Touchdowns to Fumbles: Super Bowl Commercial Winners and Losers

Brian Bennett

Brian Bennett

STIR | President
Feb 4

The Super Bowl is unique because it reaches a diverse viewership of over hundred million. It is the ultimate image advertising showcase, so brands cater to audience segments that matter to them with techniques, such as style, humor, celebrity and cause.

Great ads connect with people, changing or reinforcing positive perception. The best will spur action. This is also a huge public relations and social media opportunity. All participating brands are vying for ‘buzz factor’ and will spend big money to make that happen.

Super Bowl Trends

Social commentary has become an annual staple in the game.  It’s a way for brands to establish their value system, which is essential to contemporary marketing.

This year, brands are addressing social justice issues, especially endorsing female empowerment more than any other cause, probably a reaction to “me too” consciousness.

Babies, dogs and horses.  In the past some popular spots had them featured.  So more and more companies have used them, often the first time advertisers who are terrified of failure. This year we got robo baby and the Mexican Avocado dog show.  Neither idea really worked to enhance their corporate image.

Signing celebrities is a great way to attract attention. It doesn’t always make the ads better however.  The trick is to use them to improve a good idea. I like to evaluate the ads on whether the celebrities actually helped the brand improve its position. Unfortunately, often they don’t.

Marketers are trending away from big promotional pushes to websites. It would appear that they are using the Super Bowl forum as a pure play image vehicle.  That makes sense to me.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  There are many wonderful spots but here are a few insights:

Disruptive Creative

Devour – The “Food Porn” spot used creative disruption.  Kudos to them as this is risky risqué premise. Great creative pushes ideas to the brink sometimes. The trick is to not go too far.  This spot is memorable and funny. A good sign is that it made me a little uncomfortable for them.

Big Production

Walmart – In their “Famous Cars” spot, the retailer found a way to appeal to a very wide audience by bringing back car characters from decades of TV and movies. It was high energy and fun and supported their message on the theme of order and pick up.  It created dominant buzz on social media during the game.

Amazon – “Not Everything Makes the Cut” is a funny spot featuring Harrison Ford and other celebs.  It’s clever and the script is great.  I question the messaging, however, in that they are reinforcing a negative that technology like that can and will misfire, which is a real concern to people.

Good use of celebrity

Pepsi  – “Is Pepsi okay?” with Cardi B & Steve Carell made good use of celebrity.  The message is vitally important to that brand.  They made it entertaining through strong performances delivered at a high energy level to compete with a room full of people. This spot needed the celebs to make it work.

Good use of cause

Microsoft – The “We All Win” gaming spot did a good thing for Microsoft’s image with a cause spot veiled in a product spot – softening and humanizing with the adaptive gaming controller that levels the playing field for those with disability. This device is not worthy of Super Bowl investment from a P& L standpoint, but it sends a message that humanizes an otherwise cold corporation.

Bad scripts

Mint Mobile – Their “Chunky Style Milk” spot succeeded in turning everyone’s stomach.  This would convince us that we should switch mobile plans.  Something is certainly not right with that spot!

So Gross

Kia – The ‘What If’ spot features a morose kid talking about how unspectacular life is in Georgia and how plain and average the people are. And consumers are supposed to get stoked about the amazing SUV product these sad people produce? I saw it as a swing and a miss.

Spoke to me

Michelob Ultra – The “Robots” spot, which pits super robot athletes against humans, hit me personally as a consumer.  I don’t even like that beer.  But the message “Only worth it if you can enjoy it” connected to my lifestyle – hard work followed by cold beers. Good example of how you need to understand the audience before you judge.

Read more about how you can produce a Super Bowl-worthy spot without spending a Super Bowl budget.

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