This year, the only reason for a non-Seattle fan to watch the Super Bowl beyond the first half was for the ads. Typically, Super Bowl ads are evaluated by the reactions of critics, by how many people like them, and/or whether or not they go viral. These are the wrong metrics.
The purpose of an ad is to further the brand, specifically sales of the brand. The opinions of critics and the number of people who like and/or view the ad is irrelevant if the ad does not capture and further the essence of the brand. What does matter are the unconscious associations people have to the brand and to the ad attempting to support it.
What we need is to know is what associations the brand generates and whether the ad moves these associations forward. We can’t ask this of people directly, as associations are unconscious. But we can measure them using modern psychological science methods. For iconic brands advertised for so many years on the Super Bowl, we can make educated guesses to approximate such measurement.
A Tale of Two Bud Ads
Let’s look at the two kinds of Budweiser ads shown in this Super Bowl. In the first two, holding onto a bottle of Bud leads to an amazing series of upbeat adventures for an average Joe. The ads perfectly match the Bud brand. They blend beautifully with decades of associations to Bud as the good time, party beer and take it to a new level. They also perfectly match the new Bud tagline: “The Perfect Beer for Whatever Happens.”
Then, late in the game, we were treated to an ad with a puppy and a Clydesdale who love each other. This was a wonderful ad, beautifully shot and choreographed. Everyone loves puppies, and who wouldn’t be moved by an intimate friendship between two animal species? But what does this have to do with beer generally and Bud specifically? Further, the brand was never mentioned until after the story had been told.
After the ad, my wife and I wanted to adopt a puppy (as did my children) but neither of us had an urge for a beer or a Budweiser. So, although the ad generated positive emotions and wonderful associations, these had nothing to do with Bud. People may talk about it, they may send it to their friends but, because of how unconscious processes work, this will not lead to furtherance of the Bud brand or to greater sales.
Don’t believe me? At last year’s Super Bowl, Bud aired a similar ad about the friendship between a horse and a man (“Brotherhood”). It went viral and was universally lauded. How did sales of Bud do? They were down about 3% for the year. Now a lot of things go into sales and this ad certainly did not depress sales. But it clearly did not enhance them either.
To summarize: positive emotions and wonderful associations affect sales and behavior towards a brand only when they resonate with that brand.