This is a guest post from Tom Ewing, Senior Director, BrainJuicer Labs
Every year BrainJuicer tests most of the Super Bowl ads, to see which ones are the most emotionally effective. Why emotion? Because it’s been shown that emotional campaigns are more likely to produce long-term brand growth: if you feel more, you buy more.
And why Super Bowl? Because it's when American advertisers, given the chance to reach a massive nationwide audience, pull out the stops on storytelling and spectacle and really go for it. The big game is where marketers follow their best creative instincts and aim for emotion.
Which is why, this year, we decided to go for it too, and test every single ad live, in as close to real-time as possible. What made this practical for the first time is our partner ZappiStore (and our sample partners P2Sample and Fulcrum) whose fast-turnaround, automated survey tool meant we could get the lag between broadcast and results down to under 10 minutes in some cases.
By the end of the night we had tested close to 70 ads, and had a very clear idea not only of what the trends in this year’s Super Bowl were, but which ones had hit the emotional target.
Kia’s “Hero’s Journey” – starring Melissa McCarthy trying to do her bit for the planet with catastrophic and hilarious results – topped our emotional rankings with a high 5-Star score. (We give everything a star rating between 1 and 5: the average ad scores 2 stars).
Second place went to the NFL’s “Baby Legends”, with adorable toddlers cosplaying as football stars. And third place went to Mr Clean’s “Sexy Mr Clean”, which involved… well, a sexy Mr Clean. Ads by Coke, Skittles, Buick, Kings’ Hawaiian, Tide, Honda and Snickers round out the list.
The Top 10 shows the two big trends at Super Bowl LI. The first is a big pendulum swing back towards humour as the source of emotional impact. There’s a long tradition of comedy ads at the Super Bowl, but in recent years it’s been the sentimental and inspirational spots which have grabbed headlines and won hearts. Not any more. Last year Doritos’ “Dogs” topped our test, and this year the trend was obvious for anyone to see. A Media Week poll before the game said over 80% of viewers wanted humorous ads, and America’s marketers delivered.
The Kia ad mixes the widescreen feel of an inspirational car ad with a series of slapstick sight gags. Skittles and debutant Kings’ Hawaiian went for a 30-second sketch format and got 5-Star results. And Mr Clean and Buick made sure to throw a comic twist in too. Inspirational ads still got some strong results – Honda’s very clever ad with old yearbook photos coming to life was a 5-Star winner – and Audi’s “Daughter” got 4-Stars for its strong feminist message. But these were exceptions, and hotly trailed commercials like Budweiser’s “Born The Hard Way” could only manage a mediocre 2-Star score. For the most part, laughter ruled.
The second big trend this year was celebrities. Again, this is a return to Super Bowl traditions – stars have been showing up in the ads for decades. But it’s generally been a hit and miss process: it’s unusual for half the Top Ten ads to use celebrities, and it's a sign that marketers realise that a famous face is not enough by itself.
The Kia ad is a great example of how to get it right: it meshes with Melissa McCarthy’s public persona and so it feels a lot more genuine than most commercials. Buick’s use of supermodel Miranda Kerr worked in a similar way – making her appearance a joke rather than just showing her off. Meanwhile, ads telling real-life stories about real people – another big trend in the early 10s – were completely absent, as were the wannabe-viral candid camera “stuntvertising” efforts of recent years. It’s only 2 years since McDonalds topped our list with “Paid With Love”, filmed in a fly-on-the-wall style. There were no ads anything like that last night.
Advertising trends come and go, but Super Bowl LI was a strong endorsement of some of American advertising’s traditional virtues – big laughs and big stars. Slightly fewer ads scored 5 Stars than in our test last year, though, so perhaps there’s room for some of the storytelling and drama to come back in. What is here to stay is real-time testing – with research buyers wanting good data faster than ever, the Super Bowl is a perfect stage on which to test the latest methods which make that possible.