Super Bowl LIII won’t go down in history as a thrilling football game, but at least the advertisers came through with some excellent spots. The big theme this year was technology: the tech giants came out in force, with Amazon, Microsoft and Google all running spots. More notable, a series of Super Bowl ads featured robots, virtual assistants and artificial intelligence.
Once again, a panel of MBA students at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management evaluated all the ads. The focus: which ads were most, and least, effective. Which ones would be successful at driving the business and building the brand? You can see the full ratings here.
Here is a look at the highs and lows from the most important marketing event of the year.
The top Super Bowl advertiser, according to the Kellogg panel, was a charming spot from Microsoft. The ad showed Microsoft’s adaptive controller and how it allows disabled kids to play video games and form friendships.
The ad stood out for its emotional tone; this helped it break through the clutter. The benefit was very apparent, both the benefit that the adaptive controller helps kids and the bigger benefit that Microsoft uses technology to make the world a better place.
Last year Amazon had the best spot in the Kellogg Super Bowl Ad Review. This year, Amazon stuck to the same formula with an ad featuring product failures and celebrities. The highlight of the ad was Harrison Ford trying to stop his dog from ordering dog food, sausages and gravy.
Once again, the Amazon spot had terrific linkage; Alexa was integral to the story. Branding also was exceptionally strong.
First-time Super Bowl advertisers often get into trouble, but Expensify beat the odds and ran an engaging and effective spot. The ad featured the classic expensive music video and the attentive, annoying character from the finance department. The benefit was clear: Expensify makes it easy to keep track of your receipts and deal with your expense reports.
The Washington Post apparently created this ad in just a few days, which makes it all the more remarkable that it did so well.
The ad celebrated the role of journalists and facts, and recognized some of the journalists that have been killed in recent years.
The ad was striking and distinctive. The Post wisely stayed away from politics.
Pepsi is a long-time Super Bowl advertiser and came through with a winner this year. The spot built on a common question: “Is Pepsi OK?” Steve Carell carried the ad, and ultimately Pepsi managed to turn “ok” into “OK!!!!”
This first time advertiser stood out this year with an ad featuring Serena Williams and encouraging women to make the first move. The spot embraced the idea of women’s empowerment, and connected it back to their technology and approach.
I was a bit nervous about linkage: would people understand that this was an on-line dating platform? The Kellogg panel apparently didn’t share my concern and put this spot near the top of the list.
Google ran two impressive spots, one featuring translation and the other saluting veterans. Both ads were very product focused; while they embrace high-order themes, they didn’t lose the linkage to the brand.
T-Mobile was one of the standout advertisers on the Super Bowl this year. The brand ran four spots, all with the same basic creative format.
T-Mobile’s effort built over time. The first spot received mediocre reviews from the Kellogg panel, but subsequent spots were stronger and stronger. The campaign built momentum; by the time spot three showed up, linkage was clear: this was going to be a T-Mobile spot.
The single best spot on the Super Bowl this year was Bud Light’s absolutely charming ad featuring a large barrel of corn syrup. The ad grabbed your attention and communicated a clear point of difference: Miller Lite and Coors Light are brewed with corn syrup while Bud Light is not. Bud Light made the message very, very clear.
So why didn’t Bud Light get an A? The problem was Bud Light then ran two less effective spots. One, a partnership with Game of Thrones, featured the death of the Bud Knight, a dark spot that seemed off character for Bud Light. Another spot reinforced the no corn syrup message but not as clearly.
Porn references are pretty risky, especially on the Super Bowl, so KraftHeinz made a bold move with its spot for Devour that portrayed frozen food porn.
The ad worked with the Kellogg panel: it attracted attention and communicated a benefit. To shake up the stodgy world of frozen food, you have to take a risk. This one seems to have paid off.
To grow its new Bubly brand, PepsiCo enlisted Michael Buble for its Super Bowl effort. The result was an effective ad: it clearly built awareness of Bubly.
The ad worked well but it wasn’t as charming as the segment Bubly did on the Ellen show.
Last year Pringles used its Super Bowl ad to encourage people to combine Pringle flavors and create interesting combinations. The brand stuck with the same strategy this year. The spot, featuring a virtual assistant, attracted attention and delivered the message.
Mercedes embraced the idea of control in this spot for the A class line.
The Kellogg panel gave this ad high scores, but I am not so convinced; I thought branding seemed weak and, after seeing all the character control everything from an ATM machine to a stop light, I was underwhelmed with the idea that in the A class you can control the radio.
Branding is always a critical part of an effective ad. The Super Bowl ad from Planters featured the Nutmobile – this attracted attention, was different and clearly established the brand.
Parents could certainly relate to the charming Super Bowl ad from M&Ms. Frustrated with her squabbling kids, the mother – played by Christina Applegate – stops the car and yells, “If you don’t stop, I will eat all of you alive right now.”
This spot attracted attention and communicated the big product news: M&Ms now has a candy bar.
I’m not convinced that extending M&Ms into the bar segment is a great idea, but this spot got the message across.
Looking at the Stella Artois ad, one can only conclude that getting people to switch to Stella isn’t so easy. The spot featured Carrie from Sex in the City and the Dude from the Big Labowski, two characters well known for their drinking preferences. Both have now switched to Stella.
The spot attracted attention, broke through the clutter and delivered a benefit.
One of the funniest ads on the Super Bowl was for Hyundai. It featured a variety of painful life experiences such as a root canal, jury duty and the middle seat, and included shopping for a car on the list. Only now, with the Hyundai Shopper Assurance program, shopping for a car apparently isn’t so painful.
This ad had one of the great lines of the Super Bowl: “Not so fast, captain colon, back in here.”
Hyundai could have spent more time explaining what was so much better about Shopper Assurance. Still, overall this ad worked very well.
Olay’s spot was one of the more debated among marketing people. Some loved the fact that the spot was unique and different, and communicated a benefit. It also had a great hashtag, #killerskin.
Other people thought the imagery was inconsistent with the Olay brand equity; the funny, slapstick tone certainly was a big change.
The world is a scary space, and SimpliSafe dramatized this in its first Super Bowl ad. Playing off the idea of fear isn’t a new approach for a home security provider, but the balance in this spot was off: the ad spent a lot of time on our scary world, and not much time on why SimpliSafe is the best way to protect your home.
Amplification is always a big question: what do people remember from an ad? You want this to be positive and linked to your brand. Mint Mobile’s Super Bowl ad focused on the idea of chunky milk, an unappealing concept that overshadowed any message about the brand.
One of the more surprising ads was from Turkish Airlines. Over the past few years, the fast-growing global carrier has run Super Bowl ads celebrating the joy of travel and discovery. This latest ad was dark and a little scary, and promoted the link to a movie. It certainly didn’t make me want to fly on Turkish.
You never want your creative idea to overwhelm your message. That is what happened in this ad from Sprint. A robot dreams up an ad featuring Bo Jackson and a flying unicorn, a bizarre combination. Lost in all the excitement was a simple question: why should I switch to Sprint?
Avocados from Mexico
In recent years Avocados from Mexico has run some of the most memorable spots on the Super Bowl. This year, however, was a bit of a miss. The spot featured a dog show, or human show. Apparently the humans were competing for guacamole, but this wasn’t at all clear. The result was simply a strange and somewhat confusing ad that didn’t deliver a clear benefit.
The lowest rated spot on the Super Bowl this year was a very strange ad from Burger King. The spot featured Andy Warhol eating a Whopper. The footage was apparently from a four-minute movie filmed in 1982. The concept was intriguing but the actual execution was a miss; I suspect most people missed the reference, so the result was a fairly dull spot of a fellow eating a Whopper with not a lot of enthusiasm.