The morning after the big game is also the morning after the big test. We tested 94 ads live on game night, reflecting the views of over 7,000 consumers. Here, we look at the winners and losers of Super Bowl LII.
WINNERS: NBC Winter Olympics. The ads that performed the best this year’s Super Bowl were for another sporting event entirely: NBC’s Winter Olympics spots, starring Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn, and Chloe Kim. All three tested high, 5-Stars, on our scale of emotional measurement, and all three scored higher than any other ad at this year’s game.
What made them so good? This year, audiences responded best to inspirational ads, and it turns out that there’s nothing more inspirational – particularly to a sports audience – than stories of real athletic achievement. Toyota also top-scored with its “Good Odds” ad, about the life of Paralympian skier Lauren Woolstonecraft. With a huge year of international sport ahead, this bodes well for companies wanting to ally themselves with inspirational athletes.
It’s also notable that all four of the 5-Star ads starring winter sports athletes focused on women. Before the game there had been speculation that women would get a raw deal from this year’s Super Bowl ads, with many of the pre-game trailers focusing on male celebrities. But in the end, it was stories of inspiring women that won consumers’s hearts — and the patriotic angle didn’t hurt either.
WINNERS: Eli And Payton Manning. The Manning brothers can add another unusual achievement to their long list – they starred in separate 5-Star ads for different brands. Eli Manning appeared alongside Odell Beckham Jr. in an amusing spot spoofing “Dirty Dancing,” and Payton Manning starred as the “Vacation Quarterback” helping kids plan their visit to Universal Resorts.
This years ads were stuffed with celebrities — so why did the Mannings do well while other stars failed to shine? Humor is a part of it, but so is storytelling. The ads were very simple, but they told a story, rather than just showing off their famous names. So did M&M’s slapstick ad starring Danny DeVito as the human M&M, and Amazon’s 90-second ad with several celebrities standing in for their Alexa voice assistant.
The Amazon ad shows how difficult it is to get the balance right, though. It was a big favorite in our office, but it just missed out on a 4-Star score. The problem? It was just a bit too long for some of the audience, who lost patience with the parade of famous faces.
WINNER: Brand purpose. The pre-game buzz was that this Super Bowl would be the one where humor ruled the night. It didn’t work out that way, though. Some funny ads did well, but the brands who shone were the ones that wore their conscience and social purpose on their sleeve. The Brand Purpose moment was led by Super Bowl veterans Budweiser, whose Clydesdales ads defined emotional storytelling in the early ’10s. After last year’s mis-step with the critically acclaimed, but dour and controversial “Born The Hard Way,” they made “Stand By You,” an ad focusing on their disaster relief efforts. It was a great brand purpose ad — a noble cause illustrated by a fantastic visual gimmick, as a Bud cannery stops making beer and starts producing water.
Toyota’s 5-Star ad talked about mobility, Kraft’s 4-Star crowdsourced effort celebrated family, and Coca-Cola and insurance company MassMutual also scored 4-Stars with inspirational ads. In a divisive political era, it was a good year for ads which made Americans feel good about their brands, and themselves.
LOSER: Tide. “Loser??” we hear you say. But hear us out. In one sense, Tide’s clever ad take-over campaign was a triumph — it was buzzed about across Twitter and the ad industry adored it, with the brand picking up the Super Clio award. But it’s an advertiser’s advert — made by and for people who care about the commercials, which doesn’t necessarily mean Jane and Joe Public. They gave Tide’s spots a rockier ride — several picked up 3-Star scores, which is good, but others just ended up confusing or annoying to less committed watchers. We’re looking at the ads again to see if their cumulative impact ended up positive, but for all the praise, these post-modern approaches can often fall emotionally flat.
LOSER: Ram trucks. There’s less controversy over the quality of the Ram “Built To Serve” ad, which used the voice of Martin Luther King to talk about the virtues of service — a decision that’s landed the brand in trouble on Twitter. How did it test emotionally? It wasn’t the worst ad of the night, despite the narrative. But with a low 2-Star score it certainly wasn’t good. The King speech drove most of the emotion — some of it negative, but quite a lot positive, by people who appreciated the message and didn’t mind it showing up in an ad. What hammered the ad in testing wasn’t the speech at all — it was the fact the ad was, frankly, quite boring, with high levels of Neutrality.
LOSER: Super Bowl Advertising. The biggest loser of the night, though, was the concept of Super Bowl advertising in general. The Super Bowl ads are meant to be big deals — slots cost millions of dollars, and the audience is massively vaster than anything else American TV can offer. But the data doesn’t lie. When we compared last night’s scores to scores for all the ads in our U.S. database, the Super Bowl LII ads performed slightly worse than average.
When Super Bowl advertising suffers, advertising in general suffers. The game is creativity’s biggest stage, a chance to prove that emotional work combined with enormous audience reach can deliver growth for brands. In 2018, more advertisers than usual fumbled the catch. Perhaps they played it safe this year, relied too much on star names, or just misread the national mood. Congratulations to the advertisers who did step up and make 4- and 5-Star emotional work, and for everyone else — better luck next year. After all, at least the game was a classic.