better in focus group studies. But it isn’t a strong enough benefit to drive a behavior change.

Saving bottles is not why most people will use Soda Stream. If someone really wanted to save bottles they would be drinking regular tap water from a reusable jug.

As a result, the 2013 Super Bowl ad fell a bit flat. You can only do so much with a flawed strategy.

Soda Stream is advertising on the Super Bowl again in 2014. This year the brand needs to do better. This is particularly the case in light of its weak earnings announcement this week.

The most important task: find a benefit. Soda Stream has to put forth a more compelling reason for people to use the product. It could be quality, experience, convenience or value. The brand has to find something.

Soda Stream announced over the weekend that it had signed Scarlett Johansson as a spokesperson and she will appear in the brand’s Super Bowl spot.

This is a good first step; a celebrity endorser is a great way to spark interest.

Now Soda Stream has to find a benefit and make a compelling case.

Heinz Steps Up

January 9, 2014

Yesterday Heinz announced that it would be running an ad on the 2014 Super Bowl. This is a big surprise; Heinz hasn’t advertised on the Super Bowl in more than a decade.

The brand isn’t an obvious candidate. It is a mature, stable business with little competition. In addition, this is off-season. People aren’t buying ketchup for picnics in early February.

But this is not a normal time at Heinz.

In June, an investment group including Warren Buffet and Brazilian private equity group 3G Capital purchased Heinz.

Since then, the company has been in disarray. The new management team fired almost 2,000 people from staff roles and announced the closure of three plants in North America.

McDonald’s dropped Heinz in October.

Fortune Magazine ran a long story the same month attacking the new management team.

Sales have been slumping, with revenue down about 6% in North America in the latest period, a notable figure for a company with big, mature brands.

The Super Bowl buy is clearly a move to stabilize the company. It is a symbolic gesture. The unspoken goal is to let employees, customers, suppliers and partners know that the new executives at Heinz aren’t just determined to slash costs and fire people. They also want to invest and build the business.

It has been a rough few months for Heinz. The Super Bowl ad is a bid to shift the focus and generate some positive news.

*  *  *

Over the next few weeks I will be focused on the 2014 Super Bowl (the advertising, not the football). This is my 10th year leading the Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review. I’ll be posting some updates here. You can follow all the posts by following the Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review blog. Here is the link:

Six Brands to Watch in 2014

December 30, 2013

This will be a critical year for many brands. Here are six that I will be watching with particular interest in 2014.



There is intense focus on the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the event a top priority and invested billions in constructing the facilities. One important goal is to enhance Russia’s brand.

It is not at all clear how things will go. People around the world are denouncing Russia’s anti-gay legislation and its approach to human-rights. Terrorist attacks are a significant concern.

Will Sochi build the Putin and Russia brands? Or will it be a branding disaster?



Tesla is one of the most exciting brands in the world today. The new automaker is generating incredible buzz and attracting thousands of buyers, many of whom rave about the cars. The stock soared in 2013 to $150 per share.

There are concerns, however. Some people are worried about safety after a series of battery fires. There is also a more basic question: is Tesla a reasonable vehicle for the masses? Or is it just a toy for the affluent?

In 2014 we will learn much more about the potential of Tesla to change the automotive world.



Korean-giant Samsung has become a leader in the technology world and a key challenger to Apple.

The company has enormous scale and technical capabilities. Last year Samsung did a tremendous job building its brand and ran some terrific advertising.

Can Samsung continue its momentum? Or will it struggle and face shrinking margins with undifferentiated products?


-JC Penney

Can JC Penney recover?

Under CEO Ron Johnson, JC Penney launched a bold effort to reinvent its brand, cutting discounts and updating its product assortment. The plan was a disaster.

The JC Penney board tossed out Johnson in April, 2013 and brought Mike Ullman back to be CEO. Under Ullman, JC Penney is returning to discounts and its more traditional product mix.

Things are getting better at JC Penney. In 2014 we will learn whether the improvement is enough to save the company.



Sears is struggling. This is not a surprise. It also isn’t new; Sears has declined for years.

The question for 2014: just how long can Sears continue along? Will the brand just gradually fade away, like a setting sun? Or will the brand finally collapse in 2014?


-Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cups

There is nothing like a good competitive battle. In 2014, we will see a massive fight play out in the peanut butter cup category.

The established player is Hershey, which owns Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cups. The new entrant is Nestle which is launching Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups.

This will be a huge fight. Nestle is spending aggressively on its new product with a launch that includes a spot on the 2014 Super Bowl. Hershey is likely to mount a ferocious defensive effort and do everything it can to limit Nestle’s gains.

This will be a very entertaining battle to watch.


Best wishes for a productive and healthy 2014.

The Remarkable Chobani – Whole Foods Fight

December 19, 2013

You don’t see manufacturers and retailers attack each other very often. Everyone has an interest in keeping disputes hidden from view.

Today, however, Chobani and Whole Foods are fighting it out in a nasty battle.

Here is the story. Whole Foods announced yesterday that it was kicking Chobani out of its stores. The reason, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, was “to make more room for smaller, exclusive brands, especially those that are organic, or don’t contain genetically modified ingredients.”

Whole Foods basically said Chobani, a spectacularly successful brand, wasn’t actually so special after all.

Chobani responded by saying Whole Foods wasn’t very important, either. Chobani’s founder and CEO, Hamdi Ulukaya, declared “Of course I would love to be available everywhere, but it won’t hurt our business.”

He explained to the New York Times, “I come from a dairy farming part of Turkey and grew up with yogurt and eating this simple kind of food, and when I came here I couldn’t understand why in order to find good-tasting yogurt you have to go to some specialty store to find it. So the foundation of my business model and my philosophy is that we are going to make yogurt that is delicious, nutritious and accessible to everyone.”

In other words, Chobani is accusing Whole Foods of being expensive and elitist.

This is brutal. Whole Foods says Chobani isn’t healthy or special. Chobani says Whole Foods is an irrelevant niche business for rich people.

So what is going on?

Behind this dispute is the fact that Chobani and Whole Foods are facing serious business issues. After years of spectacular growth, they are both struggling to defend.

Whole Foods is dealing with a host of competitors eager to portray the brand as expensive. Whole Foods is clearly concerned about this because it is now focusing much of its marketing budget on an economy message. For example, I received an email the other day from my local Whole Foods pointing out all the low prices. This is a questionable move and indicates that the executives at Whole Foods believe they are vulnerable.

Chobani is struggling with competition, too. The big yogurt brands ignored Chobani early on but now they are fighting back. Dannon, in particular, is defending aggressively and effectively.

The brands then collide.

Whole Foods doesn’t want to carry the standard Chobani flavors because it is very easy for people to compare prices. Whole Foods has three options. It can match Target and Costco on pricing, which destroys its margins, carry unique items that are not easy to compare on pricing or drop the brand entirely.

Chobani doesn’t want to invest money to produce unique items for Whole Foods, especially as it deals with the onslaught from Dannon.

Dannon will do whatever Whole Foods wants. The company is panicked about Chobani and eager to please. I suspect if Whole Foods wanted to buy yogurt in a container made from organic carrots Dannon would be happy to provide it.

The result is one of the nastiest competitive battles I’ve seen in a long time.

It will be fun to watch how this all unfolds over the next several months.

Super Bowl 2014: 53 Days Away

December 11, 2013

The 2014 Super Bowl is less than two months away. This is the time when marketers all around the world are putting finishing touches on their Super Bowl marketing campaigns. Some are shooting commercials this week; others are meeting with senior management to secure approvals and almost are plotting social media strategy.

The stakes are high: on Super Bowl Sunday millions of people will gather to watch and evaluate the ads. There will also be a football game that day, but for most folks the advertising matters more.

It is shaping up to be a record Super Bowl in terms of advertising.

-Prices are at a new peak, with each thirty-second spot selling for $4 million. This is serious money even for big advertisers.

-Demand is high. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the Super Bowl is sold out.

-Pregame buzz will be intense and early. Advertisers are already putting out press releases about Super Bowl advertising. This is different; a few years ago few advertisers released much before Super Bowl. Then marketers started capitalizing on the buzz by putting out information the week before the event. Now companies are active months ahead of time.

The Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review will be back again in 2014. This is our tenth year of reviewing the spots. Our focus, as always, will be on business impact: which of these advertisers built the brand and the business. This makes our ratings unique; our panel focuses on what really matters. Creativity is nice but is of no use on its own. The advertising has to work.

In the weeks leading up to the game, Professor Derek Rucker and I will be blogging. You can read the posts on the Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review blog or on my blog. Sign up to see all the posts.

Kellogg Super Bowl Ad Review blog:

My blog:

We will also be on Twitter. We will look at who is advertising and why, the business challenges they face and what they have to do to succeed. And after the game, of course, we will be out with our rankings.

This year we will also take a look back at 10 years of the Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review.

It is a fun time of the year and there is a lot to learn about marketing, strategy and our society.

Lands’ End and Sears

December 6, 2013

Sears today announced that it had filed paperwork with the SEC to spin-off Lands’ End. This is very good news for the Lands’ End brand.

Lands’ End is a retailer based on Janesville, Wisconsin. Chicagoan Gary Comer started the company in 1963. It began selling equipment for boaters.Lands' End

By 2000, Lands’ End was a thriving company. Customers loved the brand and the business did well; Lands’ End had a distinct voice in the crowded world of retail. It was a bit like L.L. Bean with less of the rugged Maine feel. Lands’ End was comfortably sporty and nautical with great quality and service. I was a loyal customer.

In 2002, however, Sears purchased Lands’ End for $1.8 billion. The concept was that Lands’ End would help revitalize Sears and make the brand more upscale. Sears quickly opened up Lands’ End departments in Sears stores.

The combination of Sears and Lands’ End was a disaster. When a small brand joins with a huge brand, the larger partner will carry more weight. So instead of pulling Sears up, the combination just pulled Lands’ End down.

I visited a few of the Lands’ End stores in Sears locations. It was a painful experience. First, I had to wander through Sears, which was difficult enough. Then I found that the Lands’ End department was in disarray with little service and selection. It was totally counter to my image of the Lands’ End brand.

So I, and many people, moved on to other brands.

Things may change once Lands’ End becomes independent. The new brand (hopefully) won’t have to sell at Sears locations. It can attract employees committed to building a special, unique brand. It can reward employees with stock options that actually might be worth something.

Short term, Lands’ End may do poorly on its own. Sales will fall as the brand retrenches, invests in service and branding, and cuts retail locations. Many customers will leave, especially those looking for low prices.

Long term, Lands’ End may emerge as a thriving merchant, a special brand in the crowded world of retail.

I’m looking forward to the transition and becoming a Lands’ End customer again.

Volvo, Van Damme and the Future of Marketing

November 27, 2013

The world of marketing is changing. Traditional media vehicles are losing effectiveness as people communicate in new and different ways. Mass audiences are fragmenting into small segments. Developing a point of difference is harder than ever.

Many business leaders are uncertain about the future. What will great marketing look like in the years ahead?

Volvo’s new spot shows the way.

The ad features Jean-Claude Van Damme doing a remarkable stunt to dramatize a new technology, the Volvo Dynamic Steering system. You can watch it here:


The spot works in many ways.

First, it breaks through the clutter. It is visually arresting, surprising and beautiful. After watching it once I wanted to watch it again and again.

Second, it has solid branding; it is clear that this is for Volvo.

Third, it communicates a benefit. The entire spot revolves around Volvo’s remarkable new technology. It is very clear that Volvo has something special and remarkable.

The ad has generated an astonishing amount of buzz. In just two weeks, more than 52 million people have watched it on You Tube. There are dozens of parody spots.

It is engaging, well branded and product focused.

It isn’t perfect; there are two notable issues. First, it is not clear why this technology is important. The Volvo Dynamic Steering system provides great stability and is easier to drive. Is this a significant benefit? Does the technology solve a major problem?

Second, there is a basic branding problem. This is a spot for Volvo trucks. The Volvo car business is a completely different company. This shared brand ownership is a challenge. I suspect many people will visit their local Volvo dealer looking for a car with that impressive steering system.

Still, the problems here are minor compared with the overall impact. This is the future of great marketing.

*  *   *

On Thanksgiving I will be in Chicago enjoying the day and some wonderful food with my wife’s family and giving thanks for a great year.

On Friday I will be out visiting stores. I won’t buy anything of note; I will just enjoy the frenzy. It is an exciting day for anyone in marketing. The deals are not as remarkable as they seem but the energy is contagious.

Have a wonderful holiday and give thanks for all the good things in your life.


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