How to Make a Winning Super Bowl Ad

  • by January 26, 2011

The Super Bowl is a chance of a lifetime for most brands, but at nearly $3 million per 30-second spot, it's also one of the riskiest decisions a marketer can make.  The pressure is on for advertisers that just get one shot to delight a captive Super Bowl audience.  And, no one forgets the winners...or the losers.   



Super Bowl ads are not just about entertainment value; the ads must be effective at driving brands' objectives and appeal to a mass audience-not a single demographic group.  The ads have to be watchable, likeable and able to grab attention and communicate a message.

At Ace Metrix, we systematically measure not only how ads are able to grab the attention of viewers but also how relevant, informative, persuasive they are.  Such criteria, linked to lasting brand value and increased sales, will determine the most effective Super Bowl ads in our rankings.  The following tips are based on the best Super Bowl ads of 2010:

1.  Likeability is critical.

 Sounds obvious, but accomplishing "likeability" is harder than you might think, and while likeability on its own is not enough to make an ad tops in effectiveness, it sure helps.  How do you make an ad likeable?  The "cute and funny" combo is a good start.  Animals and kids don't hurt ,either

To that end, last year's two top-ranked Ace Metrix Super Bowl ads both featured animals.  The first, called "Fences," portrayed "nothing coming between" Budweiser's emblematic Clydesdale and a bull that he has ostensibly grown up with.  This ad ranked just ahead of the Doritos' "Underdog" ad, featuring a man taunting his dog with Doritos, causing the dog an electric jolt each time it barked from desire.

The man's greed works against him and the tables are turned when the dog forcibly places its shock collar on its owner.  These ads, both of which combined elements of "cute" and "funny," were not only the highest-scoring Super Bowl ads overall, but they both received the top likeability scores in addition to high scores in persuasion, attention, and watchability, according to Ace Metrix. 

2. Make the ad watchable.
If viewers are running out of the room to get more snacks or drinks, they aren't giving the ad an opportunity to be persuasive. Tell a good story -- and make the story relevant so people watch its entirety.

Examples of top performing ads in terms of Relevance and Watchability were Google's "Parisian Love" and Snicker's "Game" ad, starring Betty White, the epitome of cute and funny. "Game" also ranked as the third-most-effective ad of the Super Bowl. In most cases, the use of celebrities doesn't add much value to an ad, but White resonated with viewers because she was woven into the creative theme.

Similarly, regaled us with the story of Timothy Richman (another "most watchable" ad, per Ace Metrix), a boy who makes his way into manhood by using knowledge to gain confidence to accomplish various feats: putting out a fire on the stove as a baby, learning to ride a bike as a boy, delivering a baby Bengal tiger as a teenager, and eventually using to buy the perfect new car.

3.  Don't polarize viewers by catering to one demographic group. 
If there's anything that Budweiser has taught us, it's that Super Bowl ads need to appeal to the masses.  Budweiser, which had some great hits last year, also had quite a few "misses" from an effectiveness perspective.  Ads too narrowly targeted young men, and failed to resonate with women.  Go Daddy, which registered one of the poorest performing Super Bowl ads on record, took the prize for the most polarizing Super Bowl ad with the widest gap between men vs. women.  Moral of the story:  Why spend the money on Super Bowl's enormous reach to appeal to a small target?

4.  Attention isn't enough.
High attention scores alone do not equal effectiveness.  It's the combination of high attention, change and relevance scores that make an ad tops among Ace Metrix' rankings.  For example, the aforementioned Go Daddy ad had quite high attention scores, but not the kind most brands would want. 

How does one drive Attention scores in a positive direction? In addition to having a great story, or likeable characters, some advertisers reached out directly to consumers. People love free stuff, and Denny's was quite effective with its "Chicken Warning" and "Chickens Across America" ads last Super Bowl, which generated some of the best attention scores in the game.  Lesson learned: Free stuff drives attention.

Google's "Parisian Love," which aimed to communicate a new direction for the company, scored high in attention, relevance and change. This was the company's first Super Bowl ad, and consumers responded well.

Another of Doritos' effective ads last year featured a cute kid laying down house rules to his mom's suitor ("Keep your hands off my mama; keep your hands off my Doritos.") This, too, ranked among the top 5 Super Bowl ads and received high attention, relevance and change scores.   

The truly effective Super Bowl ads of 2010 scored well across multiple components and demographics, setting themselves apart from ads that were merely popular.  And, at $3 million a pop, it would be nice to get a little sales impact, or at least some lasting brand value, rather than some watercooler talk on Monday morning.

1 comment about "How to Make a Winning Super Bowl Ad".
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  1. Flemmington Higgenbottom from NA, January 27, 2011 at 3:28 p.m.

    This is the formula for the dozens and dozens of ads no one remembers after the Super Bowl.

    Do the EXACT opposite of what this guy says if you want to do an ad that people remember and react to.

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