Super Bowl LIV featured some terrific football and some equally good advertising. There were some fierce competitive battles on the field and on the television. With a price of up to $5.6 million for each thirty seconds, advertisers invested in some remarkable creative. Overall, the quality of the advertising was high, and only a few companies missed the mark.
For the 16th year, we assembled a panel of Kellogg MBA students to evaluate all the ads for effectiveness – which ones will build the business and build the brand? The panel used frameworks taught at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, including the ADPLAN framework for thinking about creative executions.
Here is a look at the highs and lows as well as some other notable spots. You can see all the results at the event website.
Amazon won this year’s event with a charming spot featuring Ellen and Portia de Rossi. The ad used the celebrities to quickly get attention, and then, through a series of vignettes, delivered what was essentially a product demonstration for Alexa. What can Alexa do? It can change the thermostat, tell you a joke, erase a file and provide some fake news.
In 2018, Amazon won the Kellogg Super Bowl Ad Review with another product focused spot. It is impressive to see a repeat win just two years later.
In 2010, Google aired a remarkable Super Bowl ad, Parisian Love. It was a love story told through a series of Google searches, and a highly effective piece of advertising.
This year, Google returned to the Super Bowl with a similar spot. It focused on remembering, and with a series of searches and prompts, demonstrated some of the amazing things Google can do.
Like the 2010 execution, this spot was essentially a product demonstration. The branding was very strong and the benefits came across, all with an emotional feel. This was one of the most memorable ads on the game this year. A number of people we’ve talked to said it made them cry. We suspect it also made them think good things about Google.
It is easy to make things complicated, and all too many Super Bowl advertisers fall into this trap. Hyundai embraced simplicity in its ad featuring its amazing Smart Park technology. The ad played off Boston accents in an entertaining fashion, but really it just showed how the parking system works.
While the marketing team at Hyundai was likely hoping the Patriots would return to the Super Bowl, the spot worked very well nonetheless.
Advertising a feature like Smart Park seems tactical, but the technology should enhance perceptions of the broader Hyundai brand.
T Mobile has become one of the most consistent Super Bowl advertisers, and the brand didn’t disappoint this year, running an ad that communicated a simple message: T Mobile is the only brand with a nationwide 5G system.
The spot was cute, featuring actor Anthony Anderson and his mother testing the system in different places. The message was clear: T Mobile has broad 5G service.
Not everyone may understand the benefits of 5G (we don’t!), but it certainly sounds good. And T Mobile has the first 5G network.
MC Hammer starred in the Cheetos spot, a funny and cute play on the song “Don’t Touch This.” The spot promoted new Cheetos popcorn and worked well. It was engaging and, even more important, played off a bit of brand equity that is ownable by Cheetos.
Some may argue that this spot actually highlighted a problem with Cheetos – the color makes it difficult and inconvenient to eat. This is a fair point, but we suspect the target for Cheetos popcorn is people who already like Cheetos and have found a way to manage the orange color.
Facebook invested in a Super Bowl ad and ran a spot that celebrated all the groups that use Facebook to come together: the Table Rock Lake Facebook group, the Craft Cocktail Club Facebook group, the Moab Rock Climbers Facebook group and many more.
The spot was distinct and uniquely Facebook. Of course, the company didn’t highlight extremist and other unsavory groups that have found a home on its network.
There were no Budweiser Clydesdales on the Super Bowl this year but people did not seem particularly upset by the news. Budweiser instead ran a spot that celebrated “typical Americans” and turned common accusations on their head.
The message was that “typical Americans” do amazing things. And Budweiser, a “typical American beer” is pretty amazing, too. The spot was a little confusing at the start, which actually helped draw people into the story.
In recent years Bud Light has run a series of ads featuring the Bud Knight and the world of Dilly Dilly. This year Bud Light shifted gears to focus on its new seltzer product. The ad featured a clever debate between traditional Bud Light and the new Bud Light seltzer.
The Bud Light Knight still made an appearance in the Super Bowl, of course, because Tide (perhaps unwisely) featured the character in its advertising.
Fiat Chrysler was planning to skip the Super Bowl this year. However, on January 17 Bill Murray agreed to participate in a Super Bowl ad. So Fiat Chrysler bought a spot at the last-minute and shot the ad January 24 to 26.
Despite the quick timing, the result was a remarkable Super Bowl ad that featured Bill Murray reprising his role in Groundhog Day.
The spot focused on the fun of driving the new Jeep Gladiator. This ad was engaging, product focused and well-branded, all impressive considering the tight timing.
In a recent Super Bowl Soda Stream attacked the soda business. This year the brand took a different approach, which isn’t surprising considering PepsiCo now owns Soda Stream.
This year’s Super Bowl ad featured a product demonstration, as an unwitting fellow carbonates and drinks some rare Mars water.
The ad was funny and unique and celebrated the product.
Brand purpose is all the rage in marketing circles, but Olay’s Super Bowl ad showed what can go wrong when brands focus on a cause instead of product benefits.
Olay’s Super Bowl spot celebrated women in STEM careers, and supported the charity Girls Who Code. We think this is great when it comes to causes.
The problem was that there was little linkage. It is a great cause, but what exactly does it have to do with Olay? And why should anyone buy Olay in the first place?
Balancing a cause and a product benefit is a challenge. Olay emphasized the cause but seemed to miss an opportunity to create a stronger connection to their brand.
Kia ran a stunning Super Bowl ad in 2019, so we had high hopes for this year’s spot. Unfortunately, the ad fell flat. It featured the story of Josh Jacobs, a Las Vegas Raider who grew up homeless.
There were two problems. First, linkage and branding were weak. How exactly does Kia figure into this story? It wasn’t clear. Second, some people thought it was an over-used and predictable story.
A Super Bowl ad can drive social media engagement. If people are intrigued, they will track down a brand on-line and learn about it.
Heinz tried to capitalize on this dynamic with a four part Super Bowl ad. The brand showed four different commercials at the same time, in hopes that people would later go and watch each one.
The concept is interesting, but the spot didn’t work for the panel. The four commercials created confusion, and there was little reason to track down the specific executions.
Hard Rock Café
The lowest rated spot on the Super Bowl this year, according to the Kellogg Super Bowl Ad Review, was a spectacular ad for Hard Rock International. The spot featured Jennifer Lopez and a long list of celebrities. It had people dangling off buildings and running through restaurants.
The problems? The branding wasn’t clear, and the benefit didn’t come across. What was the point of the advertising? We suspect the goal was to feature the amazing Hard Rock Hotel. The result was more of a confusing and costly mess.
Other spots that missed this year include Squarespace, Pringles and Audi.
Tide ran a series of spots this year to highlight the idea that a stain can wait if you use Tide. The brand tried a similar approach several years ago, but this effort didn’t work as well with our panel.
One issue was that Tide decided to include the Bud Light Knight in the spots, which created a lot of confusion. Who was the ad actually for, anyway?
Toyota ran an expensive, elaborate spot the featured lots of drama. A Toyota Highlander was at the center of the action. The problem was the message, which seemed to be that the Toyota Highlander had a lot of seats. This did not seem to be sufficiently powerful news or differentiating in terms of positioning.
One of the joys of owning a private company is that you can do pretty much whatever you want.
This insight explains a remarkable spot from Weather Tech, the story of a dog (apparently the CEO’s dog) saved by the University of Wisconsin vet school.
We loved Scout, but we were puzzled about the goal of this spot. If the aim was to raise money for the University of Wisconsin, we wonder if a better approach might have been to take the $5 million and just donate it directly.
Trump and Bloomberg
Two billionaires ran Super Bowl ads this year, and both featured stories of African-Americans. The ads were disappointing and many people posted their discontent online.
It is curious that the candidates embraced a similar tone and theme. It was not a great moment for political advertising.
All in all it was a great year for Super Bowl advertising. We suspect prices will set a new record again in 2021 – there is nothing like the Super Bowl for marketers.
By Tim Calkins and Derek Rucker